How do you pronounce ‘neologism’?

Neologism, literally ‘new word’, is not a word I hear spoken very often. I’ve always pronounced it /niˈɑləˌdʒɪz(ə)m/ – ‘nee-OL-uh-jiz-m’, more or less – but I’ve been wrong before about words I often see but seldom hear. So when I first heard /ˌniːəʊˈləʊdʒɪzəm / ‘nee-oh-LOW-jiz-um’, I wondered.

That first time was an American speaker. When I heard it again from an Irish person, I figured it for a variant. Finally I looked it up in a bunch of reliable dictionaries, including the OED, Macmillan, Collins, Merriam-Webster, American Heritage, ODO, and Cambridge. None of them included the variant.

Some dictionaries mention a slightly different second vowel sound – /ɒ/ or /ɑ:/ – but the stress pattern is always the same: primary stress on syllable 2, ‘OL’, secondary on syllable 4, the rest unstressed. [Edit: A few dictionaries list a variant with stress on syllable 1.] None includes a form with stress on syllable 3, ‘LOW’. Yet I’ve heard it from several native-English speakers, including a linguist, on different continents.

Curious about its distribution and perceived acceptability, I asked Twitter. (Or to use the popular journalistic idiom, I took to Twitter.)

The replies were interesting, and some confirmed that they too use the variant pronunciation. Here’s a selection:

Why people use the variant is no great mystery: many words with the prefix neo– have secondary stress on the first syllable and primary stress on the third (neo-Darwinism, neonatal, NeolithicNeoclassicism, etc.). And while there is no word logism, derivations from Greek logos often have stress on the ‘LO’ or ‘LOG’.

But the absence from dictionaries of this… neo-orthoepy suggests that it’s sufficiently new and infrequent to have escaped lexicographers’ attention, despite seeming anecdotally to have significant currency – even if modest compared with the standard – and to occur in several major dialects, including AmE, AusE, and HibE.

Is it new? Is it niche? Can it be considered standard? Is it all a dream?

So I’m looking for more data. Let me know in a comment how you pronounce neologism. For all I know, you say it like this. Please include your dialect, and your age or age range if you’re so inclined. If you’ve heard other people say the word, that’s all good anecdata too.

*

Postscript: Neologisms, in general, entertain me. I don’t care how silly or superfluous they might be – they’re a sign of people being creative or playful with words. Language is a tool but it’s also a toy: something we can play with as we please.

I don’t always like new words, including my own (and I make them up constantly, on a whim), but in principle I’ll defend even ‘unnecessary’ words. I do like profanilect, for someone’s personal lexicon of profanities. And when someone requests a new word, I can’t resist:

(If you can’t see the linked text in the last tweet, thanks to Twitter’s new ‘quote’ feature, it’s @SpodoKomodo saying there ‘needs to be a word for the ridiculous sentence in an online thinkpiece that stops you in your tracks and makes you close the tab’. I hope I’ve avoided that.

Updates:

Lots of tweets coming in on this: some stress the first syllable (a variant I overlooked), some the second, and some the third. To keep all the relevant data together I’ve put the tweets in a Storify.

The American Heritage Dictionary has added the mystery variant:

The traditional pronunciation of neologism is accented on the second syllable (nē-ŏl′ə-jĭz′əm). In our 2015 survey, this is the pronunciation preferred by 72 percent of the Usage Panel. A newer variant pronunciation accented on the third syllable (nē′ō-lō′jĭz′əm) is preferred by 28% of the Panel; however, only half of the Panel finds it acceptable.

48 Responses to How do you pronounce ‘neologism’?

  1. sara says:

    I’ve always pronounced it neoLOgism, and have kind of assumed I’ve heard it pronounced that way too… but now I’m not so sure. (AmE, age 33).

    I just asked two of my coworkers and they pronounce it neOLogism (both AmE, ages 36 and 23).

  2. Ian Preston says:

    BrE, 50: neOLogism

  3. Dean says:

    NeOLogism, for me. (HibE, with a strong preference for BrE, over AmE; age 28.) I have certainly heard neoLOgism and, I guess tacitly, understood the pronunciation to be AmE.

  4. I neither hear nor say this word frequently, but I pronounce it with the stress on the first syllable (NEE-ə-lə-gism). Is that just me?

