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Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Words writers invented

When I was about fifteen, I wrote a spy thriller and coined the word ‘contortured’ – applying it to the effect on a vehicle’s tyres during a chase; combining ‘contorted’ and ‘tortured’. A good friend advised me to take it out; I had no business inventing words, the dictionary was adequate, it seemed. The point of a new word is that it should be understood by anyone coming across it.

A new book has just been published, Authorisms: Words Wrought by Writers by Paul Dickson (Bloomsbury). Yes, the word ‘authorism’ is an invented word, too.  Indeed, the verb ‘to coin’ was coined by George Puttenham in 1589, when he observed that youngsters ‘seeme to coigne fine wordes out of the Latin’.

A brief list of some words created and the writers who invented them follows:

William Wordsworth – pedestrian
Alexander Dumas – feminist
John Milton – earthshaking
Dr Seuss – nerd
Ben Jonson – clumsy, damp
Thomas More – anticipate, fact
Milton – pandemonium, lovelorn
Karel Capek – robot
Raymond Chandler – unputdownable
Nabokov - nymphet
Shakespeare – bedazzle, subcontract, scuffle

Of course some of Shakespeare’s ‘invented’ words may have been around before his time, but it appears he was the first to write them down and use them in context. Milton seemed as inventive, accredited with over 600 new words.

Also mentioned are those words writers invented that didn’t catch on at all: for example, Tolkien’s ‘eucatastrophe’ and James Fenimore Cooper’s ‘Americaness’, referring to a female American.

So, Authorisms is definitely on my ‘to buy’ list.

Another book of interest is Bill Bryson’s Mother Tongue: The English Language. As he points out, ‘No other language has anything even remotely approaching it in scope.’ This book is worthy of closer inspection.


cromercrox said...

Did 'contortured' make it into print?

I like to coin at least one new word for every book I write, but the only one I can remember was 'intersciurine' meaning 'between squirrels'.

Nik said...

No, not only isn't that word get into print, but neither did the book (it needs a little work, having been written when I was a teenager!) I had a character called Grunsines, which is an anagram of Guinness... I like your intersciurine but suspect it would only appeal to scientists of a particular bent!