What are the linguistic consequences of Brexit?

Blog post written by Gordana Lalic-Krstin and Nadezda Silaski, authors of the article ‘From Brexit to Bregret: An account of some Brexit-induced neologisms in English’ recently published in English Today.

What are the linguistic consequences of Brexit? Judging by the material we collected from news media (broadcast and online), Facebook and Twitter, blogs and internet forums, the event  has generated a myriad of neologisms in English, using Brexit as a model or as a source word.

Brexit  was modelled after Grexit, a word coined to denote the possibility of Greece leaving the Eurozone, giving rise to at least two more similarly coined blends, Spexit and Itexit, referring to the prospect of the same event in Spain and Italy. However, this was just a beginning of a true explosion of Brexit-related neologisms (or would that be Brexplosion / Brinvasion of Brexicon), many of which feature ludicity and humour. As the UK referendum approached and the media coverage intensified, building up suspense, new words proliferated in a matter of days to name hypothetical scenarios in other EU countries (e.g. Auxit [Austria + exit], Bexit [Belgium + exit], Chexit/Czechit [Czech + exit], Fixit [Finland + exit], Irelexit / Irexit [Ireland + exit], etc. For a while it seemed that there was a real craze on the internet as to who would come up with the most imaginative word. Very soon the morphological pattern was generalized and the meaning extended from that of ‘Britain leaving the EU’ to that of ‘any country leaving a political union’, as evidenced by Calexit [California + exit] ‘California leaving the US’, Texit [Texas + exit] ‘Texas leaving the US’ and Scexit/Scoxit [Scotland + exit] ‘Scotland leaving the UK’.

From the point of view of its word-formation, Brexit can be interpreted as having been coined from either Britain + exit or from British + exit, the latter interpretation being more prevalent. Similarly, with quite a few newly formed blends, it is equally unclear whether the first source word is Britain, British or Brexit, as for instance in breferendum, Brexpats or (point of no) Breturn. Clear cases include suffixations such as brexiter, brexiteer  or Brexitesque and neoclassical compounds Brexitography, Brexitology  or Brexitophobia. Blending proved to be one of the most productive mechnisms as in, for example, Borexit<Boris + exit, bracceptance<Brexit + acceptance, Braccident<Brexit + accident, Branalysis<Brexit + analysis, branger<Brexit + anger, brargaining<Brexit + bargaining, bredictable<Brexit + predictable, Bre-do<Brexit + redo, breferendum<Brexit + referendum, bregret<Brexit + regret, brenial<Brexit + denial, Brepeat<Brexit + repeat, brepression<Brexit + depression, bresults<Brexit + results, etc.  Blends coined with source words other than Brexit include: Brentry [Britain/British + entry], the word coined retrospectively by analogy with Brexit  to denote the entry of the UK into the European Economic Community in 1973; beleave [believe + leave], a slogan urging people to believe in the leave vote; EUge (mistake) [EU + huge], used by those opposed to Brexit to describe the EU referendum results; Eurhope [Europe + hope], Eunity [EU + unity] and Euthanasia [EU + euthanasia], all three seen on placards on pro-EU demonstrations.

Other word-formation processes have proved far less frequent: a number of neoclassical compounds have been recorded (Brexitography, Brexitometer, Brexitology and Brexitophobia), three nouns have been turned into verbs through conversion (bregret, brexit and regrexit). The verb brexit has been used in a clipped form brex, as in ‘Don’t go brexin’ my heart’, a play on a popular song. Bregret, brexit and bremain have so far been used as bases for suffixations: bregret>bregretter; brexit>brexiter, brexiteer, Brexitesque; bremain>bremainer.

Some of these words are clearly here to stay whereas others will surely be soon forgotten, failing to make a lasting contribution to the English word stock. And while predicting their failure or success can be a challenging and insightful linguistic endeavour, one thing is for sure: the word Brexit has already made an impact on the English lexicon and more related neologisms may be expected as new political and economic developments surrounding the process of Britain’s exiting the EU continue to unfold.

Read the full article ‘From Brexit to Bregret: An account of some Brexit-induced neologisms in English‘ published in English Today here.

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