How Authors From Dickens to Mailer Have Coined Words We Use Each Day


The English language didn’t just spring from nowhere. Here’s a sampling of great terms introduced by favorite authors:


Charles Dickens first used the term in his 1836 “The Pickwick Papers.”


Originally meaning to be decorated or covered with chintz, it was extended to mean unfashionable, cheap or stingy, by Mary Ann Evans, better known by her pen name George Eliot.


Blend of “chuckle” and “snort”, created by Lewis Carroll in “Through the Looking-Glass”: “‘O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!’ He chortled in his joy.” Carroll also coined the term “portmanteau word,” for merging two existing words into a new word. Parts of two familiar words are yoked together to produce a word that conveys meanings and sound of old ones: smog from “smoke” + “fog”, brunch from “breakfast” + “lunch.”


Testicles in the allegorical sense, representing courage and tenacity. Imported from Spanish by Ernest Hemingway in his 1932 nonfiction bullfighting opus “Death in the Afternoon.”


As a metaphor applied to a person upon whom other people “wipe their boots”. First used in this sense by Dickens in “Great Expectations.”


William Shakespeare coined this word for something offensive to the eye in “The Taming of the Shrew.”


Created by Norman Mailer in 1973 for a piece of information that becomes accepted as a fact, although not actually true; or an invented fact believed to be true because it appears in print.


One who advocates social, political and all other rights of women equal to those of men. Created by Alexandre Dumas in 1873 as féministe,

Muscle man

James Fenimore Cooper‘s term for a man of superior strength. He used it in 1838 in “Homeward Bound.”


The word first appears in print in 1950 in the children’s book “If I Ran the Zoo” by Dr Seuss. In the book, Gerald McGrew makes a number of delightfully extravagant claims as to what he would do if he were in charge at the zoo. Among these fanciful schemes is: “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!”


For Book 1 of his epic poem “Paradise Lost,” published in 1667, John Milton invented Pandemonium – from the Greek pan (all), and daimon (evil spirit), literally “a place for all the demons.”


William Wordsworth coined the noun in 1791


A timid person; a coward. Introduced in 1933 by Dorothy Parker in a short story “The Waltz.”

Shotgun Wedding

A wedding made in haste by reason of the bride’s pregnancy. The term and the concept were introduced in print by Sinclair Lewis in 1927 in his novel “Elmer Gantry.”

Sold Down The River

To suffer a great betrayal; to be destroyed by the bad faith of another, especially one who you trusted. The exact term from which the metaphor derives is from Harriet Beecher Stowe‘s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”


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