Frankenwords – when to use them, when to run a mile

Rarely a day goes by in this digital age when we aren’t treated to a newly-created buzzword: some have even entered common usage – the likes of ‘staycation’ and ‘glamping’ among them. Such neologisms are credited with helping to market products, and give editors a new sort of shorthand to use with their audiences.

But in our desperation to fill the web with fresh and engaging content, do we lose sight of the fact these words just aren’t fresh or engaging beyond their first use? Most neologisms are spliced from two words that function perfectly well in their own right.

These mash-ups are sometimes called Frankenwords, for fairly obvious reasons. Because no matter how much people hate a Frankenword – and I really do – beyond a certain point, it can seem impossible to stop their march. A business might use ‘staycation’ as a keyword for SEO search because people are genuinely searching for it in relation to B&B holidays in the UK. If they stop using it, will the business lose out to competitors who still do?

And what of potential customers who hate buzzwords? Are they the people who will create an important tipping point when they unwillingly start using them?

When a neologism falls out of use – could we call it a paleogism then? – a business will need to rethink its content all over again. To avoid all this fuss, perhaps the key message is to use Frankenwords carefully, and sparingly. Don’t structure an entire campaign, or any kind of content, around them. Solid, imaginative writing that makes potential customers want to click on, not click away, should be your ultimate goal as a content creator. And that can even be achieved without a Frankenword in sight.

Five horrible Frankenwords
Babyccino – Marketeers’ dream for children to participate in coffee shop culture. It’s just hot milk.

Womanitarian – A woman who is a humanitarian. It’s not enough just to be a female humanitarian any more…

Tanorexic – A tanning addict and arguably a bad taste hybrid due to the reference to anorexia.

Shoenovation – It’s a mash-up of ‘shoe’ and ‘innovation’, presumably to indicate an innovation in shoe technology. But it doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.

Mumpreneur – A mother who is also an entrepreneur. Toe-curlingly cringey, and a bit patronising. Ditto any word given the suffix ‘-preneur’ to indicate someone who runs a start-up while carrying out another function in life.

And five mash-ups in common use
Pescetarian – The pairing of ‘pesce’ (fish in Italian) with the ‘-tarian’ suffix, to indicate someone who eats fish, but not other meats. More succinct than saying ‘I’m a vegetarian who eats fish’. Its first dictionary listing came in 1993.

Staycation – The idea of staying at home as a holiday option. Reached its nadir during the 2008 financial crash when people (sort of) stopped going overseas. British tourist information brochures have been clinging on to its potential ever since.

Glamping – The notion that we can encourage people who hate camping to go camping if there is a real bed in the tent and a power point for recharging the smartphone (ie, glamorous camping).

Tweenager – Term coined to describe children aged 10-12, who already display the characteristics of one who is 13 going on 30. Another handy shorthand option for marketeers.

Ideation – ‘Idea’ spliced with ‘generation’, as an alternative to brainstorming (which is just as bad, if a bit old school). A favourite buzzword in business, ‘ideation’ is not itself the product of creative free thinking.

Nina Bryant is senior sub-editor at Progressive Customer Publishing and writes blog posts on grammar, spelling and the power of language.

Visit Content Cloud to sign up as a creator, or commission the content your business needs

Editor's pick

Most popular