My main goal in life is to write a book. After I travel back in time and seduce young Leonardo Dicaprio, I will write a book (probably a memoir) about nothing that only my mother will buy, but it will be great because it will have my name on it and I can call it mine. It will also give me an opportunity to make up my own words, which is a rite of passage for authors, it seems. All famous writers pull words out of thin air and popularize them. It’s basically part of the book-publishing contract, right next to “You agree to waive your right to cast your characters in the film adaptation that will inevitably be made in the next few years.” These authors created a number of words that we still use. They may not go by the original definition but hey, they’re in the Oxford Dictionary and that has to mean something, right?
1) Tween – J.R.R. Tolkien
Tolkien was a die-hard philologist and often used writing as a way to explore his love of language. In fact, the Lord of the Rings series began as a way for the writer to experiment with language construction. (The author would craft entire passages just so he could make a subtle word-joke.) One of the terms he created, tween, was used to describe a Hobbit in his or her twenties, which was a troublesome age. Originally a combination of teen and twenty, the word now refers to preteens, who are just as troublesome but usually less hairy and not as eager to travel across the country to destroy jewelry.
2) Wendy – J.M. Barrie
Though Wendy has always been a popular nickname for “Gwendolyn,” it was not until the release of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan that the name became a standalone word. Before Peter Pan, no one had ever thought to name their child Wendy. While this practice is not entirely uncommon (this year is special in that we’re seeing a rise in babies named Khaleesi, which I’m pretty sure has never happened before either), it’s still kind of cool to know that there are babies walking around with a name you invented. Although, I dread the day where all those babies named Khaleesi discover who they were named after…not because the Game of Thrones character is bad, but because, well, it’s not exactly a family friendly show.
3) Nerd – Dr. Seuss
While he may not have been an actual doctor, Theodor Seuss Geisel had a powerful impact on children’s literature. The humorist began penning books for kids after college. Despite being rejected by multiple publishers, the king of nonsense-words eventually rose to success. Out of the hundreds of gibberish terms he concocted, one of them, “nerd,” became popular after appearing in his book If I Ran the Zoo (1950). “Dork” and “Geek” have nothing on nerd’s origin.
4) Chortle – Lewis Carroll
Featured in his book Through the Looking Glass, “chortle” is a portmanteau, meaning a mix between a chuckle and a snort. I imagine this is how you would describe a pig’s laugh or the sound you make when someone cracks a joke and you inhale whatever drink you were chugging.
5) Swagger – Shakespeare
I could spend all day talking about Shakespeare’s imagined vocabulary. Shakespeare was making up words before it was cool, around 1700 of them to be exact. This one, though, you probably didn’t expect. Swagger, meaning, “an overly confident form of strutting,” came from Billy’s Henry IV:
If he swagger, let him not come here: no, by my faith; I must live among my neighbours; I’ll no swaggerers.
6) Gargantuan – François Rabelais
In his series The Life of Gargantua and Pantagruel, French author Francois Rabelais described the story of a giant and his son, the giant being gargantuan and the son being pantagruelean, meaning small. I’m kidding, but if Rabelais can make things up, why can’t I? Pantagruelean seems like an obvious progression. In relation to a giant, the son would seem small, so it makes sense.
7) Serendipity – Horace Walpole
The Three Princes of Serendip features 3 characters who make a series of discoveries on accident, leading them to good fortune. The word serendip is actually another name for Sri Lanka, deriving from the Arabic sarandib, which derives from an island called Cherandeep that was likely mispronounced somewhere along the way. That last part’s just a theory, though. This all relates back to Horace Walpole because, in a letter to his friend Horace Mann (how one Horace managed to find and befriend another person named Horace is a miracle beyond my comprehension), Walpole mentioned the word serendipity and its relation to the lucky princes.
8) Pandemonium – John Milton
In the epic poem Paradise Lost, John Milton refers to the capital of Hell as Pandemonium. The dictionary refers to it as “a place where demons live.” So, with both of those things in mind, I guess it wouldn’t be too inaccurate to call Disneyland a place of “complete pandemonium.” (Mickey, if you’re reading this, just know I’m totally kidding. You know I love you guys.)