Nonce Words

This is a wug

A nonce word is “a word occurring, invented, or used just for a particular occasion”, or “a word with a special meaning used for a special occasion” [source].

The word nonce comes from the Middle English nonse / nones, from to þan anes / for þan anes (to/for the one (occasion, instance)). Here’s example of how it’s used: “That will do for the nonce, but we’ll need a better answer for the long term.” [source].

The term ‘nonce word’ was apparently coined by James Murray, the editor of the Oxford English Dictionary [source].

Some nonce words become more widely used. Others may be used only by certain people. Here are a few examples:

quark – coined by James Joyce in Finnegans Wake. Adopted by Murray Gell-Mann for the subatomic particle [source].

blurb – “A short description of a book, film, or other work, written and used for promotional purposes.” Coined by American humorist Gelett Burgess on a book dust jacket at a trade association dinner in 1907 [source].

grok – “to drink; to drink in all available aspects of reality; to become one with the observed. Coined by Robert Heinlein in his book Stranger in a Strange Land (1961). Used to mean “to understand (something) intuitively; to fully and completely understand something in all of its details and intricacies.” [source].

sniglet – coined by the American comedian Rich Hall for the 1980s TV series Not Necessarily the News. It is defined as, “any word that doesn’t appear in the dictionary, but should” [source].

wug – a blue bird-like creature that appears in Jean Berko Gleason’s wug test, which investigates the acquisition of the plural form in English-speaking children. Know mainly to linguists. Also features in one of my songs.

A few nonce words I’ve coined include crumptious, snorf, snoob, zambalated, flartled, overflude, flimpsome, plood and tarpool. They appear in my song Plinkin Plookplooks.

I also coined the word omniglot in 1998. I wasn’t the first person to do so though – it also appears in Jenni Fleetwood’s 1988 book, The Intergalactic Omniglot. A book I didn’t know about until after I came up with the word. Has anybody read it?

Do you know of any other nonce words that have become more generally used?

Have you coined any yourself?

2 thoughts on “Nonce Words

  1. I’m wondering if or how this may be related to the word “nonsense” – any thoughts?

  2. Melissa – nonce and nonsense are not related. Nonsense comes from non (not) & sense [source], which comes from the Old French sens, sen, san (sense, reason, direction); from the Latin sensus (sensation, feeling, meaning), from sentiō (feel, perceive) [source].

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