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What Is a Nonsense Word?

Daniel Liden
Updated May 23, 2024
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A nonsense word is a syllable or group of syllables that can pronounced based on the phonetic rules of a language but which transmit no meaning to a reader or listener. A word such as "Keev," for instance, is not a real word in the English language but can still be pronounced based on the phonetic rules of English. Such words appear in a variety of literary contexts but generally only exist because of the sound of the nonsense word. "Keev," for example, rhymes with "leave" and may be used in a poem for that reason, particularly if a meaningless sound is needed in place of any word with real meaning.

Literature and poetry are one common context in which a nonsense word may be used. Sometimes, as when seeking a rhyming word, a writer may use a nonsense word because of the particular sound that it makes. In verse, a writer may also choose to use a word with stressed or unstressed syllables based on the meter of a poem. Such words are sometimes used to create humor in literature as well.

Over time, a nonsense word may come to take on meaning because it is used for some particular purpose until it becomes accepted into the language's lexicon. In other cases, ascribing meaning to a nonsense word may be a completely intentional and premeditated act. This can, for example, occur when a scientific discovery is made and needs a name.

In some cases, one or more nonsense words are given specific meaning or used for a specific purpose without becoming a part of the language's lexicon. Words used in this manner are known as "nonce words." Such words are, in general, only used once and in one context, as in a specific book or poem by one writer. The single use of a word is generally not sufficient to earn the word a place in a language's dictionaries.

Individuals with aphasia, a disorder resulting from damage to the language sections of the brain, sometimes mix in a nonsense word or nonsense words with their speech. This occurs specifically in expressive aphasia, which affects the manner in which an individual communicates. These nonsense words are sometimes mixed in with real words in a kind of "word salad" that contains no real overall meaning. Depending on the type of aphasia the patient has, he may or may not be able to understand spoken and written language.

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Daniel Liden
By Daniel Liden , Former Writer
Daniel Liden, a talented writer with a passion for cutting-edge topics and data analysis, brings a unique perspective to his work. With a diverse academic background, he crafts compelling content on complex subjects, showcasing his ability to effectively communicate intricate ideas. He is skilled at understanding and connecting with target audiences, making him a valuable contributor.

Discussion Comments

By Hazali — On Jul 19, 2014

@Krunchyman The correct term to use for this is idioglossia. And yes, it's a form of language that twins create, a bunch of nonsense words if you will. I did some research on the term and it's very interesting the phrases that came up. However, I also feel that it can be unhealthy and rather awkward. Sole reliance on these twin "words" could end up isolating you from society in a way, and you may even end up getting weird looks from other people.

By Krunchyman — On Jul 18, 2014

Though the article doesn't reference this, I'd like to note that twins have been known to create nonsense words as well, especially if they're identical. I think the reason for this may be due to how some twins spend so much time around each other, that they create their own language. This "language" may seem weird to others, but to them, it's perfectly normal.

By Euroxati — On Jul 17, 2014

In my opinion, the last paragraph is very interesting, mainly due to the fact that even if you don't have aphasia, you can accidentally create nonsense words, or mix up your sentences, as it's happened to me several times. For example, one time when I was going to the store, I ended up saying the following - "I'm stowing to the gore". This is just one example of words and phrases that are nonsense. I think the problem is that sometimes, we're in such a hurry, that we end up forgetting what we were going to say, and our brain switches some of the syllables around.

Daniel Liden

Daniel Liden

Former Writer

Daniel Liden, a talented writer with a passion for cutting-edge topics and data analysis, brings a unique perspective to...
Learn more
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