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How are new English words discovered? And how do you use new words?

A new English word enters a dictionary when it is used by many people and all these people agree that it means the same thing. New words are used in conversation first. One person uses a word, then others pick it up. As a result, its use spreads. The more people use it, the more likely it will be noticed by dictionary editors, or lexicographers, like the people who work at dictionaries like Merriam-Webster  or the Oxford English Dictionary

So, that doesn’t mean that all the new words in English are widely used in everyday life. Some are, many of them are not. For example, some new words are very specific to a particular occupation. Dentists might use the new word 'amelogenesis ' which means “the formation of tooth enamel by ameloblasts.” 

There are also words you already know. For instance, the latest update of the Oxford English Dictionary added new English words like banana bread, LOL and plant-based. 

Sometimes even slang, like LOL, makes it into dictionaries as a new English word. Slang is very informal language or specific words used by a group of people. Usually you’ll hear slang in spoken language. You can also come across it in SMS or social media. However, you don’t use slang in formal written work. But, when a word is added to the dictionary  as an official English word, you can also use it in written form, for example in your IELTS Writing test.

List of 100 new English words and meanings

New English Word

Meaning

A-game

One’s highest level of performance

ambigue

An ambiguous statement or expression.

Anglosphere

English-speaking countries considered collectively (the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, and Ireland).

anti-suffragism

Opposition to the extension of the right to vote in political elections to women; the political movement dedicated to this.

Aperol

A proprietary name for an orange-coloured Italian aperitif flavoured with gentian, rhubarb, and a variety of herbs and roots.

April Fool’s

April Fool’s Day (1 April), a day on which tricks or hoaxes are traditionally perpetrated

ar

Used to express a range of emotions or responses, esp. affirmation, assent, or agreement.

arr

In humorous representations of the speech of pirates expressing approval, triumph, warning, etc.

assault weapon

A weapon designed for use in a large-scale military assault, esp. one used to attack a fortified or well-defended location.

athleisure

Casual, comfortable clothing or footwear designed to be suitable for both exercise and everyday wear

Aucklander

A native or inhabitant of city or region of Auckland, New Zealand.

awedde

Overcome with anger, madness, or distress; insane, mentally disturbed.

awe-inspiringly

So impressively, spectacularly, or formidably as to arouse or inspire awe.

awesomesauce

Extremely good; excellent.

awfulize

To class as awful or terrible

awfy

Terrible, dreadful; remarkable or notable.

awfy

As simple intensive; very, exceedingly, extremely.

bidie-in

A person who lives with his or her partner in a non-marital relationship; a cohabiting partner.

bigsie

Having an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance; arrogant, pretentious, conceited.

bok

A South African

broigus

Angry; irritated

bukateria

A roadside restaurant or street stall with a seating area, selling cooked food at low prices.

by-catch

A catch of unwanted fish

cab sav

Red wine made from the Cabernet Sauvignon grape

cancel culture

Call for the withdrawal of support from a public figure, usually in response to an accusation of a socially unacceptable action or comment.

chicken finger

A narrow strip of chicken meat, esp. from the breast, coated in breadcrumbs or batter and deep-fried.

chicken noodle soup

A soup made with chicken and noodles, sometimes popularly regarded as a remedy for all ailments or valued for its restorative properties

chickie

Used as a term of endearment, especially for a child or woman

chipmunky

Resembling or characteristic of a chipmunk, typically with reference to a person having prominent cheeks or a perky, mischievous character.

chuddies

Short trousers, shorts. Now it usually means underwear; underpants.

contact tracing

The practice of identifying and monitoring individuals who may have had contact with an infectious person

contactless

Not involving contact (physical and technological meanings of contactless are being used much more frequently).

coulrophobia

Extreme or irrational fear of clowns

Covid-19

An acute respiratory illness in humans caused by a coronavirus, which is capable of producing severe symptoms and death, esp. in the elderly

deepfake

An image or recording that has been convincingly altered to misrepresent someone as doing or saying something that was not actually done or said

de-extinction

The (proposed or imagined) revival of an extinct species, typically by cloning or selective breeding.

deleter

A person who or thing which deletes something.

delicense

To deprive (a person, business, vehicle, etc.) of a license providing official permission to operate

denialism

The policy or stance of denying the existence or reality of something, esp. something which is supported by the majority of scientific evidence.

denialist

A person who denies the existence or reality of something, esp. something which is supported by the majority of scientific or historical evidence

destigmatizing

The action or process of removing the negative connotation or social stigma associated with something

dof

Stupid, dim-witted; uninformed, clueless.

droning

The action of using a military drone or a similar commercially available device

e-bike

An electric bike

eco-anxiety

A state of stress caused by concern for the earth’s environment

enoughness

The quality or fact of being enough; sufficiency, adequacy.

