Language is old. We don’t tend to give much thought to how or why, or even who invented the words we use today, and even if we did, there is definitely no single person responsible for the creation of all the words in our vocabulary. However, some of the words we use today do have a paper trail, meaning we can trace their origins to an individual person!
Anyone can make up a word and give it a definition, but it takes a particular amount of skill and influence for these words to be accepted into the English language, and still spoken hundreds of years later. Who more skilled with language than authors? It is well known that William Shakespeare is credited with coining thousands of words that are still in usage within the English language today, but it is perhaps less well known that other authors, such as Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll and Doctor Zeuss also coined words that we still use in conversation to this day!
Charles Dickens coined ‘butterfingers’!
It is a little known fact that Charlies Dickens actually coined this term for a clumsy person in his 1836 The Pickwick Papers: “At every bad attempt at a catch, and every failure to stop the ball, he launched his personal displeasure at the head of the devoted individual in such denunciations as ‘Ah, ah!—stupid’—’Now, butter-fingers’—’Muff’— ‘Humbug’—and so forth.”
Bonus word: Although Dickens isn’t credited with the creation of the word ‘doormat’ in a literal sense, he is credied with its use as a metaphor for a person who allows themselves to be walked all over! He first used the term in his novel, Great Expectations: “She asked me and Joe whether we supposed she was door-mats under our feet, and how we dared to use her so.”
Lewis Carroll created the word ‘chortle’!
Did you know that Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll created the word ‘chortle’ in the sequel Through the Looking-Glass, as a blend of ‘chuckle’ and ‘snort’? “‘O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!’ He chortled in his joy.”
Bonus word: Funnily enough, Carroll also coined the meaning of ‘portmanteau’ that refers to two existing words being merged into a new one (much like ‘chortle’!) Prior to this the only meaning of Portmanteau was that of a suitcase that opened in two equal sections “You see it’s like a portmanteau—there are two meanings packed up into one word.” (Through the Looking-Glass)
William Wordsworth coined the term ‘pedestrian’!
Before William Wordsworth invented the word ‘pedestrian’ in 1971, there was not an English word for someone who travels about on foot!
John Milton created the word ‘pandemonium’!
In book one of his epic poem Paradise Lost (1667), John Milton invented the word ‘pandemonium’, from the Greek pan (all) and daimon (evil spirits); literally ‘a place for all the demons’! “A solemn Councel forthwith to be held at Pandæmonium, the high Capital of Satan and his Peers”
By the end of the century, the word had already moved on from a synonym for hell alone, and was used to mean great uproar and tumolt, in a more general sense. Today the term is applied to ant sense of dissaray, confusion, or heightened activity.
Dr Seuss coined the term ‘nerd’!
The word ‘nerd’ first appeared in print in Dr Seuss‘ children’s book If I Ran the Zoo! “And then just to show them, I’ll sail to Ka-Troo / And bring back an IT-KUTCH, a PREEP, and a PROO, A NERKLE, a NERD, and SEERSUCKER, too!”
Did you already know the origins of any of these words? Let us know if you know of any other words coined by famous authors!