Origins of the Specious Contest Winners

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Last May, we welcomed grammar legend Patricia T. O'Conner as a guest blogger. Last Friday, we offered you a chance to win a copy of her new book by inventing a fake backstory for a word or phrase origin.

After consulting our in-house experts, we've selected two winners. The envelope please...

From Vincent:

Why do we say that we "coin" new words?

Many credit Samuel Johnson with the creation of the first English dictionary, but there were in fact numerous previous efforts to catalog the language prior to his seminal accomplishment. The earliest attempts were notably inadequate, much to the dismay of writers and publishers at the time.

Charles Bradbury was a businessman and entrepreneur in the late 17th century. Seeing the need for an exhaustive record of English words, he sought to compile the definitive collection. However, he did not have a literary background so he was ill-equipped to personally author such a book. Instead, he offered payment of one pence to anyone that could provide him with a word that wasn't already on his list. News spread that someone was offering "a coin a word" and soon his door was flooded with paupers looking to make some easy money.

Bradbury was unprepared for the inundation of people, and even more unprepared for their creativity. His list was quickly filled with the most common words, so naturally he began to deny payment for repeated items. Instead of simply leaving, the people started offering profanity, slang, and straight-up fabrications in an attempt to receive their coins.

The event was a disaster and Bradbury was forced to retract his offer. His lexicon never saw the light of day, and he retired in shame. However, while Charles Bradbury may have faded from memory, the "coin a word" promotion was not as easily forgotten. The phrase gradually shifted in usage, and "coin" is now a verb used primarily in reference to neologisms.

From Myleti:

The word "book" originated many, many years ago, but nobody knows why. Long ago in old England, there was a smart chap, both intelligent and smartly dressed who was awfully tired of carting around masses of loose papers and pamphlets. He had an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and always took notes and asked for information anywhere he went. This left him with huge amounts of notes and loose papers. One day, whilst touring a trunk and case factory, he came across boxes and boxes full of extraordinarily thin pieces of wood, covered in leather that were cast-offs of the trunk makers. He decided to surreptitiously steal a few pieces to take home with him. He took his stolen goods home and borrowed his wife's needle and some thick twine and sewed a few of his pages and pamphlets together, then glued the front and back to the wood. He called his wife into the room and proclaimed loudly, "Look! Now we can bring our own knowledge everywhere without worrying about losing pages!"

He decided to call his invention a B.O.O.K.E, or "Bring our own knowledge everywhere", which was later shortened to "book" by people who were too lazy to use the final E.

Recaptcha-Thomas Fischer [I think that makes a wonderful name for my character!]

Congrats, Vincent & Myleti! I'll be in touch about your prizes. Thanks to everyone who entertained us with their entries. For more info on Patricia O'Conner's new book, head over to her blog.

May 19, 2009 - 10:07am
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