Epidemic curve

A visual representation in the form of a graph or chart depicting the onset and progression of an outbreak of disease in a particular population

e-waste

Worthless or inferior electronic text or content

fantoosh

Fancy, showy, flashy; stylish, sophisticated; fashionable, exotic. Often used disparagingly, implying ostentation or pretentiousness.

forehead thermometer

A thermometer that is placed on, passed over, or pointed at the forehead to measure a person’s body temperature.

franger

A condom.

hair doughnut

A doughnut-shaped sponge or similar material used as the support for a doughnut bun or similar updo

hench

Of a person having a powerful, muscular physique; fit, strong.

hir

Used as a gender-neutral possessive adjective (his/her/hir watch). In later use often corresponding to the subjective pronoun ze (he/she/ze wears a watch).

hygge

A Danish word for a quality of cosiness that comes from doing simple things such as lighting candles, baking, or spending time at home with your family

influencer

Someone who affects or changes the way that other people behave:

jerkweed

An obnoxious, detestable, or stupid person (esp. a male). Often as a contemptuous form of address.

kvell

Meaning to talk admiringly, enthusiastically, or proudly about something

kvetchy

Given to or characterized by complaining or criticizing; ill-tempered, irritable.

LOL

To laugh out loud; to be amused.

macaron

A confection consisting of two small, round (usually colourful) biscuits with a meringue-like consistency

MacGyver

To construct, fix, or modify (something) in an improvised or inventive way, typically by making use of whatever items are at hand

mama put

A street vendor, typically a woman, selling cooked food at low prices from a handcart or stall. Also a street stall or roadside restaurant.

mentionitis

A tendency towards repeatedly or habitually mentioning something (esp. the name of a person one is infatuated with), regardless of its relevance to the topic of conversation

microtarget

To direct tailored advertisements, political messages, etc., at (people) based on detailed information about them

misgendering

The action or fact of mistaking or misstating a person’s gender, esp. of addressing or referring to a transgender person in terms that do not reflect…

next tomorrow

The day after tomorrow.

oat milk

A milky liquid prepared from oats, used as a drink and in cooking

onboarding

The action or process of integrating a new employee into an organisation, team, etc

patient zero

Is defined as a person identified as the first to become infected with an illness or disease in an outbreak

pronoid

A person who is convinced of the goodwill of others towards himself or herself

puggle

A young or baby echidna or platypus.

puggle

A dog cross-bred from a pug and a beagle; such dogs considered collectively as a breed.

quilling

The action or practice of bribing electors in order to gain their votes, especially by providing free alcohol

rat tamer

Colloquial meaning for a psychologist or psychiatrist

report

An employee accountable to a particular manager

sadfishing

Colloquial the practice adopted by some people, especially on social media, of exaggerating claims about their emotional problems to generate sympathy

sandboxing

The restriction of a piece of software or code to a specific environment in a computer system in which it can be run securely

schnitty

Colloquial a schnitzel, especially a chicken schnitzel

Segway

A proprietary name for a two-wheeled motorised personal vehicle

self-isolate

To isolate oneself from others deliberately; to undertake self-imposed isolation for a period of time

shero

A female hero; a heroine.

single-use

Designed to be used once and then disposed of or destroyed

skunked

Drunk, intoxicated. In later use also under the influence of marijuana

slow-walk

To delay or prevent the progress of (something) by acting in a deliberately slow manner

social distancing

The action of practice of maintaining a specified physical distance from other people, or of limiting access to and contact between people

stepmonster

Colloquial (humorous) (sometimes derogatory) a stepmother

tag rugby

A non-contact, simplified form of rugby in which the removal of a tag attached to the ball carrier constitutes a tackle

theonomous

Ruled, governed by, or subject to the authority of God

thirstry

Showing a strong desire for attention, approval, or publicity.

title bar

A horizontal bar at the top of a program window, used to display information such as the name of the program in use, the file or web page that is active.

topophilia

Love of, or emotional connection to, a particular place or physical environment

truthiness

A seemingly truthful quality not supported by facts or evidence

UFO

UnFinished Object: In knitting, sewing, quilting, etc.: an unfinished piece of work

unfathom

To come to understand (something mysterious, puzzling, or complicated); to solve (a mystery, etc.)

weak sauce

That lacks power, substance, or credibility; pathetic, worthless; stupid.

