Neologisms -- i. e., new words
A friend on a message board I frequent wrote the following today:
Mike -- you may have heard how "downsizing" became "rightsizing." Well, now "outsourcing" is being supplanted by "right-sourcing" (don't send jobs to India, send them to Idaho! LOL) Sometime, I'd like to hear your thoughts about neologisms -when are they a great idea and when they are stupid.
Neologisms are simply new words. They are created every day, I would imagine, in this fast moving world. Scientists, for instance, routinely create new technical terms as they discover new phenomena for which there are no appropriate existing words. The word quark comes immediately to mind.
The phenomenon referred to as "outsourcing" was initially used in my experience for cases in which a manufacturer, instead of building a part "in house," would acquire it from another manufacturer, possibly in a different city or state. These days not only manufactured parts but whole products or even services like programing are outsourced, sometimes to businesses outside the United States. It was used frequently in the last Presidential campaign.
Some people who fashion themselves as protectors of the English Language dislike such creations. Yesterday, while surfing, I found the following amusing entry in a blog:
"Utilization" and "utilize" are a blot on the English language. They are polysyllabic abominations spawned by the regulatory/consulting complex, suffering, as well it should, from an inferiority complex that renders it too insecure to use the perfectly good word "use."Persons taking this sort of position are doomed to a life of linguistic disappointment.
Back to neologisms: Successful communication requires both ease of expression (a speaker desideratum) and ease of understanding (a hearer desideratum). In the case of the creation and acceptance of a neologism like "outsourcing" speakers of English satisfied the criterion of ease of expression, for there is no simple existing way of communicating the notion "acquiring goods or services from an outside source" and we certainly don't want to use a long phrase like this every time we want to refer to the phenomenon of outsourcing. On hearing it for the first time, in a sentence like "We are outsourcing our widgets to Ohio Widgets," I suspect that most people would instantly understand what is being communicated. And in that case, the neologism also satisfies the criterion of ease of understanding.
I had not heard of the notion "rightsourcing." I presume it means "acquiring the right amount of something from another source" or possibly "acquiring something from the right source." Either is a credible initial interpretation for a speaker hearing it for the first time. But that means the neologism doesn't satisfy the criterion of ease of understanding for this criterion involves"correct understanding" of course. I suspect that this neologism might survive within the business community but not come to be used widely in the press or by ordinary people. I can't imagine hearing something like "We must ecourage our business community to rightsource goods and services not outsource them" in the next Presidential campaign.
In addition to the criteria of ease of expression and ease of understanding, there are other factors that are involved in the successful introduction of a new word into a language. Some years ago, the term of address "Ms" was created to be the female equivalent to "Mr." It was largely done for political reasons as a part of the feminist movement. "Mrs" and "Miss" give away the marital status of a woman whereas "Mr" doesn't do the same in the case of men. When "Ms" was first introduced, I thought business world would jump for joy, for with this term available, they would no longer have to guess as the marital status of a woman when addressing a letter or package to them. This incredibly useful neologism was shot down by married women who were proud of their status and didn't want to see their status diminished by the use of "Ms."
New words can also fail for other reasons. We are unlikely to want to use ugly looking or bad sounding words. As I observed in What is Linguistics?, People routinely refer to others who speak a number of languages as linguists though the "proper" word for this is "polyglot." The first word that comes to mind when I hear that word is "pollywog," another term for a tadpole. It is no wonder that polyglot is used only by linguists and others who want to distinguish people who study the nature of lanugage from those who speak a number of languages. In this case, however, we are not dealing with a neolgoism but with a word that is on life support.