The Quick 10: How 9 Words Were Coined (and how one wasn't)

Do you ever wonder why we say the things we say? I remember philosophizing to my mom once that curse words were silly "“ they're just some letters jumbled together, after all, and we're the ones who decided they were "extra" bad. Yeah "“ she didn't go for it. I still don't know the origins of most of those words, but I can tell you about 10 somewhat less offensive words.

serendipity1. Serendipity. "Serendip" was the Persian word for Sri Lanka back in the 1700s when the term was coined by Horace Walpole, a scholar, politician and cousin of Lord Nelson. He had read a story called The Three Princes of Serendip and was describing it to a friend in a letter, explaining that the royal men "were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of: for instance, one of them discovered that a camel blind of the right eye had traveled the same road lately, because the grass was eaten only on the left side, where it was worse than on the right—now do you understand serendipity?"
2. Sci-Fi. There's a bit of debate around this one, but it's generally accepted that the word was created by Forrest J (that's right, no period after "J") Ackerman, who is considered to be the founder of science fiction fandom. In 1953, he was even given a "#1 Fan Personality" Hugo Award, something that had never been done before and has never been done since. Coining terms and phrases was kind of a fun hobby for him "“ he called his house the "Ackermansion" and wore what he called the first "futuristicostume" to the first-ever World Science Fiction Convention in 1939. These days we know "futuristicostumes" as "cosplay."

3. Agnostic. As far as we know, this term was coined in 1876 by Thomas Henry Huxley during a speech he was giving to the Metaphysical Society. Back in the day, "gnosis" was a word often used by church leaders to refer to spiritual knowledge, so Huxley tacked on the "a" to represent skepticism of such.

4. Battery. We're talking the electrical type, not the "assault and battery" type. We have Benjamin Franklin to thank for this one. Ben certainly didn't invent the battery "“ it's been around since ancient times. But he used the word that had previously referred to military weapons to show how much power these little cells packed. We've been using the word ever since, and it sure is easier than saying, "Honey, can you pick up some AAA electrochemical cells at the store? The remote is dead."

DUDE5. Dude. "Dude" may seem like it originated from surfer slang, but this little gem has been around since the late 1800s. It was first used in print in Putnam's Magazine in 1876, but we have evidence that it has been in the spoken vocabulary since 1873. There were two definitions at the time "“ one referred to a well-dressed man and the other meant a guy who was unfamiliar with city life. In 1883, a political cartoon mocked the fancy dress of new president Chester A. Arthur, depicting a stylish man with the caption, "According to your cloth you've cut your coat, O Dude of all the White House residents; We trust that will help you with the vote, When next we go nominating Presidents." Um. Zing?

6. Cool. Obviously the word has meant "cold" to a lesser degree for quite some time, but we think we know who started using it to denote approval. His name was Lester Young and he was one of the most well-regarded and respected saxophonists of the Jazz Age. Billie Holiday called him "Prez," as in President of all Saxophonists. He also popularized "bread" as a reference to money and liked to say, "I feel a draft" when he felt as if someone was being racist.

7. Robot. We know the word because of a play by Czech writer Karel ÄŒapek in his play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots), which was first published in 1920. The play revolves around a factory that makes robots, but these days we would be more likely to call them androids instead of robots because of their similarity to humans. When ÄŒapek was said to be the creator of the word, he quickly sidestepped the honor and said it was actually his brother, painted and writer Josef ÄŒapek, who actually invented the word. Later, science fiction writer Isaac Asimov took it a step further and coined the term "robotics" to mean the study of such mechanical workings.

8. Puke. This is debatable, because although Shakespeare is said to have coined more words in the English language than anyone else (the number is thought to be in the thousands), most scholars will argue that Shakespeare only had the first written instance of these words and would pick them up from spoken slang that he heard. But if you go with the "Shakespeare totally invented all of those words himself" theory, then he invented "puking" when he wrote As You Like It:

And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms."

