Neologisms, i.e. new words, or new meanings of existing words of a language, pose one of the greatest translation challenges. Given the fact that a certain period of time must pass for the newly created words to become integrated in a language and to be accepted by its speakers, the translators will obviously not be able to find them in a dictionary, at least not for a while.

Neologisms probably emerge most frequently in literature, comedy TV shows and movies, where they are, above all, a product of author’s creativity. The Serbian language very much enables this kind of linguistic expression, for example, in the works of Laza Kostić, various one-time neologisms can be found, such as neodvaj (lit. inseparateness, “a hug that a person does not want to be over“) or sevotina (lit. fulguration, “flash of lightning“). The English language is also full of such neologisms which sometimes leave the TV screen and enter everyday language; for example, omnishambles (“a situation, especially a political one, that has been comprehensively mismanaged, characterized by a string of blunders and miscalculations”) which originated from a satirical British TV show The Thick of It, and which was elected the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2012.

There are several different ways to translate a new word – by finding an equivalent word or a word with a fairly similar meaning in the target language, by means of transcription or transliteration (adopting the word in its original form, with or without adjusting it to the pronunciation of the target language), by creating calques (by translating the elements of the word literally) or by means of description. However, in order to successfully translate a neologism, the translators must first understand the word in question, and in order to understand it, they must pay attention to the context in which the new word is found. In addition, neologisms tend to emerge from existing words and morphemes, so a morphological analysis may be helpful in understanding their meanings, and later in translating as well.

In literary works, movies, TV shows, and other contexts in which linguistic creativity has a great role, a general rule is that neologisms should be translated, while in other, professional contexts, in which experts recognize the new word only in the source language, neologisms should be adopted in their original form or transcribed. An exception to this rule are cases in which the translators have a high level of expertise in a certain field, so that they can translate the term from the source language and thus create a new term in the target language by using morphemes of Greek, Latin, and target language origin which are more integrated and closer to the target audience.

Translating a neologism is sometimes quite simple – when there are words with similar forms in the target language, for example, the name of the American TV show Californication (a blend word from “California” and “fornication”), whose name is a symbol of the plot itself, has been translated quite simply as Kalifornikacija (a blend word from “Kalifornija” (“California”) and “fornikacija” (“fornication”)). However, if the word “fornikacija” had not existed in the target language, the blend would have had to be translated differently, for example Blud u Kaliforniji (Lust in California), as was the case with the aforementioned compound omnishambles (from the Latin prefix “omni-” and the English word “shambles”), which was translated into Serbian as opšte rasulo (complete mess). Nevertheless, translators often fail to translate the meaning of a neologism, which can both jeopardize the author’s style and rob a reader who does not speak the source language of understanding a certain expression. For example, in the official translation of Douglas Coupland’s Generation X, his linguistic creation McDead (a synthetic, programmed culture) has been translated as mekmrtvilo (lit. McDeadness), which may be justified because the readers are familiar with the restaurant chain McDonald’s, which was the author’s inspiration. However, there is another compound in the same novel – McJob (an underpaid job which does not require education or experience), which the translator has transliterated as mekdžob, instead of applying the same strategy as in the previous example.

Finally, when translating neologisms, translators should check if the word has already been translated, as well as if the new word will be useful to the target audience, i.e. if they will find it interesting, if it could become integrated in the language, if translating it would jeopardize the author’s style, etc.


Braće Popović 5
21000 Novi Sad, Serbia

Contact Phones

Phone: +381 21 47 25 227

Fax: +381 21 47 25 226