WFH

An abbreviation for “working from home.”

WIP

Work in progress

zoodle

A spiralised strand of zucchini, sometimes used as a substitute for pasta

Using new English words from 2020 in a sentence

When you read a list of new English words, you may find some that you already know. Sometimes, we hear these words a lot in the media before they make it into a dictionary, like “contact tracing.” Yet, other words are less well-known. So, how do you use these words in a sentence? 

  • MacGyver 

Let’s start with a strange one: MacGyver. We always capitalise the word MacGyver because it is derived from the name of a character in an American television show. You guessed it: the main character’s name is Angus MacGyver. This show ran from 1985 to 1992. MacGyver always managed to get himself out of tricky or dangerous situations by making an object or repairing an item with only few items at hand. So, when you MacGyver something it has been thrown together in an ingenious and improvised fashion. Have a look at the YouTube video below and try to remember the last time you MacGyvered something. 

  • Cancel culture 

Within the past five years, the rise of “cancel culture” and the idea of cancelling someone have become topics of debate. But what exactly does it mean? So, remember when a celebrity or other public figure does or says something offensive? A public backlash, often fuelled by politically progressive social media, ensues. After this, people call to “cancel” the person — that is, to effectively end their career. This can be done through boycotts of their work or disciplinary action from an employer. In 2019 alone, the list of people who faced being cancelled  included alleged sexual predators like R. Kelly; and comedians like Kevin Hart and Shane Gillis, who each faced public backlash after social media users unearthed homophobic and racist jokes they’d made in the past. 

So, cancel culture refers to the popular practice of withdrawing support for (cancelling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive.

  • Thirsty 

We all know the traditional meaning of the word thirsty: that feeling you have when you have a need to drink. Easy, right? But, it is also meaning something else. More recently, people started to use the word thirsty to mean “having or showing a strong desire for something.” Also, you can use it when you see people who need to gain fame and admiration through social media, such as through Instagram by posting “selfie” pictures to boost the self-esteem. They are thirsty for attention. Or, it can include those suggestive, desperate-to-please selfies that people post on social media to elicit a certain response. We know this type of image as a “thirst trap.” 

But wait: you’ve heard “thirsty” used in this way well before 2020? You’re right. The New York Times shows  that this meaning of the word 'thirsty' goes back a while. However, lexicographers only added this meaning of the word to dictionaries recently. 

Are all new English words actually new?

The experts at the Merrian-Webster dictionary explain  that new words like “hashtag” and “selfie” get a lot of attention as new words. But, many of the new words are just new meanings of words that are already in our language. For example, think of the recent meanings of “mouse” and “cookie.” They have nothing to do with rodents or baked goods. A verb that we use every day, “access,” was first entered in dictionaries in 1973. And they added a specific reference to computers in 1993. These words may not make headlines, but they’re just as important as words that are newly coined.

New words in Australian English

We’ve shown you the 100 New English Words. But, most words don’t start off in dictionaries around the world. Some of these new international words are used in Australia, New Zealand, the US, Canada and the UK (and even in non-English speaking countries) originate from slang or popular usage. 

Slang words or phrases develop over time . Some die out because nobody uses them anymore. Others don’t get used because people move on to a new slang word. Sometimes, slang words are so popular that they are absorbed into the common language. So, that’s how language grows and evolves over time. New words are added to the dictionary. At the same time, old ones disappear.

Can I use new English words in the IELTS Writing and Speaking test?

The IELTS Speaking test  is supposed to represent a normal conversation between two people. So, you should avoid very formal language. For example, you don’t usually “furthermore” or “moreover” in every-day conversations. However, you probably also don’t want to use overly informal language. Some slang is probably too informal: if you tell your examiner “my friend threw me some shade,” he or she may not understand what you mean. 

You can get a high IELTS band score if you show the ability to use idiomatic expressions appropriately, but perhaps stick with common idiomatic expressions that are well-known. We’ve provided some helpful lists with our Idioms A-Z: Explained .