They have/will have/should have a word for it-- the concept of "lexicalization"- verb "to lexicalize" -- create a word to fill a gap in our vocabulary, often replacing paragraphs of existing words trying to capture some conceptual meaning. Each word we use was invented by some other human, probably a native English speaker within the last two thousand years. Some of the real basic words may have had their start several thousand years earlier when our Indo-European ancestors needed them.

(There is the related concept "grammaticalization" where a lexical form (word) historically takes on an increasing grammatical function, tending to lose its lexical meaning-- "semantic bleaching" --in the process. This is the source of inflections and many of the so-called function words. It is responsible for certain arguments about gender, e.g. has that inflection really lost all its semantic content?)

Below is a plot of words in English dictionaries in recent centuries.

dictionary  size

Many of these words might be considered to have origins as "slang."

1. Time words English has words breaking down time into its tiniest pieces, with pieces getting smaller and smaller. (The history of minute and second are quite interesting.) Yet we hear about several languages where there appears to be no explicit words for time – Mokan, Piraha, and Hopi. Do these people really not have CONCEPTs of time, going along with not have words of time? Molotki (video, Pinker) plausibly says their language just doesn't need the precise lexical words like hour, minute, second-- and recently attosecond and femtosecond-- that English needs. Hence they refer indirectly, yet precisely as necessary to time:

“Then indeed, the following day, quite early in the morning at the hour when people pray to the sun, around that time then he woke up the girl again.” (Hopi translation, Pinker, 1994, P.63 )

"We know now that the cis-trans isomerization occurs in less than 200 femtoseconds (2x10–13 sec) following the absorption of a single quantum of photic energy. And as Wald went on to show, all subsequent events, including the formation of an active intermediary that triggers the electrical response of the visual cell, the conformational changes in opsin that free the chromophore from its binding pocket in opsin, and the reduction of all-trans retinal to form vitamin A (all-trans retinol), are essentially thermal events no longer requiring the presence of light."

2. Rheingold, H. (1988). They Have A Word For It. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc. (Examples)
4.1. Katzenjammer: Monumentally severe hangover (Gr. Noun)
4.2. Mokita (Kiriwina, N. Guinea): truth everybody knows but nobody speaks
4.3. Koro (Chinese): the hysterical belief that one’s penis is shrinking
4.4. Drachenfutter: Peace offerings for wives from guilty husbands

3, MIT course - would you sign up for this? What is this all about?

9.912/MCB 206 Introduction to Connectomics

Course description:

Connectomics is an emerging field defined by the high-throughput generation of data about neural connectivity, and the subsequent mining of that data for knowledge about the brain. A connectome is a summary of the structure of a neural network, an annotated list of all synaptic connections between the neurons inside a brain or brain region. To make connectomics a reality, new tools are needed for the automated generation of three-dimensional nanoscale images of brain tissue, and the automated analysis of the resulting teravoxel or petavoxel datasets. This class will survey tool development in the areas of imaging, cutting, staining, and computation. Nanoscale imaging, including electron microscopy and sub-diffraction-limit fluorescence microscopy. Nanoscale and microscale cutting. Fluorescent and electron-dense staining. Image analysis algorithms. Case studies: C. elegans, fly, neuromuscular innervation, retina, cortex.


4. Language of physics - the physicists of the 17-20th centuries invented their own words when needed. what about the future? Will there come a point where the human mind can't represent concepts needed to "think" about phenomena? For example:

"Squarks, photinos, selectrons, neutralinos. These are just a few types of supersymmetric particles, a special brand of particle that may be created when the world's most powerful atom smasher goes online this spring. NYT, 2/5/08"

5. What's the origin of "genocide?"

6. Your language at work-- new expressions each day.. Schott's blog

Research on word creation suggests less new words today.

7. Source monitoring and evidentiality "markers"-- lexical or grammatical, optional or required? Morphemes may grammaticalize other morphemes to encode aspects of the meanings. In other languages like English, the same meanings may be encoded optionally by the choice of "free" morphemes.

(from Papafragoua, A., Li, P., Choi, Y., & Han, C.-h. (2007). Evidentiality in language and cognition. Cognition, 103(2), 253-299.

