Authorisms – words, phrases or names created by a writer have been great new additions to our language. Here are some of the best:
1. Banana Republic – A politically unstable, undemocratic and tropical nation whose economy is largely dependent on the export of a single limited-resource product, such as a fruit or a mineral. The term was coined by O’Henry in his 1904 collection of short stories entitled “Cabbages and Kings.”
2. Beatnik – Created in 1958 by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen about a party for “50 beatniks.” “I coined the word ‘beatnik’ because Russia’s Sputnik was aloft then. The word popped out.”
3. Bedazzled – To be irresistibly enchanted, dazed or pleased A word that Shakespeare debuts in “The Taming of the Shrew” when Katharina says: “Pardon, old father, my mistaking eyes, that have been so bedazzled with the sun that everything I look on seemeth green.”
4. Catch-22 – The working title for Joseph Heller’s classic about the mindlessness of war was Catch-18, a reference to a military regulation that keeps pilots in the story flying one suicidal mission after another. The only way to be excused from flying such missions is to be declared insane, but asking to be excused for the reason of insanity is proof of a rational mind and bars being excused. Shortly before the appearance of the book in 1961, Leon Uris’s bestselling novel “Mila 18” was published. To avoid numerical confusion, Heller decided to change 18 to 22.
5. Cyberspace – Novelist William Gibson invented this word in a 1982 short story, but it became popular after the publication of his sci-fi novel “Neuromancer” in 1984. He described cyberspace as “a graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system.
6. Freelance – One who sells services to employers without a long-term commitment to any of them;
an uncommitted independent, as in politics or social life. The word is not recorded before Sir Walter Scott introduced it in “Ivanhoe.” Scott’s freelancers were mercenaries who pledged their loyalty and arms for a fee. “I offered Richard the service of my Free Lances, and he refused them. I will lead them to Hull, seize on shipping, and embark for Flanders; a man of action will always find employment.”
7. Hard-Boiled – Hardened, hard-headed, uncompromising. A term documented as being first used by Mark Twain in 1886 as an adjective meaning “hardened”. In a speech he alluded to hard-boiled, hide-bound grammar.
8. Malapropism – An incorrect word in place of a word with a similar sound, resulting in a nonsensical, often humorous utterance. This eponym originated from the character Mrs Malaprop, in the 1775 play “The Rivals” by Irish playwright and poet Richard Brinsley Sheridan. As you might expect, Mrs Malaprop is full of amusing mistakes, like “He’s the very pineapple of success!” The adjective Malaproprian is first used, by George Eliot. “Mr. Lewes is sending what a Malapropian friend once called a ‘missile’ to Sara.”
9. Serendipity – The writer and politician Horace Walpole invented the word in 1754 as an allusion to Serendip, an old name for Sri Lanka. He explained he had based the word on the title of a fairy tale, “The Three Princes of Serendip.” The three princes were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not looking for.
10. Whodunit – A traditional murder mystery. Book critic Donald Gordon created the term in the July 1930 “American News of Books” when he said of a new mystery novel: “Half-Mast Murder, by Milward Kennedy – A satisfactory whodunit.”
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