    • Stan Carey says:

      Not just you, Jared. In the replies to this tweet from Ben Zimmer, a couple of people said that’s how they pronounce it. And Peter Sokolowski from Merriam-Webster notes that the M-W Unabridged includes it as the only variant: ‘\nēˈäləˌjizəm sometimes ˈnēəl-\’.

  5. Oliver Farry says:

    I have never heard it pronounced with the stress on the third syllable (though, then again, it is a word one is far more likely to encounter in print). As you say it is understandable that people might assume such a pronunciation based on other ‘neo-‘ constructions though this is a little erroneous for two reasons. Firstly, the word ‘neology’ appears to precede ‘neologism’ by a couple of hundred years (certainly in the sense of German Rationalist philosophy) so the traditional English stress patterns for words formed using ‘-ology’ would appear to have prevailed. Secondly, ‘neologism’, according to most dictionaries I have consulted, arrived into English via French, where ‘néologisme’ also has the stress on the second syllable.

    I’m willing to accept a pronunciation with the stress on the third syllable as a valid variant but there doesn’t appear to be any basis for it other than personal preference.

  6. marc leavitt says:

    Stan:

    I always pronounced it, “knee-oh-LOW-gism,” until I was enlightened recently, when I heard it pronounced by someone on a podcast, who, I assumed, knew how to say it correctly.

    Since then, I’ve tried to say, “ne-OL-o-gism,” but often start with the old, and catch myself. Actually, I prefer my way, but then, I refer to myself in retirement, as a “SEM-eye-REC-loose,” with a “con-SUM-mate” preference for solitude.

    enough jsvi

  7. cjrecordvt says:

    When I’ve heard it said aloud, it’s always been NE-o-LO-gis-m. (I’m not sure if that last m is truly syllabic, beyond English’s expected constraints.)

    New England AmE and Texas AmE, 36

  8. grammargeddonangel says:

    NeOLogism for me, but I’ve heard neoLOgism on the radio and tv.

    AmE here, Upper Midwest/Great Lakes (northern IL/SE WI), 56.

  9. Harry Lake says:

    I agree with Jared (what part of the world are you in Jared?). As far as I can remember I have always pronounced it with the stress on the first syllable. It is a word I use in speech every now and then (in fact, mainly in speech). Maybe it’s an age thing? (I’m 69 and from S.E. England). Longman’s Pronunciation Dictionary (2000 edn) gives this pronunciation as a secondary pronunciation (‘Where pronunciations other than the main one are in common educated use, they too are included but as secondary pronunciations printed in black’). It does not give the version with the stress on the third syllable. (Perhaps I should also mention it gives both BE and AE pronunciations (which it refers to as RP and Gen Am), but as far as I can see from a quick glance, no others.

  10. Alina Cincan says:

    /niˈɑləˌdʒɪz(ə)m/, just like you, Stan (stress on the 2nd syllable). Native tongue: Romanian (where the stress in ‘neologism’ – same spelling, slightly different pronunciation – is on the last syllable). 32, living in the UK for a few years (started learning English at 7).

  11. Second syllable. From Liverpool, UK. But then I suspect I heard it pronounced mostly by uni lecturers. The two suspects were from Rugby (UK) and Catalonia…

  12. coco says:

    second syll (AmE, age 45), but I am a convert from 3rd syll, which I think I invented bc of the etymology/morphology before noticing everyone else said 2nd-syll style.

  13. Clint W says:

    This AmE (North Midland) speaker says (or at least thinks nee-OL-uh-jiz-m.

  14. Tim Martin says:

    Third syllable. AmE (Mid-Atlantic), age 30.

  15. james says:

    I don’t know if I have ever said it, but my natural pronunciation would be stress on the 1st syllable. But 2nd sounds natural too.

    BrE (SE/London) 60-ish.

  16. I’m 57 (born in ’57), originally from Brooklyn NY, (i.e. AmE, northeast). I have heard it pronounced, and I myself pronounce it as nee-oh-LOH-jizm, following all the current “neo” constructions. If I’ve been incorrect all these years, I don’t mind switching to whatever is correct, but if my way is fine, I will leave it that way.
    Along these lines, I remember the first time I heard someone else pronounce “automaton” and had to look it up, because the way he pronounced it was not the way I thought it was pronounced…I was quite chagrined to discover I had been wrong. Quite a revelation to find out I was not perfect.

