Nonce Word



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A nonce word is a word used only "for the nonce"—to meet a need that is not expected to recur. Quark, for example, was a nonce word in English appearing only in James Joyce's Finnegans Wake until Murray Gell-Mann quoted it to name a new class of subatomic particle. The use of the term nonce word in this way was apparently the work of James Murray, the influential editor of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Nonce words frequently arise through the combination of an existing word with a familiar prefix or suffix, in order to meet a particular need (or as a joke). The result is a special kind of pseudoword: although it would not be found in any dictionary, it is instantly comprehensible (e.g., Bananaphone). If the need recurs (or the joke is widely enjoyed), nonce words easily enter regular use (initially as neologisms) just because their meaning is obvious.

Nonce words are often created as part of pop culture and advertising campaigns. A poem by Seamus Heaney entitled "Nonce Words" is included in his collection "District and Circle".

Nonce words play a role in the language development of children.


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