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Where Did We Get That Word? 15 Clever Creations Designed by Their Author

Updated on July 17, 2014

blatant

Blatant or something very obvious was a word created by Edmund Spenser for his epic poem Faerie Queene (1590)

  • Blatant Beast comes from hell, signifies the spite and wickedness that causes a loss of honor (Heale 161).

The following is an example of how we might use the word blatant today.

..." parables are unnecessary for recognizing the blatant absurdity of everyday life. Reality is lesson enough."- Jane O'Reilly, U.S. feminist and humorist.

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chortle

The definition of chortle is to laugh in a breathy, gleeful way; chuckle. This word was entirely made up by author Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking Glass.(1872)

According to website answers.com the word chortle has a rather funny history.

"'O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!' He chortled in his joy."

Lewis Carroll would probably chortle a bit himself to know we still use a "nonsense" word he created over a hundred years ago. Carroll had well constructed this word, combining both chuckle and snort. This type of word is called a blend or a portmanteau. In Through the Looking-Glass Humpty Dumpty uses portmanteau to describe the word slithy, saying, "It's like a portmanteau-there are two meanings packed up into one word" (the meanings being "lithe" and "slimy").

How many blends have you invented?


gargantuan

Gargantuan means immense or huge. The word gargantuan was first used to describe massive being or giants by writer Francois Rabelais in his connected series of five novels The History of Gargantua and Pantagruel (1532)

heebie-jeebies

What gives you the heebie-jeebies? Heebie-jeebies describes a feeling of apprehension or intense fright. To the ear, even the sound of this term seems nostalgic referring to earlier rhyming phrases, like hocus-pocus and mumbo jumbo. Do you have the jitters? However, the meaning of heebie-jeebies is more like the British term - the screaming habdabs. You're now a hep cat Daddy-O.

According to the online source of current slang vocabulary Urban Dictionary one entry describes heebie-jeebies as "A passe term used to refer to a feeling of being 'freaked out'.

This word was coined by cartoonist W.De Beck in 1923 for a cartoon published by New York American. The term became part of American language quickly when it began appearing in advertisements from 1924 onwards.

knicker-bockers or knickerbockers

Believe it or not Washington Irving wrote under the surname Dietrich Knickerbocker.

  • Knickerbockers can describe men's or boys' baggy knee trousers or when the word is shortened to "knickers" may be used as a synonym for girls underpants.

According to some American historians legend has it that in late 1809, while mourning the death of his fiancée Matilda Hoffman, Irving completed work on his first major book, A History of New-York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, written as Diedrich Knickerbocker. It was a satire on self-important local history and contemporary politics. Irving was sort of like the Stephen Colbert of his day. Prior to its publication, Irving started a hoax similar to today's "gone viral" campaigns craze by placing a series of missing person advertisements in New York newspapers seeking information on Diedrich Knickerbocker, a cranky old Dutch historian who had allegedly gone missing from his hotel in New York City. As part of the joke, Irving placed a notice—allegedly from the hotel owner—informing readers that if Mr. Knickerbocker failed to return to the hotel to pay his bill, he would publish a manuscript Knickerbocker had left behind.

lothario

Author Nicholas Rowe coined the term lothario to be used as the word libertine in his 1703 play The Fair Penitent. A lothario is essentially a Romeo, Don Juan or any man who is preoccupied with or has a reputation for amatory success with women. Any ardent male lover may be called a lothario. SWOON!

mentor

Mentor or experienced advisor was first used by Homer in The Odyssey (8th century BC) and today thousands of years later we use mentor, trusted counselor or guide in the exact same context originally created by Homer.

Words, Words, Words (Man, I Miss This Show!)

nerd

Believe it or not, the beloved word nerd was invented by the brilliant Theodore Geisel or as millions of enthralled children and adults know him, Dr. Seuss. The word first appeared in If I Ran the Zoo (1950) However, it is still debated among language historians whether the modern printed usage of the word nerd applies to the usage in the story. Merriam- Webster dictionary describes a nerd as an unstylish, unattractive, or socially inept person; especially : one slavishly devoted to intellectual or academic pursuits <computer nerds>. — nerd·i·ness ... but we still love them.

"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 a Seersucker too!"

pandemonium

Pandemonium was the name John Milton created as the capital of Hell in Paradise Lost (1667) It means wild uproar or place of chaos.

pander

When we hear the word pander we often think in terms of pandering to an audience. Pander means to acquiesce or essentially to pimp. The word was coined by Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio in 1350 and used in Il Filistrato, a poem that was the inspiration for Geoffrey Chaucer s Troilus and Criseyde and, through Chaucer, the Shakespeare play Troilus and Cressida .A writers inspiration has always been everyone and everywhere!

quark

The word quark was invented in 1939 by the enigmatic author James James for Finnegans Wake. Finnegans Wake has long been acknowledged as a source of inspiration for many creative minds. Two independent physicists who proposed the theory of quarks, were actually inspired by a passage from the Wake. Murray Gell-Mann and George Zweig suggested that hundreds of the particles known at the time could be explained as combinations of just three fundamental particles. Gell-Mann chose the name "quarks," pronounced "kworks," for these three particles, a nonsense word used by James Joyce in the novel .

"Three quarks for Muster Mark!/Sure has not got much of a bark/And sure any he has it's all beside the mark". Most words in Finnegans Wake have multiple meanings and sources. Quarks appear in threes in nature as well. For instance, protons are made of three quarks. Some of the varieties of quarks include up, down, charm, strange, top and bottom. Sounds like something James Joyce would surely love and approve.

robot

The word robot was intended to mean "mechanical man" by Czech author Karol Capek for his science fiction play RUR (1920). But unlike our modern understanding of the R2D2 robot, Capek envisioned robots more similar to cyborgs or clones.

syphilis

Syphilis in modern terms is a sexually transmitted disease. The poem Syphilis sive morbus Gallicus (1530) was composed by physician, poet and professor Hieronymus Fracastorius. The word which later became the disease was invented by Dr.Fracastorius The good doctor wrote a poem about a mythical shepherd named Syphilis who rejected and then insulted the sun god. In response, the deity struck him down with a dreaded malady, and that's where the name comes from.

utopian

The word utopian was created by Sir Thomas More to describe an imaginary place of impeccable social and moral perfection . This ideal nation was coined Utopia. Utopia is a controversial political, philosophical work of fiction created by More in 1516. A utopian is one who believes in the perfectibility of human society.

yahoo

Although most of us recognize the word yahoo as a website or part of our email account address, the word yahoo was coined by Johnathan Swift for his epic novel Gulliver's Travels (1726) to mean a barbarian. Not to be confused with the rich chocolatey drink Yoohoo, yahoo's are quite distasteful.

Swift described the Yahoos as savage vile, filthy creatures with disgusting habits. They resemble human beings which irks protagonist Gulliver. The Yahoos are primitive creatures obsessed with "pretty stones" they find by digging in mud. This seems to represent the selfish materialism and arrogant elitism Swift encountered in Britain. And so the word "yahoo" was born. It has come to mean "a crude, brutish or obscenely coarse person"


Have fun, use your own life experience and create a new word writers and worldwide word lovers will use for centuries to come.

Do You Make Up Your Own Vocabulary?

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