    • Harry Lake says:

      Perfection is not something one should strive for, in my opinion… It is not attractive. Anyway, these things keep changing, despite the efforts of the authorities in some countries, notably France of course but also here in the Netherlands, to lay down the linguistic law. Just as long as no one tries to get me to say ‘mili-tairily’ instead of ‘militrily’! :-)
      But then, who am I for Heaven’s sake?

  17. astraya says:

    I don’t recall that I’ve ever heard or spoken it. It’s one of those words which I skim over without really attempting to mentally pronounce. If anything, I would put the stress on ‘gi’, which no-one seems to have mentioned so far.

  18. Chips Mackinolty says:

    neOLogism.

    Australian English, brought up/educated in south east

  19. azzurosky says:

    Have heard both pronunciations in Australia. I myself would say it like neo-logism, in parallel with other neo- words. Even though logism is not an independent word, its meaning is quite clear. On the other hand, the second syllable stress has a very natural English language flow to it.

    I’m reminded of a debate in Australia when the metric system was introduced in Australia in the 60’s, regarding the pronunciation of kilometre. The government’s directive was to pronounce it KILLometre, with the intention of stressing the relationship to a thousand. But many, if not most, proceeded to pronounce it with more naturally flowing kilOMetre.

    • astraya says:

      I definitely say ‘KILLometre’, and from (possibly fallible) personal memory would say that most Australians do. I always thought ‘kiLOmetre’ was Gough Whitlam’s personal affectation.
      At times I have lived in areas of Australia where distance is measured in hours, not kilometres.

  20. Jooli says:

    Howjsay.com, a talking dictionary of English pronunciation I trust, puts the stress on the second syllable–neOLogism.

  21. I’ve never heard anyone speak the word but my instinct is to place the stress on the second syllable. Childhood in England, now in Australia.

  22. Stan Carey says:

    Thank you all for the comments. It’s very helpful to get a sense of how people say it and where. I would need more systematic data to make any firm conclusions about dialect, but that aside it seems three stress patterns are common, with primary stress on syllable 1, 2, or 3. I overlooked the first of these in the post, but a couple of dictionaries include it so I’ve added a line to clarify, plus an update linking to further feedback on Twitter.

    The predominance of /niˈɑləˌdʒɪz(ə)m/ ‘nee-OL-uh-jiz-m’ may owe something to the same basic pattern in neology, neologise, neologiser and neologist. Other neo- words with syllable-2 stress include neoteny and neoterism, though the latter is pretty obscure. Three-syllable neo- compounds tend to have syllable-1 stress: neonate, neophyte, neoblast, neocon, neoprene, neotype and Neophron.

    There’s also variation in vowel sounds that I hadn’t anticipated, e.g., Stuart from NZ says ‘neo-LOJ-ism’.

  23. Ellen Klein says:

    I am a 61-year-old American who has been living in Germany for over 30 years. I put the stress on the second syllable, ‘LO’.

  24. I’m not actually certain if I’ve ever heard or spoken the word aloud, but when I read it I’ve automatically stressed it as ‘neo-LO-jism’, where the prefix is distinct.

    I read “neology” as ‘ne-OL-ogy’ as per other -ologies. Context is fun.

    I speak the Irish, North Kildare variety of English.

  25. dw says:

    I’m not sure I’ve ever spoken the word aloud, but in my head it’s always had first-syllable stress.

    • dw says:

      … perhaps by analogy with “syllogism”, since the hiatus in “neo” makes the word seem close enough to four syllables :)

      • dw says:

        … also nearly all words beginning “neo-” have at least secondary stress on the first syllable. The exceptions: neology, neologize, are words I never say.

      • Harry Lake says:

        I’d say it was functionally five syllables, including the orthographically unrepresented vowel sound between the last two letters.

  26. elizdanjou says:

    I’ve always stressed the first syllable, with a minor stress on the third.

    But I am not sure where I got that—I imagine I must hear it pronounced sometimes by editor colleagues—and editing instructor colleagues, as it’s something we discuss with students. But I’ve taught almost exclusively online now for ten years…

    I’m middle-aged and live in central Canada, though spent early childhood in the U.S. (unlikely to have learned this word before moving at age 9, however).

