Nonce word

Nonce word

A nonce word (also called an occasionalism) is a lexeme created for a single occasion to solve an immediate problem of communication.[1][2] The term is used because such a word is created "for the nonce".[3] All nonce words are also neologisms.[4] Some nonce words have a meaning and may become an established part of the language, while others are essentially meaningless and disposable and are useful for exactly that reason, for instance in child language testing. The term nonce word was apparently the creation of James Murray, the influential editor of the Oxford English Dictionary.


  • In advertising and literature 1
  • In child development studies 2
  • Other examples 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

In advertising and literature

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

In child development studies

Nonce words are sometimes used to study the development of language in children because they allow researchers to test how children treat words of which they have no prior knowledge. This permits inferences about the default assumptions children make about new word meanings, syntactic structure, etc. Frequently used such words include "wug", "blicket", and "dax". Wug is among the earliest known nonce words used in language learning studies, and is best known for its use in Jean Berko's "Wug test", in which children were presented with a novel object, called a wug, and then shown multiple instances of the object and asked to complete a sentence that elicits a plural form—e.g., "This is a wug. Now there are two of them. There are two...?" The use of the plural form "wugs" by the child suggests that they have applied a plural rule to the form, and that this knowledge is not specific to prior experience with the word but applies to all nouns, whether familiar or novel.

Examples of nonce words previously used in child developmental studies include: wug, blicket, dax, toma, pimwit, zav, speff, tulver, gazzer, fem, fendle, and tupa.

Other examples

Other examples of nonce words include

See also


  1. ^ Cambridge Dictionaries Online - Nonce Word 2011. Retrieved 6 November 2012.
  2. ^ a b The Cambridge Encyclopedia of The English Language. Ed. David Crystal. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995. p. 132. ISBN 0521401798
  3. ^ Crystal, 1995, p. 455.
  4. ^ Malmkjaer, Kirsten. (Ed.) (2006) The Linguistics Encyclopedia. eBook edition. London & New York: Routledge, p. 601. ISBN 0-203-43286-X

External links

  • On Words and Upwards! - A collection of humorous nonce words.