From time to time in the gaps between wars, corruption, elections and celebrity gossip the media shifts its roving spotlight toward the latest new words heard around the planet. What follows this is a flurry of coverage on lists of new, favorite and odd words.
Time to panic, some pundit will tell us. We’re made to feel we’re loosing our way in the English-speaking world, if we don’t know this new argot. Anyone who believes this ia faced with the problem of how to remember the new lingo.
Well, there are techniques to do this. Recently when an EnglishMojo reader in India asked for our assistance, we sketched out a simple method, which takes only about a minute to master. We’ll outline it here.
But first, let’s put these word lists and their contents into perspective. In George Orwell’s 1984 the state’s word-making authority says:
“You think, I dare say, that our chief job is inventing new words. But not a bit of it! We’re destroying words – scores of them, hundreds of them, every day. We’re cutting the language down to the bone.”
Neologism lists often contain new words that are in fact not new words at all, but rather just familiar words strung together into new phrases. Consider these from past decades: Jet Lag, Quiz Show and Displaced Person. Other phrases have fallen into obscurity. But these have endured. Why? Maybe because each was a truly new concept.
Individual words can be borrowed from other languages, or they can be glued together out of word fragments. The useful ones last – like Bikini, Infomercial, Superchurch and even Orwell’s Doublespeak. Why so long-lived? It could be because the mind seizes nothing more tightly than it does a fresh idea.
Some new forms are plain embarrassing, nothing more than play-on-words substitutes. Look at this lumpy thing, Celebutante. It’s from the Concise Oxford English Dictionary and means a celebrity well known in fashionable society. Consider the awkwardness and ugliness of Ginormous, another “frankenword” (Oh, did I just coin a new word?). It’s an embarrassing hybrid of Gigantic and Enormous. Some editors become intoxicated by their penchant for puns. In their drunken state they abet the ransacking of English language DNA. And so we see genetically-modified creations as Irritainment, Bromance and Earjacking.
What about favorite word lists? They sometimes turn out to be based on dubious or limited surveys. And those lists of odd words? What are they but fading curiosities?
“Work these words into your conversation,” say certain dictionary editors, English professors and other assorted word mongers. But why should we? Are they worth remembering? English already provides half million words to compete against. Consider that word, Earjacking. What does it offer over Eavesdropping? Earjacking does sound cool and provocative the first time round. Try using it six, eight, ten times and see if you still like it. Maybe before we toss a new word into our busy memories, we need to assay it, to ask, does it add something new? Or is it just ear candy?
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I have a little insight to offer here, from a few years consulting and training in publishing, and from having been on both sides of learning a second language. My clients – both native and foreign English speakers – while learning professional publishing, writing, conversation and questioning skills have had to master an overwhelming number of new words and new concepts.
Trying to learn a new word – or a new concept for that matter – all by itself is like trying to nail a rainbow to the sky. Each tends to loom large for a short time, then fades quickly.
As a general rule new words are shy about sticking around. But brace up a new word with even the slightest context, and like a hungry party guest, you won’t be able to get rid of it. The wide vocabulary attracts still more words, like party-crashers in a vast palace slipping into places alongside previously invited words.
Sagar at the Indian Institute of Information Technology and Management recently requested my help in the tricks of learning new words. So I detailed a simple system.
If you want to use the English Mojo New Word Memory System and build up some real English Mojo, here’s all you need do.
- 1 – First and foremost, find a text or an audio on a topic that interests you, but which is somewhat above your current vocabulary level. This might be a book, a magazine, EnglishMojo articles, or free classics from places like Gutenberg.org and Librivox.org.
- 2 – Read or listen to enough to hit upon new words or phrases every day, and write them in a notebook. Include their definitions, and if you want to, the sentence or phrase each was used in.
- 3 – Three to five times each day, look in the notebook and test yourself on that day’s new words, looking at definitions and guessing the words, and also looking at words and guessing their definitions. From time to time test yourself on words at random in the notebook.
- 4 – When you forget a word more than once, mark it. Then identify and test yourself most on words that need your attention. For greatest success you’ll need to keep doing this nearly every day, or at least five days a week.
This method produces your own personalized dictionary-phrase book. The key to the New Word Memory Palace is context. It’s a method that has taught me five to 15 new words a day with almost no effort. You might try it out for two weeks, setting a goal of learning say 40 or more new words.
Finally, if word lists appeal to you , you can find plenty. But if some of their words from the recent past are any guide – words like Blamestorming, Swipeout, Friendiligence, Prehab and that goofy term, Earjacking, then longevity may not be a key attribute.