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A few years ago I came across a distinct word used to reference non-words. Most people's guesses are intuitive though unfortunately aren't correct as it's a very distinct word. We're not talking about normal slang or utterances by a disillusioned person; more along the lines of people making things up on the spot that have no merit to exist.

Origins of these non-words could be from corporate pseudo-"culture" or non-professional advertising and marketing people. Slang would be relatively considered classy because there is some form of legitimacy to that word's existence versus if I made up the non-word 'qabefter' because I wanted to make a word that rhymed with something and had a certain meaning, not a legitimate word.

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    Sounds like you're looking for something like 'neologism' but with a negative connotation?
    – DyingIsFun
    Dec 28, 2015 at 17:57
  • @Silenus I don't want to give any real world examples due to hypersensitivity though neologism doesn't fit the bill (though is itself similar in complexity to the word I came across) and yes, the word I'm looking for certainly has a negative connotation.
    – John
    Dec 28, 2015 at 17:59
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    Nonce word (or occasionalism) ?
    – ermanen
    Dec 28, 2015 at 17:59
  • FYI: A word beginning with "qa" will suggest the Qt programming language to a small segment of programmers, and nonsense words beginning with "q" will suggest several different programming environments.
    – Hot Licks
    Dec 28, 2015 at 17:59
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    Encountered 'pseudoword' and 'logatome' while googling 'nonce-word' and 'occassionalism'. Does you have any intuition about what the word begins with? Very often a person's first guess is correct and it might help in the search (or it might lead us astray).
    – DyingIsFun
    Dec 28, 2015 at 18:18

3 Answers 3

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Nonword is in Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary tenth edition, which was first published in 1993. More readily accessible is the American Heritage Dictionary 5th edition and the Random House Webster Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary at The Free Dictionary by Farlex.

The A.H.D's. definition is:

A sequence of letters or sounds that is not accepted as a word by speakers of a specific language, sometimes used in psychological or linguistic experiments.


The Usage Addendum: Nothing about the signification in and of is good or bad.

As noted by the definition here, this word is used in academic contexts where researchers are supposed to remain as free from bias as possible. Although nobody can be completely free from bias, experiments generally have guidelines, such as double blind testing and control groups to minimize its effects. Using anything that doesn't have a neutral register would likely be met with disapproval. I have no reason to imagine that such is the case in Nonword Pronunciation and Models of Word Recognition which seems to look at them with intrigue. The study Preschool Speech Articulation And Nonword Repetition Abilities May Help Predict Eventual Recovery Or Persistence Of Stuttering by Spencer C. & Weber-Fox C. even seems to have a positive outlook for therapeutic use against stuttering.

Sometimes nonwords are met with much approval, especially in the field of entertainment. Consider the following exemplary quote from Introducing Psycholinguistics by Paul Warren, page 164:

Scrambled prose is neither syntactical nor semantically well-formed but consists of real words (10.20).

Jabberwocky named after the poem in Lewis Carrol's through the looking glass, is syntactically well-formed, but has nonwords in the place of most or all of the content words and so has little meaning, such as The waggy glim vorpily thazzes a veeg.


"Jabberwocky" with nonwords seems to be preferable to Scrambled Prose with "real" ones by this description. Moreover, the poem it references is met with much approbation for its convincingly fluent use of

Now it is true "little meaning" is not a very complimentary statement but it is an inescapably inherent quality of the concept meant to be conveyed, since this is the primary (albeit not only) difference between what a word is and is not:

A sound, or combination of sounds, used in any language as the sign of a conception, or of a conception together with its grammatical relations; the smallest bit of human language forming a grammatical part of speech; a vocable; a term.


The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia


Yes, the word is used in critical contexts but it is the context which imparts negativity onto the word, rather than this word selection. Moreover such users of nonword is at issue with the fact that a nonword either fails to serve a word's purpose or if it is proposed as a neoglism, somehow fails to serve it well enough.

Moreover, I suspect that such critics are more likely to say it is "not a real word" or even a "fake word" to highlight the lack of genuineness these words have (which isn't to say everybody who uses those phrases means them critically either), whereas nonword simply negates the root.

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  • Yes, but OP mentions this. Which should attract a downvote for lack of research, and/or a comment. Dec 28, 2015 at 19:04
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    @EdwinAshworth In this case I think it's understandable for a few reasons. One is that the word is often used in negative contexts (I don't believe the negativity is inherent to the word. I should add some note to that effect.) Another is that hyphenated words, like what he used really don't show up in searches. Another is that only Am. English Dictionaries seem to list it (Collins isn't listed for instance). Finally, it seems to be rather recently accepted, since the 4th edition of Am. heritage doesn't accept it, hence why I mentioned the date for the M.-W. 10th. It's somewhat hard to find.
    – Tonepoet
    Dec 28, 2015 at 19:15
  • A Google search for ' "non-word" meaning' gives M-W, ODO, dictionary.reference.com, yourdictionary.com, dictionary.reverso.net (and a language site) returns (including the solid and hyphenated forms) on the first page, at my space-time coordinates. Dec 28, 2015 at 19:21
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    @EdwinAshworth The OP uses it as opposed to mentioning it.
    – Mitch
    Dec 28, 2015 at 19:37
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    @Mitch He uses 'non-words' to mean what the dictionaries mean by 'non-words' (though perhaps he doesn't realise this). This qualifies as mentioning the word. Essentially he asks 'What is a word for non-words?' Dec 28, 2015 at 23:28
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The word for not a word is nixinyms. This is a portmanteau of nix and nym.

  • Nix means no.

  • Nym literally means name, from the Greek onoma meaning name or word.

Other words for words are also -nyms, such as acronyms, antonyms, synonyms, toponyms, autonyms, pseudonyms and so on.

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    Is 'nixinym' a nixinym?
    – DyingIsFun
    Dec 28, 2015 at 18:19
  • @Silenus nixinym is a nixinym but if we use it it becomes an isanym (from "is a" + nym=word).
    – Hugo
    Dec 28, 2015 at 18:23
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    @Dan: Correction: it's not yet in the OED :)
    – Hugo
    Dec 28, 2015 at 18:27
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    @John: Of course it doesn't infer any sense of being sensical or obscene; why should it? You never mentioned that in your question.
    – Hugo
    Dec 28, 2015 at 18:31
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    Nixinym does not (as per Google data) come anywhere near fulfilling the 'reasonably commonly used / understood' criterion demanded by 'word'. Dec 28, 2015 at 19:02
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The English language has no such concept. Simply making something up will become canon, if it becomes ubiquitous.

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  • The concept of the number/word 'zero' did not originally exist for some time too.
    – John
    Dec 28, 2015 at 19:37
  • Concepts are not language. You can express the concept of there being no word for a concept by saying 'there is no word for that concept'. There may very well be no single word for the concept, which would be a limitation of English.
    – Mitch
    Dec 29, 2015 at 0:09

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