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Not every dictionary I checked has "nu-" but here are a few examples:


dictionary.com — indicating an updated or modern version of something: nu-metal music

Bing — new: new, or modern

Google — respelling of ‘new,’ used esp. in names of new or revived genres of popular music.

Where did this orginate? Etymonline shows no entry.

Also, how does this differ from "neo-"?

neo- — a combining form meaning “new,” “recent,” “revived,” “modified,” used in the formation of compound words: Neo-Darwinism; Neolithic; neoorthodoxy; neophyte.

Why do we have "nu-metal" instead of "neo-metal" or "neometal"? Would it be appropriate to use "nu-" for non-musical genres (e.g., classifying films as "nu-western")?

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'nu-' is a thing because people make up stuff and other people copy them. – Mitch Mar 26 '14 at 21:23
I really thought this was going to be a question a bout Yiddish, nu... – Mitch Mar 26 '14 at 21:25
up vote 4 down vote accepted

One could do worse than quote OED:

Etymology: Alteration of new adj., apparently originally in order to give an eyecatching appearance to the written form of commercial names.

Although it always follows that etymology and basic meaning, OED has three definitions:

1. orig. U.S. In commercial use, forming the names and designations of products and companies.

1892 U.S. Trademark 22, 189 (U.S. Patent Office) 20 Dec. 1 Nuform... Trade-Mark for boots, shoes, slippers, rubbers, sandals, and analogous foot-wear.

2. a. Chiefly Brit. Forming the names of types of popular (esp. dance) music which revive earlier styles, typically incorporating more modern elements, as nu-disco, nu-energy, nu house, nu-soul, etc. See also nu skool adj. and n.

1991 Washington Post 25 Oct. (Weekend section) 21/2 The Nu Skool Jam tour..also features Australian pop/rockers the Newsboys.

2. b. nu metal n. a style of rock music characterized by staccato guitar riffs and typically combining elements of hip-hop (esp. in vocal delivery) with heavy metal and industrial music.

[1991 Washington City Paper 6 Sept. 38/4 Heavy metal ripped off punk's sound and forged the ‘new metal’ known as thrash.]
1995 Herald (Glasgow) (Nexis) 17 June 10 The earnest guitar-crunching trio squeeze out an overly-polite nu-metal racket.

It doesn't differ from neo- much, other than in register. Commercially, Nuform chose nu- because of its similarity to new. Similarly with nu-disco, nu metal and the like: those who coined the terms (presumably in the music industry/“scene” before the newspapers) chose nu- because of its similarity with new. In both cases, neo- would not have worked so well, as it generally requires a Greek root to combine with and it’s unlikely that the target market would appreciate it.

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Whoa, 1892. Didn't expect that as a first usage. – MrHen Mar 26 '14 at 19:20
In British newspapers (nuspapers?) they used Nu- as a derogatory/condescending way of referring to the New Labour (Nu-Labour) party philosophy introduced by Tony Blair. (He did this to break with the union-shackled unelectability of 'Old Labour'.) I think the idea was that 'Nu-'anything was likely a lightweight, temporary fad - as with all things American in popular stereotyping. – toandfro Mar 26 '14 at 19:46
This was unclear to me because I read nu as /nuː/ initially, but I pronounce new as /njuː/ – Nothing at all Jul 24 at 14:29
Well, some dialects of English do pronounce new as /nu:/, and others pronounce the Greek letters μ mu and ν nu as [-ju:] so it's sort of universal. Sort of. Ish. – Andrew Leach Jul 24 at 17:28

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