9. Dinosaur. Dinosaurs themselves have been around for millennia (or at least their remains have been), but the word to describe them wasn't coined until 1842, which paleontologist Richard Owen combined the Greek words for powerful/terrible (deinos) and lizard/reptile (sauros) to come up with "dinosaur."

archimedes10. Eureka. Legend has it that we have Archimedes himself to thank for the word "Eureka!" as in, "Aha!" He was supposedly pondering a problem "“ how to tell if a crown was made out of all gold or if the artist had lied and mixed it with silver "“ while soaking in a bathtub. He suddenly observed the amount of water that his body was displacing from the tub and realized that a crown made of mixed materials would displace more water than one made of pure gold and leapt out of the tub yelling, "Eureka! Eureka!" which translated to, "I've found it, I've found it!" He was so excited that he sprang out of the bathtub and ran through the streets sans clothes to proclaim his discovery.
A nice story, but it likely never happened, says Scientific American. Scientists as far back as Galileo have said that Archimedes was so talented and intelligent that he could have managed a far more precise result using his own already proven methods.

Do you know any interesting word origins? I'm a geek for this kind of stuff, so definitely feel free to enlighten us in the comments.

10 Sweet Facts About Candy Canes

The sweet and striped shepherd’s hooks can be found just about everywhere during the holiday season. It's time you learned a thing or two (or 10) about them.


While the origins of the candy cane are a bit murky, legend has it that they first appeared in hooked form around 1670. Candy sticks themselves were pretty common, but they really took shape when the choirmaster at the Cologne Cathedral in Germany got the bright idea of twisting them to look like shepherd’s hooks. He then handed them out to kids during church services to keep them quiet.


It’s no surprise, then, that it was a German immigrant who introduced the custom to America. The first reference we can find to the tradition stateside is 1847, when August Imgard of Wooster, Ohio, decked his home out with the sugary fare.


Candy canes without the red don’t seem nearly as cheery, do they? But that’s how they were once made: all white. We’re not really sure who or exactly when the scarlet stripe was added, but we do know that images on cards before the 1900s show snow white canes.


Most candy canes are around five inches long, containing only about 50 calories and no fat or cholesterol.


The world’s largest candy cane was built by Geneva, Illinois chef Alain Roby in 2012.  It was 51 feet long, required about 900 pounds of sugar, and was eventually smashed up with a hammer so people could take home a piece.


Fifty-four percent of kids suck on candy canes, compared to the 24 percent who just go right for the big crunch. As you may have been able to guess, of those surveyed, boys were nearly twice as likely to be crunchers.


According to the National Confectioners Association, about 1.2 billion candy canes are made annually, and 90 percent of those are sold between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Which honestly begs the question: Who’s buying the 10 percent in the off season?


Bobs (that’s right; no apostrophe) Candies was the first company to really hang its hat on the sweet, striped hook. Lt. Bob McCormack began making candy canes for his kids in the 1920s, and they were such a hit he decided to start mass-producing them. With the help of his brother-in-law, a Catholic priest named Gregory Harding Keller (and his invention, the Keller Machine), McCormack was eventually able to churn out millions of candy canes a day.


December 26 is National Candy Cane Day. Go figure.


Here’s how they make candy canes at Disneyland—it’s a painstaking (and beautiful) technique.

10 Actors Who Hated Their Own Films

1. Sylvester Stallone, Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. Sly doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to his film career. Despite co-starring with the delightful Estelle Getty as the titular violence-prone mother, Stallone knows just how bad the film was:

"I made some truly awful movies. Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot was the worst. If you ever want someone to confess to murder, just make him or her sit through that film. They will confess to anything after 15 minutes."

