The Odd World Of English and Neologisms

With influences from around the world, English is truly an international language. We take a look at how it is ever-evolving.

English is one of the richest languages, comprising more than 170,000 words. This is not counting the obsolete words which are in excess of 40,000. To be fluent one needs around 10,000 to 12,000 words which bring us to what a literate native speaker would have in their vocabulary. Even to get by, a person would require 2,500 to 3,000 words.

Each year and changing circumstances bring about new words and many of these get added to the dictionary.

The last few years brought about Brexit, Brexiteers, Covidiots and many more.

Some of the more interesting words originated during World War II. Let’s have a look at a couple of them.


Interesting English Words To Learn

Snafu: The dictionary describes it as “a badly confused or ridiculously muddled situation”. This word is an acronym of “situation normal, all f**ked up” and was coined by the British and the American soldiers.

Radar: Since decades, commonly used in most countries and described by the dictionary as, “ a device for determining the presence and location of an object by measuring the time for the echo of a radio wave to return from it and the direction from which it returns” was also composed by the British and American soldiers from, “radio detection and ranging”.

Gestapo : This one came from German. “Geheime Staatspolizei” meaning “secret state police” and is described by the English dictionary as, “the German state secret police during the Nazi regime, organized in 1933 and notorious for its brutal methods and operations”.

Sonar: From “sound navigation and ranging”.

Other commonly spoken words derived from acronyms are:

Scuba: from “self-contained underwater breathing apparatus.”

Sim card: SIM came from “subscriber identification module”.

Smart car: Originated from “Swatch Mercedes Art.”


European Inspirations

While French has borrowed words from the English language, here are some that English has borrowed from French and may come as a surprise. 

Money: Taken from “monnaie”.

Denim : Long associated with the jeans worn by American cowboys, the word actually came from “de Nimes” the French city that originally made the fabric.

Modern: This one from “moderne”.

There are many more just as there are many English words being used in other languages.


Around The World

More commonly spoken words in English that have come from other languages, Chuddies – informal Hindi for underpants, Jungle – also from Hindi, Guru – from Sanskrit, Safari – from Arabic, Cigar – from Spanish, Wanderlust – from German, Cookie – from Dutch, Karaoke – you guessed right it’s from Japanese, Lemon – from Arabic, Massage – this one probably comes from Portuguese ‘Amasser’ meaning to knead dough.

This year alone, several words have been recorded by one dictionary or another. Contactless – for paying by card and deliveries, Doomscrolling – looking for bad news in the media, Quaranteen – a teenager quarantined, Truthiness – truth but to be proven, Adulting – going to be an adult. 

According to researchers, mother, bark and spit are probably the oldest words and the longest word in the English dictionary is pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis which I’m not sure even doctors are able to pronounce despite it being a medical term. 

Truth be told, even well literate native speakers do not always know all the words that are spoken and sometimes must put it into context to understand the meaning.

Other times, not even that. The next time an American teenager says clap back, thirsty or salty, take them to mean, rejoinder, seeking attention and angry respectively.

Depending upon who’s counting about 1,000 new words are added to the language every year. Good luck.


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