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This question was prompted by an exchange of comments in another single word request question. Here is the exchange:

-What makes people think that English has a one-word for anything they could imagine? That's what phrases and clauses and sentences are for.

-I don't know, but there should be a word for it.

I've decided to ask this question because it can be useful to explain this phenomenon as we get many single word request questions here, where many or most of them have no context/details, no explanation/example of how to use it and no research effort.

It is kind of humorous to ask this question as it almost puts me in the same category 😊 However, I'm including details, I've done my research and it can be useful. It is a self-referential question and almost meta.

An example usage:

There is a phenomenon called _____. Some people think that there is a single word for any concept or idea. However, it is not the case and it requires phrases, expressions and sentences to explain some concepts/ideas; and you can't reduce it into a single word.

I'm thinking that it might be a logical fallacy, a possible -ism word, a possible French/Latin borrowing (possibly a -mania word) or even a linguistic phenomenon/term. It can be slang too. And, of course, if we can't find a single word, it can be an idiomatic phrase/expression also.

I've found the word verbomania (from Latin verbum word) but it has a different meaning:

a mania for words : excessive use of or obsession with words - [MW]

However, the answer doesn't have to be a -mania word.

Related questions but not the same:
- Word for someone who wants to find a single word to describe a relatively obscure concept, and posts such questions on internet boards?
- What is the word for individuals who unwittingly post very similar questions asking for the same words, without doing any previous research?

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5 Answers 5

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In Computer Science, Turing-Complete is a concept concerning the Computer Languages.

While some Computer languages can cover (or Express) only some algorithms, some Computer languages are Powerful enough to cover all (Possible) algorithms, and go by the Description Turing-Complete.

Similarly, we could think of all Possible Concepts, Ideas, Variations, Thoughts Etc. Can a Natural language Express or Communicate these all ?

It has been said that William Shakespeare had to invent new words because "Language could not bear the burden of his thoughts" and these new words were (are, will not be) still not enough to Communicate all thoughts. Language has to keep growing to accommodate new Ideas.

English (or other Human languages) can never be Communication-Complete, though Ever-growing in nature.
It is even less Possible that English has one word for every thought, because Dictionaries have about Millions of words, while thoughts are Billions, Trillions or Unlimited. English is not Laconic-Communication-Complete, Pointing to or referring to the Laconians who replied to a long threat message with a single word.

My "word" or "neologism" is Laconic-Communication-Complete (or Laconic-Complete) to Describe the Meta-thought that every thought has one word.

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    I like the comparison and the details. It is said that Shakespeare is credited with the invention or introduction of over 1700 words. Of course, it doesn't mean we should make up words for any thought/idea. There is a limit to neologomania :)
    – ermanen
    Jun 17 at 13:16
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You can formulate an idea as complex as you want, and then name the whole mess anything you like.
So it's naming.

I suggest philonymia, from

Wiktionary phil
fondness for; favor of; respect for.

Wiktionary -nym
Used to form nouns describing types of word or name

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  • Interesting approach. Could you explain the formation of the word philonymia? I've found philonym on Urbandictionary after your answer but it has a very different meaning.
    – ermanen
    Jun 16 at 10:45
  • It's nothing more complicated than the roots 'philo-', love and -nym, name (see Wiktionary for -nym), and 'ia' because that makes it seem like a condition. Jun 16 at 10:52
  • Thank you. I also meant adding in the answer for future reference for anyone who reads it, to make it as clear as possible. Details make it a better answer.
    – ermanen
    Jun 16 at 10:57
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    Suggestion of candidate neologisms is not on-topic on ELU, which looks at standard usages. Jun 16 at 11:17
  • There are examples of neologisms in answers from long-time users/veterans of this website (however they've included the details of how it can be formed from Latin/Greek). With the explanation of the formation and level of details, it can be acceptable, especially in a good/detailed question. And it is more acceptable if it was ever used online before. However, it is not an invitation to jump to any question with neologisms with no details.
    – ermanen
    Jun 16 at 11:31
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I would suggest a Greek-based option:

monolexigouria (mono (one, alone) + lexi (word) + sigouria (confidence)

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There are words for everything that we need a word for. If there is no word, then the concept/item/action/nuance is provided by a descriptive phrase, clause, etc.

In British English, the commonest recently accepted neologism is "Brexit"

OED:

Brexit, n. The (proposed) withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, and the political process associated with it.

2012 P. Wilding in blogactiv.eu 15 May (blog, accessed 19 July 2016) (title) Stumbling towards the Brexit: Britain, a referendum and an ever-closer reckoning.

