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Infographic: Popular Words Invented by Authors


The ever-evolving English language was once described as having "pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and riffle their pockets for new vocabulary", but that’s not its only source of new words.

Much to the dismay of school children everywhere, authors have a tendency of inventing a word whenever they can’t find on which fits the story they’re writing.

The following infographic details eight words, and explains where they were first used. The selection ranges from cyberspace to swagger, but doesn’t include my favorite origin story, which was for malamanteau. (But that would make sense given that the word was popularized by an author, and not coined by one.)

P.S. If this infographic isn’t enough to satisfy your word cravings, here are three articles on words invented by authors.



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Kevin April 18, 2016 um 7:14 am

The text states that in Sir Walter Scott’s 1819 Ivanhoe "he used this word to describe a journalist who is working on a project basis." This sounded odd and, after some checking, it seems it is incorrect. He was talking about "free lances" or mercenary soldiers offering their weapons (lances) to the highest bidder. Apparently, the actual quote from Ivanhoe is "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; thanks to the bustling times, a man of action will always find employment."

Nate Hoffelder April 18, 2016 um 7:15 am

Interesting! That makes a lot more sense for that era. Thanks!

Mike Hall April 18, 2016 um 8:14 am

I was going to say much the same as Kevin, but he did it much more elegantly by chasing down the actual quote. A "lance" was actually a very small military unit comprising a kinght plus a few supporting troops. "Journalist" has its origin much later than the time in which Ivanhoe is set, though it might be nice if this had its own entry in the infographic (save that I suspect that it was just stolen from the French rather than invented by an author).

Saying "during his time" of William Gibson also seems a little odd given that, as far as I know, he’s still alive so "his time" includes today when cyberspace is in wide use.

Nate Hoffelder April 18, 2016 um 8:35 am

Lance was also a weapon, basically a giant spear, which is why I would bet that "a lance of troops" came into being to define the minimum number of soldiers required to handle a lance. I think we would call that a squad, now.

Frank April 18, 2016 um 10:59 am

"Catch-22" is another word created by a book, in this case the book has the same name.

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