2. Alec Guinness, Star Wars.

By the time he played Obi-Wan Kenobi in 1977’s Star Wars: A New Hope, Guinness had already appeared in cinematic classics like The Bridge on the River Kwai, Great Expectations and Lawrence of Arabia. During production, Guinness is reported to have said the following:

"Apart from the money, I regret having embarked on the film. I like them well enough, but it's not an acting job, the dialogue - which is lamentable - keeps being changed and only slightly improved, and I find myself old and out of touch with the young."

The insane amount of fame he won for the role as the wise old Jedi master took him somewhat by surprise and, ultimately, annoyed him. In his autobiography A Positively Final Appearance: A Journal, Guinness recalls a time he encountered an autograph-seeking fan who boasted to him about having watched Star Wars more than 100 times. In response, Guinness agreed to provide the boy an autograph under the condition that he promise never to watch the film again.

3. Bob Hoskins, Super Mario Brothers. He was in Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. As far as I’m concerned, Bob Hoskins is forgiven for Super Mario Bros. Hoskins, though, doesn’t seem to be able to forgive himself. Last year the Guardian spoke with the veteran actor about his career and he summed up his feelings rather succinctly:

What is the worst job you've done?
Super Mario Brothers.

What has been your biggest disappointment?
Super Mario Brothers.

If you could edit your past, what would you change?
I wouldn't do Super Mario Brothers.

4. George Clooney, Batman & Robin. Sure, Batman & Robin made money. But by every other imaginable measure, the film was a complete failure, and a nightmare to the vast majority of the Caped Crusader’s most fervent fanatics. Star George Clooney recognized what a stinker he helped create and once plainly stated, “I think we might have killed the franchise.”

5. David Cross, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked. When actors have a movie out, it's customary that they publicize the film by saying nice things about it. Earlier this year David Cross took a different approach. When it came to describing his new film Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, the veteran comedian — better known for Mr. Show and Arrested Development — went on Conan and called the film a “big commercial for Carnival Cruise Lines” and told people not to go see it.

6. Katherine Heigl, Knocked Up. Judd Apatow’s unplanned pregnancy comedy was a huge hit and helped cement her status as a bankable film actress. After the film’s release, however, Heigl didn’t have all good things to say. In fact, what she specifically said about it was that the film was:

"…A little sexist. It paints the women as shrews, as humorless and uptight, and it paints the men as lovable, goofy, fun-loving guys.”

7. Charlize Theron, Reindeer Games. The 2000 action film Reindeer Games starred Ben Affleck, Gary Sinese and Charlize Theron and was directed by John Frankenheimer. But it all somehow failed to come together. In the end the film lost a lot of money and compiled a wealth of negative reviews – including one from its star actress who simply said, “Reindeer Games was not a good movie.”

8. Mark Wahlberg, The Happening. Mark Wahlberg doesn’t exactly seem like a guy who lives his life afraid of trees. But that is the odd position M. Night Shyamalan’s 2008 film The Happening put him in. Wahlberg, as it turns out, doesn’t look back too fondly on the film. He went on record during a press conference for The Fighter when he described a conversation with a fellow actor:

"We had actually had the luxury of having lunch before to talk about another movie and it was a bad movie that I did. She dodged the bullet. And then I was still able to … I don’t want to tell you what movie … alright “The Happening.” F*** it. It is what it is. F***ing trees, man. The plants. F*** it. You can’t blame me for not wanting to try to play a science teacher. At least I wasn’t playing a cop or a crook."

9. John Cusack, Better Off Dead. John Cusack reportedly hated his cult 80s comedy so much that he walked out of the screening and later told the film’s director Steve Holland that Better Off Dead was "the worst thing I have ever seen" and he would "never trust you as a director again."

10 Christopher Plummer, The Sound of Music. The Sound of Music is considered a classic and has delighted many generations of fans. But the film's own lead actor, Christopher Plummer, didn't always sing its praises. Mr. Von Trapp himself declined to participate in a 2005 film reunion and, according to one acquaintance, has referred to the film as The Sound of Mucus.



More from mental floss studios