2012 Christian Sci. Monitor (Nexis) 10 Oct. Why would the EU consider special economic and trading privileges for Britain after its ‘Brexit’?

2014 Financial Times (Electronic ed.) 19 Aug. 16 In many cases,the US banks are as worried about the eurozone's impending banking union as they are about Brexit.

The word was needed, it had the motive, means, and opportunity for massive publicity. It fulfilled a need and, following the Greek threats to leave (Grexit) it was invented (probably by a person we will never know) and became popular.

There is a genre of written humour that delights in inventing words.

There is a book "The Meaning of Liff" by the genius Douglas Adams, author of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" in which place-names in the UK are defined as words. (The first sequel is available at http://liff.hivemind.net/) If I remember correctly, the meaning of "liff" is "the teaspoon in the sink that you have missed washing when you drain the water."

There is a website, "The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows" https://www.dictionaryofobscuresorrows.com/ by John Koenig who invented/created words to express concepts/items/actions/nuances that he felt were needed. The majority are very plausible and I have used one or two (with the explanation.) The website has now been turned into a book and it not so easy to browse the "dictionary".

Here are a few entries:

  1. Sonder: The realization that each passerby has a life as vivid and complex as your own.

  2. Opia: The ambiguous intensity of looking someone in the eye, which can feel simultaneously invasive and vulnerable.

  3. Monachopsis: The subtle but persistent feeling of being out of place.

  4. Énouement: The bitter-sweetness of having arrived in the future, seeing now things turn out, but not being able to tell your past self.

The point here is that inventing words in isolation is not difficult but there is a difficulty in introducing them into common speech - few ever make it to a standard dictionary - the attrition rate must be huge.

The Simpsons gave us "cromulent" (adj.) and "embiggen" (v. tr.) and, because of the size of the audience and the humour attached, they now appear in dictionaries.

Shakespeare gave English 1,700 new words (From the RSC Website)

The early modern English language was less than 100 years old in 1590 when Shakespeare was writing. No dictionaries had yet been written and most documents were still written in Latin. He contributed 1,700 words to the English language because he was the first author to write them down.

As well as inventing completely new words, he used existing words in inventive ways, for example he was the first person to use 'friend' as a verb, as well as 'unfriended’ (Twelfth Night) and from 'gloom' he invented the word 'gloomy' (Titus Andronicus).

There is always the possibility that a few/some/many of the words were in current colloquial use but, had not Shakespeare been popular, one wonders how many such words would have survived.

On another site, someone asked about the word "machinic". This appeared in a paper, written in English, by a German Professor and the context implied that it meant "in the manner done by the internal workings of a computer". The general opinion was that "it wasn't a word." It may or may not make it to general speech but the odds are against it.

So in response to "a word for there not being a word for it" I would say that such a word has a zero-to-low demand and will have virtually no publicity. Until such time as these change, all attempts are futile.

You might like to ask the question on "meta": "How many neologisms suggested by EL&U have made it into standard dictionaries?" ;)

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  • Great answer. Yes, we tend to invent words when we need it. Lexemes that are created for a single occasion is called a nonce word but they are also neologisms. Neologisms can become more popular or prevalent in time. There are also other potent sources of neologism, like "verbification". There is even a neologism called "protologism" where a newly coined word is not published, and it becomes a neologism when it is published.
    – ermanen
    Jun 17 at 18:17
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    Oh heavens, no! This is not right, not right at all: The Simpsons absolutely ᴅɪᴅ ɴᴏᴛ give us cromulent! Matt Groening is clever enough, but not nearly half so clever as Rowan Atkinson: 1987 < 1995, QED🙵HTH🙵HAND.
    – tchrist
    Jun 17 at 20:07
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This question is quite tricky to answer so I will try my best.

One of the first words I found was:

logophile

Someone who loves words is called a logophile. Dictionary

But of course, this is not really close enough, closer to verbomania actually. Looking deeper, I found this, but it still does not apply to words and thinking specifically:

omniscient

having complete or unlimited knowledge, awareness, or understanding; perceiving all things. Dictionary

lexophile

A lover of words, especially in word games, puzzles, anagrams, palindromes, etc. Wikitionary

At the moment, I am still looking, but hopeful these words will point you in the right direction!

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    Thank you. I was rather trying to get away from words meaning "obsession with words or love of words". What I'm asking is more like a concept/phenomenon or a possible fallacy where you think that there should be a single word for everything imaginable.
    – ermanen
    Jun 16 at 10:35

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