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, Neolithic, Neoclassicism, 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.
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.