I invented a word using medical terminology, Latin and maybe a bit of Greek. (I'm not honestly sure of the etymology of all the morphemes.) Considering that this word is primarily not of English origin, what language is it? Can I call it an English word?

Taking it a step further, what about medical terminology? Can it be called English when it really is no more than a compilation of Latin morphemes?

  • 29
    Obligatory Calvin & Hobbes
    – mmyers
    Aug 26, 2010 at 2:04
  • 1
    jbese. That's what it should be called.
    – moioci
    Aug 26, 2010 at 2:34
  • 4
    I don't know what it should be called, but you should call yourself a lexiconnoisseur. :)
    – kitukwfyer
    Aug 26, 2010 at 3:02
  • I once created a word by two Greek words, using English letters that would give to the new word a sound similar to the original words (at least for how I could perceive it); I obtained xenophaw. Until it's only me to use it, I think I cannot call it an English word.
    – apaderno
    Aug 26, 2010 at 20:21
  • I googled jbese and it asked me, "Did you mean Jack Black Electric Shave Enhancer?"
    – ikartik90
    Feb 14, 2011 at 12:29

4 Answers 4


Language is a consensus between the speaker and listener. Lots of English words (arguably most of them, but let's not get too technical) originate from other languages. Words like "orange" or "beef" or "feng shui". Because the speaker and listener are speaking the same language, and the words are understood, the words can be considered part of that language.

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    +1 With all due respect to nohat, I think this should be the correct answer.
    – e.James
    Oct 2, 2010 at 16:43
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    I always loved Borges' paraphrase: 'Words are symbols of shared memories.'; I find it beautiful and very precise. Expanded: if a sizable group of English speakers, who speak no other language, share the word as a symbol for the same experience, you can call it an English word. Even if it is you who created the initial reference for that experience and establish the symbol: "Lysander: Then by your side no bed-room me deny." A Midsummer Night's Dream.
    – Unreason
    Nov 22, 2011 at 13:03

If you use the word when speaking English, then it is an English word.

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    “’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves / Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;”
    – nohat
    Aug 26, 2010 at 2:36
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    Well, if you are code-switching, then sometimes you are speaking one language, and sometimes another; if you speak a word that is common to both languages, then it is ambiguous to everyone involved what language you are speaking. If I say "Pedro" to get the attention of a Spanish-speaking friend, what language am I speaking? But this question makes sense only to the extent it is useful. Deciding the language of a newly-coined word spoken in isolation would be arbitrary — even the lines between dialect, register, slang, language, and so on, are often arbitrarily or politically defined.
    – Kosmonaut
    Aug 26, 2010 at 14:27
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    I think that it depends from the number of people using the word. If I say She is an intellibrain, intellibrain is not an English word; it would eventually become an English word if it will be accepted, and used from people other than me.
    – apaderno
    Aug 26, 2010 at 16:05
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    @itrekkie: And which rules would those be? English has many adopted (and created) words. Aug 26, 2010 at 23:17
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    I would argue that the word must be used successfully (i.e. the intended meaning was conveyed to your listener) in English conversation before it can be considered an English word.
    – e.James
    Oct 2, 2010 at 16:41

If you invent a word, it is a word of your idiolect. Someone's idiolect is their very own twist on their language, their dialect and their sosiolect. You can say, if the language is the species, the dialect is the subspecies (race), then the idiolect is the specimen.

So, technically, if you speak English, the word is a part of the English language, but more specifically, your idiolect. Other things included in someone's idiolect is their self-made portmanteaux, and their erroneous pronunciation and misuse of words.


The word coinage or formation aka neology is the term being sought here.

The OED defines these as:

NEOLOGY a. The coining or use of new words or phrases; = neologism n. 1b.


  1. figurative. The (deliberate) formation of a new word, etc.; the fabrication of something specious.

1693 Dryden Disc. conc. Satire in tr. Juvenal Satires p. viii
Unnecessary Coynage, as well as unnecessary Revival [of words], runs into Affectation. 1712 Proposals for printing Treat. Art of Political Lying 10 Whether the Right of Coinage of Political Lyes be wholly in the Government. 1787 Gentleman's Mag. Dec. 1081/2
Milton..has enriched our language with some epithets..of his own coinage. 1818 S. T. Coleridge Gen. Introd. or Treat. on Method 23 in Encycl. Metrop. I The ancients, as well as the moderns, had their machinery for the extemporaneous coinage of intellect. 1876
E. A. Freeman Hist. Norman Conquest V. xxv. 580 Words of modern coinage.

As you can see from the quotes, the usage goes way back. Now, if you coin a word and you are speaking English, the language of coinage is English. It really does not matter what your basis for it is. You are the arbiter. Philosophically, it is a false problem to ask what language a coined word is "in". It's "in the language" of the coiner.

In short, the coiner is the boss. What freedom!

If you were speaking French, then, the coined word would be French. Though the Académie française doesn't usually approve of it. [in joke]

The word can be formed from anything at all. The "parts" of it do not matter. What matters is the meaning that you, the coiner, ascribe to it.

I was surprised to see that no one mentioned coinage. This is a generic answer which can then be broken down into all sorts of sub-categories.

Here is a blog post that describes this phenomenon. coinage, blending, etc.

It states: "And in some cases, the meaning of these words is broadened. Example, complicated chemical or technical terms (like Aspirin: acetylsalicylic acid) [and medical terms] are adopted as the trademark term and often replace standard terms for e.g. in this example, painkillers." [square brackets, mine].

The author also points out that eponymns are coinages, too. One example: watt from the name of its inventor James Watt.

Many medical words are coinages (some would say blending). For me the undisputed genius here was Lewis Carroll and his nonsense poetry such as The Jabberwocky and The Hunting of the Snark, to name two examples.

Anyone can coin a word but will it stick? Dictionaries are constantly reviewing new words to see if they will be included in the lexicon. They have some rules such as usage over time (such as ten years) and usage in written materials.

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