I was in a college class the other day and someone was struggling to think of the word "invalidate". Much to my amusement, they landed on "devalidify" instead.

Is there a word or phrase for such a phenomenon, where you coin a word that is technically wrong, but still makes perfect sense?

  • 1
    Immaginative and ignorant all at the same time. Neologisms have become a hobby for more than a few.
    – Stan
    May 9, 2016 at 7:07

2 Answers 2


The process of doing this, and the result, is called back formation.

You take a perfectly good word, and not knowing the form you want, you form a new word using established rules, which happen to be wrong in the case in point.

An example from abolish. The proper noun here is abolition, but perhaps on the pattern of forms like astonishment or punishment, the back-formation abolishment is often heard. To me, this is a cause for astonition and the people who do it should suffer punition.

  • Interesting! From looking into it, though, it looks like back formation usually results in shortened versions of longer words by throwing away affixes, like resurrect from resurrection. Do you think that still applies here? May 16, 2016 at 19:19

I'm not sure a word exists for this. Perhaps you could call this process "inventing a hypothetical synonym". So "devalidify" would be a hypothetical synonym for "invalidate".

Side note, you might find this interesting:

polyseme (n.): A word or phrase that has multiple meanings.

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