Explore the BBC
Click for a Text Only version of this page
BBC Homepage
BBC Radio
BBC Radio 4
Routes of English

Like this page?
Send it to a friend!
The Routes of English - BBC Radio 4
home Message Board World of English Games Links Q and A

pic 1

Coining It

Making up new words for new things or ideas isn't new. New words - linguists call them 'coinages' - are as old as the English language itself. Melvyn Bragg explores the history of linguistic innovation from the Middle Ages, through the inventiveness of the Industrial Revolution, to the latest creations of the new technology.

You may need to download the free Real Player to hear the clips.

New and not so new
Many things that we now think of as exclusively 20th century were named well before the last century began. 'Contact lens' dates from 1888, 'parachute' was coined in 1785 and even 'commuter' began as early as 1865. As Elizabeth Knowles, lexicographer at the Oxford University Press, explains, the process of 'coining' goes on all the time. Sound

Why did that call it that?
How do new words or 'coinages' come about? For example, thousands of new terms came into being in the 20th century - and lexicographer John Ayto is familiar with all of them! He has found that 'coinages' tend to happen in particular ways. Sound

Science and new words
With the coming of the Industrial Revolution and the great interest in science, many more new words entered the language. Roy Porter, Professor in the Social History of Medicine at the Wellcome Institute, describes some of the ups and downs of scientific naming. Sound

Animal origins
'Snails' in clocks, 'rams' in industrial use - Katie Lowe, from Glasgow University, was fascinated by the number of scientific terms with some kind of animal origin. Here she is talking to engineer Dr Denis Smith at the Science Museum.Sound

Staying power
The 20th century has been the most active, linguistically speaking, of all time. The Oxford Dictionary records nearly 100,000 new items - that's 20% more than all the words coined over the last 1000 years! Roy Porter and Katie Lowe talk about just what gives some 'coinages' real staying power.Sound


About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy