Words Invented by Famous Authors

atkins-bookshelf-wordsAs Mark Twain once observed in a letter to George Bainton (1888): “The difference between the almost-right word and the right word is really a large matter — it’s the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.” Every writer has experienced the frustration of knowing what they want to say but not being able to come up with just the precise word; there is even a word for that: lethologica. For writers, finding the right word is immensely rewarding; Michael Mackenzie, a Canadian playwright, explains: “People often forget the sheer joy of finding the right word which expresses a thought is extraordinary, an emotional rush of an intense kind.” So what happens when you turn to a dictionary, and among the hundreds of thousands of words you can’t find what you are looking for? Then do what these famous authors did, and simply invent a new word or term. Lexicographer and lifelong word collector, Paul Dickson, has coined a new term for words invented by authors — authorisms. Here are a few from his most recent book, aptly titled Authorisms:

Assassination (William Shakespeare, Macbeth)

Banana Republic (William Sidney Porter, known as O. Henry, Cabbages and Kings)

Big Brother (George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four)

Blabbermouth (John Steinbeck, In Dubious Battle)

Chortle (Charles Dodgson known as Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass)

Freelance (Sir Walter Scott, Ivanhoe)

Friending (William Shakespeare, Hamlet)

Gargantuan (Francois Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel)

Honky Tonk (Carl Sandburg, American Songbook)

Juvescense (T.S. Eliot, Gerontion)

Melaprop (Richard Sheridan, The Rivals)

Nerd (Theodor Geisel known as Dr. Seuss, If I Ran the Zoo)

Nymphet (Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita)

Pandemonium (John Milton, Paradise Lost)

Pedestrian (William Wordsworth, Descriptive Sketches Taken during a Pedestrian Tour among the Alps)

Quark (James Joyce, Finnegan’s Wake)

Sandwich Board (Charles Dickens, Sketches by Boz)

Tween (JRR Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring)

Utopia (Sir Thomas More, Utopia)

Yahoo (Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels)

Read related posts: Words Invented by Dickens
Words Invented by Disney

For further reading: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition edited by John Simpson and Edmund Weiner, Oxford University Press (1991)
Authorisms: Words Wrought by Writers by Paul Dickson, Bloomsbury (2014)
Brewers Dictionary of Phrase & Fable edited by John Ayto, Collins Reference (2006)
Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson, Facts on File (2008)

 

 

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