  27. I don’t think I’ve heard it spoken. Intuitively I pronounce it the way you do. I think my brain just went in the direction of words like theology/psychology etc. But I can see how some may go in the direction of a later stress à la neonatal etc.

    (I live in England and generally speak RP. Age 53.)

  28. adamf2011 says:

    I don’t know if I’ve ever actually spoken this word aloud, but when reading it to myself I stress the initial “NEE” and the next to last “JIZ”. Maybe I’ve never actually heard this word spoken aloud by someone else, because it’d never occurred to me that there were other ways of pronouncing it.
    I’m a middle-aged American — from New York, originally; I think I speak a fairly standard American English.

  29. Stan Carey says:

    Thanks again for the comments and insights. Many people say they’ve never heard it spoken, and I imagine most of those who do hear it do so only rarely or occasionally. I don’t hear it much myself. This presumably is part of why there’s significant variation and uncertainty over the pronunciation. When I first heard the variant with syllable-3 stress, I checked to see if my version with syllable-2 stress was wrong – which seemed quite possible, given my track record.

  30. Here are the people OED quotes making up neologisms for the concept of neologism: http://poetry-contingency.uwaterloo.ca/new-words-for-new-words/ – irony abounds.

  31. Iswarya V says:

    Hi, I’m Indian (late 20ish) and I’ve always stressed the 3rd syllable (when I’ve had occasion to say the word aloud). It somehow sounded proper to me all along, like “biological.” Maybe, I’d have paused to think, if only it had been “neology” instead of “neologism.” That may be due to the unmarked vowel-like sound between the ‘s’ and ‘m’ at the end.

  32. lectorconstans says:

    “neo-LOJ-ism” keeps the parts separate: it’s a “new – word”.
    Speaking of mispronunciations, yesterday on a US TV newscast, the newsreader talking about a film opening, “Straight Outta Compton” (a semi-documentary), said it was a “bye-oppic” (it’s a “biopic” (Hollywood talk, “bio – pic”).
    There are some neologisms I will never tolerate: “webinar” (web seminar”) is among the worst.
    Sometimes I think we need something like the French Academy, to make sure that only approved neologisms are allowed to propagate.

    • Stan Carey says:

      Biopic is a notorious misle, misleading people into incorrect pronunciations.

      An official academy of English would be an excellent way to waste time and confuse and annoy people. Requiring that all neologisms pass through such a screen would serve only to hinder the language’s natural development.

      • lectorconstans says:

        I was being facetious…. Early on, when I was learning to read, I was led astray into pronouncing ‘misled’ as ‘my-zled’. Unlike some languages (e.g., German); but like others,( e.g., French), English spelling is a suggestion – sometimes vague – as how the word is to be sounded. British English abounds with examples: Grosvenor (where the ‘v’ hides under the bed), and the apocryphal ‘Featherstonehaugh’.

        The French Academy has probably done more harm than good; among other things, It gave them for ‘disk jockey’, ‘animateur de radio’ (there’s also an ‘animatrix’).

        Thanks for the link to ‘academy of English’.

      • Stan Carey says:

        That’s a relief. There’s no shortage of people advocating an academy of English, so irony can be hard to detect unless one knows the person or their form in such matters.

        The mismatch between English spelling and pronunciation, with particular focus on place-names, is the subject of this enjoyable song:

    • Harry Lake says:

      I agree wholeheartedly with Stan. In my absolutely not humble opinion, the last thing English needs is a body like the one I thought was called the Académie française. Here in Holland, where I have lived for the past forty-five of my almost seventy years, they happily do not have an institution that dictates that words like ‘computer’ are inventions of the Devil – but they do have a body that tells the Dutch how to spell. Since half their diktats appear to be based on faulty logic, there are not one but two books, one green with the official (=officious) orthography and one white with an unofficial version, put out by lovers of Holland’s wonderfully beautiful, flexible but often irritating language. (One is reminded of English…)(Remember I speak as a Brit (itself a word that an Academy would presumably ban).)

      • lectorconstans says:

        On spelling: I recently read that the French gave the Vietnamese their alphabet, then spelled all their words wrong.

        I’ve often wondered: since the French speak French, and the Italians, Italian, how did it come to pass that people in Holland speak Dutch? And aren’t even called Hollanders?

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