Please, do come in! When can a neologism enter a vocabulary? Italian and the case of “petaloso”



Whenever we find a word we don’t know the meaning of we can always check it in a dictionary.

Sometimes we take it for granted that we’ll find it, but what if it is a new word like “bashtag”?

Words like this are neologisms, which means they have started to be used just recently, and some of them are not yet well known – or understood – by the speakers.

So, when is a word ready to enter a vocabulary?

This article lists some of the new words that entered this year’s edition of the Zingarelli Italian dictionary.

“Reading these and many other neologisms that were added to the 144.000 words of the Zingarelli, it looks like Italy is no country for old men after all”, concludes the author.

And indeed, especially recently, Italy has learnt a lot about neologisms.

At the end of February, a primary school teacher posted on social media a letter she received from the Accademia della Crusca – the leading institution in the field of research of the Italian language – after submitting a word one of her pupils had “invented”.

petaloso kid

Eight-year-old Matteo had in fact made a “beautiful mistake” – as the teacher called it – during a grammar exercise. He wrote “Fiore profumato petaloso”.

Those who speak Italian will immediately understand that “fiore profumato” means “fragrant flower”, but might never have heard of “petaloso”… indeed, this word doesn’t exist.

Although she had to mark it as a mistake, Matteo’s teacher liked it, and ask him to write a letter to the Accademia della Crusca (that literally means “Bran Academy”), putting it in a sentence and suggesting it became a neologism.

A month later he received his answer.

Ms Maria Cristina Torchia, on behalf of the prestigious Academy, wrote him that the word he used was well formed, so much that it could become part of the language, as did many other Italian words of the same formation.

The new term is in fact made up of the noun “petalo” (“petal”) and the suffix “-oso” (“full of”), meaning “with many petals”.

“But do you know when a word can enter the vocabulary? – continued the linguist expert. “For a word to officially be part of the Italian language, a large number of people need to use it and understand its meaning. If you manage to spread your word among many people who start saying ‘Com’è petaloso questo fiore!’ (‘What a petaloso flower this is!’), then ‘petaloso’ will have become a word in Italian.”

Social media did the rest.

The hashtag #petaloso was the most talked about during the following days. Linguists, authorities, personalities all used it in tweets and posts.

Will it be enough for it to enter the vocabulary? Only time will tell.


Find more about the hashtag #petaloso on Twitter, including tweets from the Accademia della Crusca, Treccani, Zanichelli (that publishes the Zingarelli dictionary) and Stefano Bartezzaghi.

Read here the full letter (in Italian) that Maria Cristina Torchia sent on behalf of the Accademia della Crusca.

Pic - Maria Written by Maria Bregolato

Terminology trainee at TermCoord