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Last updated at 13:54 GMT, Tuesday, 15 December 2009



Mark Shea explains the origin, meaning and use of the expression 'nearliness'. Click below to listen:

Tim Henman

Tim Henman


One example of a neologism, or new word, coming into English is 'nearliness'. You might be surprised to hear that it’s a new word, it sounds so right, so everyday. Obviously we’re all familiar with near, and nearly, but nearliness is really new

I first heard it in connection with British tennis players. One player, Tim Henman was very good at getting to semi-finals, and became incredibly popular, but never won any of the most important tournaments. The theory is that, whereas the Americans really love a winner, what the British really like is someone who comes close, without ever actually doing it. This quality we can call nearliness. Tim Henman has now retired, and the new British tennis star is Andy Murray. He’s good – he wins – but does he have what it really takes to be popular in Britain? Does he have enough nearliness?

Nearliness is an example of creating a new word by adding a suffix to an existing word, and so changing its word class. If we take the adverb 'nearly' and add '–ness', we create a noun. So nearliness is the quality of 'being nearly there, but not quite'.

Other possessors of nearliness might include the England football team, who traditionally go out of major tournaments in the quarter-finals, and Paula Radcliffe the marathon runner, who is always the favourite for the Olympics but never quite does it. Lewis Hamilton the racing driver had bucketloads of nearliness after his first year in Formula 1, losing the championship in the last race of the season and finishing second. He lost it all of this last year when he actually won the competition. Very un-British.

About Mark Shea

Mark Shea has been a teacher and teacher trainer for eighteen years. He has taught English and trained teachers extensively in Asia and South America, and is a qualified examiner for the University of Cambridge oral examinations. He is currently working with journalists at the World Service and is the author of the BBC College of Journalism's online English tutor.