10 Words Invented by Authors

Image credit: 

These authors are all geniuses just based on their works alone. When you consider they invented words within those novels that are now in our day-to-day vernacular"¦ well, it's enough to make a humble blogger feel a little inadequate.

1. "Bump" first appeared in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare coined a ridiculous number of words, actually, although some historians and linguists think certain words just get attributed to Shakespeare even if he didn't really invent them.

2. "Runcible spoon" was created for The Owl and the Pussycat by author Edward Lear. He had no particular meaning for the word runcible "“ Lear also referred to "a runcible hat," a "runcible cat," a "runcible goose" and a "runcible wall." But since it has entered somewhat common vernacular, "runcible spoon" sometimes refers to a grapefruit spoon, a spork, or a sort of flattened ladle (which is what it looks like in the illustration that accompanies the poem).

3. The same goes for the vorpal sword from Alice in Wonderland. Actually, Lewis Carroll is famous for his invented words. He doesn't quite have as many under his belt as Mr. Shakespeare (if you can believe all of those), but other words that weren't in our dictionaries until they were pulled out of his head include chortle, galumph and burble.

4. According to at least one source, Jane Austen invented the phrase "dinner party."

5. If you have a Tween in your life, you can thank J.R.R. Tolkien that you have something to define them with. In The Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien claimed a Tween was a Hobbit between the ages of 20 and 33 (33 being when Hobbits come of age). There's some debate as to whether the word existed prior to this reference or not, however "“ the Oxford English Dictionary does not give him credit.

6. It's long been believed the name "Wendy" didn't exist until J.M. Barrie pulled it out of thin air for Peter Pan, however, it was definitely used as a nickname for "Gwendolyn" prior to Barrie's tale about the boy who wouldn't grow up. It's safe to say that the name started to become quite popular and common post-Peter.

7. It may be hard to believe, but the word "quark" first appeared in James Joyce's Finnegans Wake. Scientist Murray Gell-Mann had been thinking about calling the unit "kwork," but when he found the invented word in the Joyce classic, he knew he had discovered the spelling he wanted to use. Here's what he had to say about it:

In 1963, when I assigned the name "quark" to the fundamental constituents of the nucleon, I had the sound first, without the spelling, which could have been "˜kwork'. Then, in one of my occasional perusals of Finnegans Wake, by James Joyce, I came across the word "quark" in the phrase "Three quarks for Muster Mark". Since "˜quark' (meaning, for one thing, the cry of the gull) was clearly intended to rhyme with "˜Mark', as well as "˜bark' and other such words, I had to find an excuse to pronounce it as "˜kwork'. But the book represents the dream of a publican named Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker. Words in the text are typically drawn from several sources at once, like the "portmanteau" words in "˜Through the Looking-Glass'. From time to time, phrases occur in the book that are partially determined by calls for drinks at the bar. I argued, therefore, that perhaps one of the multiple sources of the cry "˜Three quarks for Muster Mark' might be 'Three quarts for Mister Mark', in which case the pronunciation "˜kwork' would not be totally unjustified. In any case, the number three fitted perfectly the way quarks occur in nature.

8. "Nerd" may be a common insult (or term of endearment, depending on your tone, I suppose) these days, but before Dr. Seuss published it in 1950's If I Ran the Zoo, people had to make do with "square" and "drip" instead. At least, they did according to Newsweek, which ran an article in 1951 defining the new slang term.

9. I bet if you think about "nymphet" long enough, you can come up with the book it came from. I'll give you a second"¦ lalala. OK, time's up. It's Nabokov's Lolita of course. Here's where it first appears in the book: "Now I wish to introduce the following idea. Between the age limits of nine and fourteen there occur maidens who, to certain bewitched travelers, twice or many times older than they, reveal their true nature which is not human, but nymphic (that is, demoniac); and these chosen creatures I propose to designate as "˜nymphets.'

10. I wouldn't be writing this if cyberspace didn't exist, so I guess in a roundabout way, I have sci-fi writer William Gibson to thank. I mean, sort of. He didn't invent cyberspace itself, obviously, just the word for it. It first appeared in his novel Neuromancer in 1984.

More from mental_floss...

March 24, 2010 - 2:00pm
submit to reddit