What benchmarks or useful signs can be found to declassify neologisms? Obviously, inclusion in a dictionary is as likely as anything to declare a neologism a word but what happens just before that point?

Note that I am not asking how long it takes to convert a neologism. I am asking if there are there any good indications of neologisms about to phase into the lexicon.

The flip side is also interesting: When is it safe to say that a neologism is not likely to catch on without some drastic intervention? For instance, kipple is an interesting word with a distinct meaning but it seems so far outside of the cultural sphere that it seems safe to claim it will never become a recognized word.

I suspect that answers to the first part (what makes a neologism stick) are likely to answer the second part via absence. As in, if a certain thing is a good sign for a neologism, its absence is evidence against the neologism.


3 Answers 3


Neologisms can be divided in three categories/phases:

  1. Unstables: Those that belong to this category are the newest ones, as in being just introduced, or that are used by few.
  2. Spread: As the name says, they are spread enough, so they are used by a wide number of people, but are not accepted as "normal" words yet.
  3. Stables: Those who get accepted by the public audience and start to be used like other words become stable.

Anyway, although we can say that when a word goes inside the Dictionaries, it is not a neologism anymore, if it's being used so commonly and widely, it will be considered a normal word like others, and this is what counts.

Sometimes, even when experts or linguists don't agree on some neologism, for various reasons, what really matters is the common usage and the acceptance by the public audience, as you could also see from the three categories/phases I wrote above.

If the event/situation the neologism describes cease to exist, the word will stop being used and therefore disappear. This is to answer to your second question.


As a rule of thumb, if it appears in a general interest broadcast or publication without being accompanied by a definition, it's probably not a neologism anymore.

However, this doesn't mean that a word accompanied by a definition is necessarily a neologism; it may simply be obscure or unfamiliar to the target audience.

  • Sounds good to me. I would just say that for me, a neologism tends to imply the new word (or its usage in a new context) is somewhat quirky. So nearly a quarter of a century after its first appearance I still think of bonkbuster as a neologism. Whereas waterboarding just seems like just a regular word, even if what it refers to is arguably irregular. May 11, 2011 at 21:35
  • Companies may be stratified in a similar manner. The Economist will say "Publicis, a french advertising giant" for the second tier. No elaboration needed for "Apple." First tier terms belong in Scrabble and Bananagrams (a Scrabble derivative).
    – Bob Stein
    Mar 19, 2018 at 14:55

One of my linguistics professors was fond of saying that by the time you'd heard a particular usage often enough for it to annoy you, it was too late—it'd already become entrenched. I'd say that's as good a definition as any: a word ceases to be a neologism when people start complaining about it.

  • 1
    Some words annoyed me after I first heard them...
    – MrHen
    May 11, 2011 at 21:47
  • 1
    Some people continue to be annoyed by the same words from childhood to old age. Not necessarily neologisms either - often good old Anglo Saxon four-letter words! May 11, 2011 at 22:19

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