Source distinctions are encoded in language through a variety of evidentiality markers. In English, such evidential devices are mostly lexical. For instance, in (1a) and (1b) the speaker conveys that she had direct perceptual access to the event of John’s singing, while in (1c) and (1d) the evidence is indirect (hearsay in (1c) or some unspecified source in (1d)):


(1)     a.      I saw John sing.
         b.      I heard John sing.
         c.      John was allegedly singing.
         d.      John was apparently singing.


Other languages grammaticalize evidentiality through specialized and often obligatory verbal affixes, particles or other devices, as shown in the following examples from Colombian Tuyuka (Barnes, 1984) and Peruvian Quechua (Weber, 1986), respectively:


(2)    a.      díiga apé-wi      ‘He played soccer (I saw him)’
         b.      díiga apé-ti        ‘He played soccer (I heard the game and him but didn’t see it or him)’
         c.      díiga apé-yi       ‘He played soccer (I have seen evidence that he played but did not see him play)’
         d.      díiga apé-yigi   ‘He played soccer (I obtained the information from someone else)’
         e.   díiga apé-h?yi           ‘He played soccer (It is reasonable to assume that he did)’

(3)     a.      wañu-nqa-paq-mi      ‘It will die (I assert)’
         b.      wañu-nqa-paq-shi      ‘It will die (I was told)’
         c.      wañu-nqa-paq-chi      ‘It will die (perhaps)’

(4)     Basic categories of evidentiality
         A.      Direct access/perception
         B.      Indirect access
                  b1. Report from others
                  b2. Reasoning

(5) Evidentiality scale
  Direct access much greater-than Indirect access

Furthermore, evidentiality is a novel arena for investigating potential language-on-thought effects – perhaps an especially promising one: according to some commentators, linguistic effects on cognition are more likely to be found in domains removed from perception, involving higher-level cognitive representations where human cognition appears to differ from other species (Spelke & Tsivkin, 2001). Here we take up both of these themes in a series of cross-linguistic experiments exploring the relation between grammatical evidentiality and non-linguistic source monitoring in children.


7. Linguists classify words as function or content words. While content words come and go, function words are quite stable over time. Yet there is a process sometimes called 'grammaticalization' through which content words take on a grammatical function, losing much if not all of their original meaning ("semantic bleaching"). They now also are part of the language acquisition process. Meillet (1912/1958) defined grammaticalization as 'the transition of autonomous words into the role of grammatical elements' .

Well known examples in English include the almost contemporary transistion of go into gonna, and earlier transition of the specifier a (an) from one. In highly inflected languages, the case marking and verb inflecting morphemes may have their origins in content words.

Grammaticalized distinctions-- If a language requires the speaker to encode a certain distinction-- eyewitness or hearsay, shape of object, gender of noun, etc.--- does this somehow prime that concept differently for those speakers -- raising or lowering their 'consciousness' of those distinctions? Does this required encoding facilitate the acquisition of the underlying mental concepts as Whorf might suggest?


8. Can we eliminate words?

9. euphemisms and synonyms?

PRALINE. [...] Now that's what I call a dead parrot.
SHOPKEEPER. No, no it's stunned.
PRALINE. Look my lad, [...]. That parrot is definitely deceased. [...]
SHOPKEEPER. It's probably pining for the fjords. [...]
PRALINE. Look matey [...] this parrot [... is] bleeding demised.
SHOPKEEPER. It's not, it's pining.
PRALINE. It's not pining, it's passed on. This parrot is no more. It has ceased to be. It's expired and gone to meet its maker. This is a late parrot. It's a stiff. Bereft of life, it rests in peace. If you hadn't nailed it to the perch, it would be pushing up the daisies. It's rung down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. This is an ex-parrot.
SHOPKEEPER. Well, I'd better replace it then.
Gratzke, Reinhard (ed.) 1995. Monty Python's Flying Circus. Selected Sketches. Stuttgart: Reclam. (p.109-11)

10. the story of one new word, the duro. Or another "chimping."

11. Mother list of obscure words.