I am working on my scholarship exam but, as a non-native, I found this question pretty confusing.

Some critics say the 1990s saw what could be (.....) a computer revolution. By the mid 1990s the number of people buying personal computers increased significantly. (A) changed (B) coined (C) termed (D) viewed

The answer key provided is (C) termed which I think that makes sense by the definition of term (verb).

to give something a name or to describe it with a particular expression

However, I think "coined" is also correct by the definition of coin (verb).

to invent a new word or expression, or to use one in a particular way for the first time

Could you please elucidate why "coined" is inappropriate for this question?

  • 2
    I can see why coined would seem logical (if this thing hasn’t already been called a computer revolution, that term could be coined), but it wouldn’t work. The difference between the two verbs lie in their complements: you term a thing or notion [direct object] a name/expression [object complement], but coin cannot work this way: the object there is the expression, not the thing described. Jun 15, 2019 at 17:47
  • Hello, Trey. Dictionaries are useful – even vital – tools, but don't give the whole story. They can't be expected to list every shade of meaning, and, as here, they can't be expected to give fully comprehensive usage advice. Sadly, @Janus is not packageable. Jun 15, 2019 at 18:17
  • @Janus Certainly worth an 'answer', though after just saying that dictionaries aren't going to be much help here, I can appreciate that corroborating evidence would be difficult to track down. It's probably a matter of trawling through corpora. Jun 15, 2019 at 18:21

1 Answer 1


Because ‘coin’, as a verb in this context, is only applied to the invention or creation of a new word or phrase and requires as an object a noun such as word, phrase, term, expression, but does not work with the definition of that expression alone.

The first example given in the Oxford Dictionary on line is in the active voice:

‘he coined the term ‘desktop publishing’’

although it also provides examples in the passive:

‘A new word was coined to describe such individuals: ‘cybersquatters.’’

And one can use the word adjectivally (my example):

‘‘cybersquatters’, a word coined to describe such individuals’

but, again, in relation to a word or phrase.

The incorrect adjectival usage in the example in the question would imply that you could say:

‘This phenomenon was coined a ‘computer revolution’’

Although grammatical, this doesn’t make sense. It is a phrase that was coined, and that phrase happened to be ‘computer revolution’, but ‘computer revolution’ alone refers to a phenomenon the occurred, irrespective of its name. It was not coined, it happened. So one must say something like:

‘The phrase ‘computer revolution’ was coined to describe this phenomenon’

In contrast, term does not mean to invent a name or phrase, but rather to use a name or phrase to describe a phenomenon, and takes as its object the phrase literal. The Oxford entry is:

Give a descriptive name to; call by a specified term.

‘he has been termed the father of modern theology’

The person that used the phrase did not necessarily invent it, and the sentence refers to the phrase itself, not to the action of inventing it.

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