Macquarie Dictionary


What makes a ‘word’ for Word of the Year?

The English language has the great capacity to create new words and new meanings from existing words. One of the more common ways we form new words in English is by putting together two (or more!) existing words to form a new word with a new meaning. This is technically known as a lexical item or lexical unit.

Essentially, a ‘word’ is the item that you look up in the dictionary to find the meaning.

Sometimes one of these new creations ends up as a blended word, known as a portmanteau. For example bossware [boss + software] or clapter [clap + laughter].

Sometimes new words are created by the addition of affixes, as in deplatform or destock.

And sometimes two whole words are smashed together as in tweetstorm or earthship.  

Or, somewhat less dramatically, words are simply placed next to each other, as in bachelor’s handbag, goblin mode and nepo baby.

Find out about some of these words as part of Word of the Year 2022.

In other instances a hyphen may be used to keep things a little cleaner, as in eco-anxiety, or words may be borrowed from another language, like ngangkari and mukbang (which is also a portmanteau!). And of course there are also backformations.

Language is a moveable feast. The forms of words can change over time, inserting or removing hyphens and spaces, dropping letters, fusing into a single unit. Take for example electronic mail which then became e-mail and is now most frequently used as email.

So when confronted with a word that is made up of two words, like bachelor’s handbag, this is counted as a new lexical item which needs a new entry in the dictionary. Because using our existing understanding of bachelor – an unmarried man of any age – and of handbag –  a small bag, most commonly used by women, for carrying money, personal articles, etc., held in the hand or worn over the shoulder by means of a strap – doesn’t really give us the essence of what this new term actually means – a takeaway roast chicken.

And now it’s time for you to have your say in the People’s Choice and vote for your favourite word.

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