Quite simply, where does the term "word salad" come from? I've found it a very frustrating thing to try to do web searches on, as it typically gets munged into searching about the "word 'salad'".

The oldest reference I've found is in a Google Books hit from 1954 in which they refer to it being a common term of doctors (in psychiatry). My assumption is that this is the origin, but I'd be interested if there are any solid cites that can be found earlier than this one.

  • 1
    German has Wortsalat, since about the 1920s, judging by the usage graph. So this could be a loanword from German, in particular also because a lot of speakers of German played a prominent role in early psychiatry.
    – njuffa
    Oct 10, 2016 at 4:01
  • This is not an etymology question which are questions dealing primarily with word stems and sometimes roots.
    – Abraxas
    Oct 10, 2016 at 4:09
  • This article on Merriam-Webster concurs with @njuffa in ascribing its origin to a loanword from German.
    – Gnawme
    Oct 10, 2016 at 5:35

1 Answer 1


The earliest attestation I can find ascribes the origin to Forel's wortsalat, as translated by Kraepelin to 'wordsalad'. This appears in The Medical Standard of 1895, recounting events from the May, 1894 meeting of the Association of German Alienists and Neurologists, where "Kraepelin of Heidelberg described a 'peculiar group of insane patients,' who, among 'other distressing symptoms,' exhibited as 'the most striking phenomenon' a tendency to the coinage of new words":

wordsalad attestation, 1895

Although the earliest attestation in OED Online is from 1904, they give the origin as "after either German Wortsalat (1894 or earlier) or French salade de mots (1895 or earlier)", which jives with the date of the wortsalat attestation in The Medical Standard.

  • It appears the origin is a Swiss-French one: Salad de mots: Cette expression a été créée par Auguste Forel pour décrire un trouble de l'expression verbale proche de la schizophrénie, et qu'on retrouve fréquemment dans les formes délirantes paranoïdes de la schizophrénie. carnets2psycho.net/dico/sens-de-salade-de-mots.html - books.google.it/…
    – user66974
    Oct 11, 2016 at 7:36
  • "Terme introduit par E. Forel, qui désigne "le comble de l'incohérence" (P. Guiraud), avec juxtaposition de phonèmes, de mots quelconques et de néologismes sans rapports ni signification apparents pour l'interlocuteur, sans lien logique ni grammatical. Ce trouble extrême de l'expression verbale, dont la schizophasie est proche, peut se rencontrer dans les formes délirantes paranoïdes des schizophrénies." Anglais : Word salad psychologies.com/Dico-Psycho/Salade-de-mots
    – user66974
    Oct 11, 2016 at 7:39
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    Forel was born in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, but worked in Zurich, in the German-speaking part, so if he coined the expression the French and German terms do overlap in origin and usage. en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Auguste_Forel
    – user66974
    Oct 11, 2016 at 7:56
  • @JOSH, yeah, I started searching Forel's works at the Internet Archive, but couldn't find it. The origin may be extempore at the meeting described.
    – JEL
    Oct 11, 2016 at 8:06

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