From Butterfingers to Yahoos: Everyday Words Invented by Famous Authors

Posted by Hayley on April 13, 2015
Before Google, there was the dictionary. Webster's American was first printed on April 14, 1818. For almost two centuries, it has stood as a noble authority on language, reflecting the words we use and noting how we use them.

And some of those words have been invented by authors—who, to be fair, make up things for a living. Shakespeare himself came up with 1,700 "lexical innovations". But for every Bard there are thousands of writers smashing syllables together in vain. Creating words is easy; creating words that last is not.

In honor of Webster’s American Dictionary's birthday, we take a look at some of the words that have made a permanent leap from fiction to dictionary. Can you grok it?

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BUTTERFINGER
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The Pickwick Papers
by Charles Dickens

"At every bad attempt at a catch, and every failure to stop the ball, he launched his personal displeasure at the head of the devoted individual in such denunciations as 'Ah, ah!—stupid'—'Now, butter-fingers'—'Muff'— 'Humbug'—and so forth."
Webster's Definition: a clumsy, awkward person


CHORTLE
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Through the Looking Glass
by Lewis Carroll

"'O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!' He chortled in his joy."
Webster's Definition: an explosive sound that is a sign of amusement


CYBERSPACE
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Neuromancer
by William Gibson

“A year here and he still dreamed of cyberspace, hope fading nightly. All the speed he took, all the turns he'd taken and the corners he cut in Night City, and he'd still see the matrix in his dreams..."
Webster's Definition: the online world of computer networks and the Internet


GROK
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Stranger in a Strange Land
by Robert Heinlein

"He had begun to understand that these others did have greater acquaintance with the stuff of life...a fact not yet grokked but which he had to accept."
Webster's Definition: to understand profoundly and intuitively


NERD
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If I Ran the Zoo
by Dr. Seuss

"A Nerkle, a Nerd, and a Seersucker too."
Webster's Definition: a person who behaves awkwardly around other people and usually has unstylish clothes, hair, etc.


BUMP
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Romeo and Juliet
by William Shakespeare

"And yet, I warrant, it had upon its brow a bump as big as a young cockerel's stone."
Webster's Definition: an area of skin that is raised because it was hit, injured, etc.


SWAGGER
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A Midsummer Night's Dream
by William Shakespeare

"What hempen homespuns have we swaggering here?"
Webster's Definition: to walk in a very confident way


TWEEN
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The Lord of the Rings
by J.R.R. Tolkien

"...Tweens as Hobbits called the irresponsible twenties between childhood and the coming of age at thirty-three."
Webster's Definition: a boy or girl who is 11 or 12 years old


QUARK
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Finnegans Wake
by James Joyce

"Three quarks for Muster Mark! Sure he has not got much of a bark and sure any he has it's all beside the mark."
Webster's Definition: any one of several types of very small particles that make up matter


YAHOO
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Gulliver's Travels
by Jonathan Swift

"Yahoo as I am, it is well known through all Houyhnhnmland, that, by the instructions and example of my illustrious master, I was able in the compass of two years (although I confess with the utmost difficulty) to remove that infernal habit of lying, shuffling, deceiving, and equivocating, so deeply rooted in the very souls of all my species."
Webster's Definition a person who is very rude, loud, or stupid


Discover more to grok and chortle at with Paul Dickson's Authorisms: Words Wrought by Writers. What's your favorite word invented by an author?


Comments Showing 1-41 of 41 (41 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Noorilhuda (new)

Noorilhuda Good one Hayley!


message 2: by Jacqueline (new)

Jacqueline Dauny and what should be said for A GEEK


message 3: by Bara (last edited Apr 14, 2015 10:49AM) (new)

Bara So that's where swagger came from!
Also: I have chortles!


message 4: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer Wood Dr. Seuss so perfect a word, to tell to your Tween.


message 5: by Andrea (new)

Andrea That was interesting..thanks!


message 6: by Willow (new)

Willow Brooks I once took a class in college that encouraged us to play with words! This was delightfully interesting.


message 7: by Sue (new)

Sue Interesting!


message 8: by Silvia (new)

Silvia F. Awesome!!


message 9: by Diane (new)

Diane Barber This is a great list!


message 10: by Amber (new)

Amber Martingale I'm sure Professor Tolkien would be surprised to see OUR definition of his word tween... .


message 11: by rivka, Goodreads employee (last edited Apr 14, 2015 07:32PM) (new)

rivka Elena. (theresmiling) wrote: "I don't think James Joyce invented the word "quark" itself."

He may have as an English word, though. But he didn't invent it in its current meaning; that was physicist Murray Gell-Mann. Gell-Mann did decide on the word's spelling based on Joyce, though.


message 12: by Melissa (new)

Melissa I Wow! I can't think of one, but this was a really interesting and fun blog post. Something to look into further. Thank you and have fun all book "nerds" I say with a "chortle" as I "swagger" away......however I'm not being a "yahoo". A "dork" maybe......no not that either.... (very funny family story about the definition and a time of perfect use of dork....look it up if you don't already know, lol). The family story is hilarious, but too much to type.

Have fun and Happy Reading :) Thanks GR's


message 13: by Jlither (new)

Jlither "Can you grok it" was replaced in the 60's by "Can you dig it" and keeps evolving.

Michael Valentine Smith is one of my favorite characters ever and the use of "grok" is up there with "John Gault was here".

This all brings many memories.

Don't forget the line "As God is my witness, I will never go hungry again" or "Tomorrow is another day".


message 14: by Annette (new)

Annette mathews I didn't know Butterfinger was invented by Charles Dickens !! This is very interesting :)


message 15: by Joy (new)

Joy rivka wrote: "Elena. (theresmiling) wrote: "I don't think James Joyce invented the word "quark" itself."

He may have as an English word, though. But he didn't invent it in its current meaning; that was physicis..."



As far as I know, when quarks were discovered, there were thought to only be three types, so Gell-Mann chose this word from Finnegan's Wake as in the book there are three quarks. "Three quarks for Muster Mark!" Joyce didn't come up with the word as it is defined today, but I believe that it wasn't in existence in the English language before he wrote it.


Viki /LostForReal/ Shakespeare's swagger ... =D


message 17: by Becky (last edited Apr 15, 2015 05:19AM) (new)

Becky Umm... Didn't Mental_Floss just do this a month or so ago? www.youtube.com/watch?v=x63y-zV152w


message 18: by Karolyn (new)

Karolyn Shakespeare invented over 1700 of our common words by changing nouns into verbs, changing verbs into adjectives, connecting words never before used together, adding prefixes and suffixes, and devising words wholly original.


message 19: by هاجر (new)

هاجر عبدالوهاب I think "Nerd" is widely known nowadays but we didn't get into its roots before.
As many readers are interested to know meanings of Old English words and expressions so why isn't there any fixed dictionary valid here for such words?
These days i am reading an old English book for Oscar Wilde and i found many expressions and idioms which are further beautiful and sound pretty while pronouncing but unfortunately didn't figure out some of their meanings after looking for them in dozens of dictionaries on the internet.


message 20: by Jacqueline (new)

Jacqueline Dauny thanks for this explanation of "nerd" indeed i did not find it after looking in many web dictionaries me too


message 21: by Amber (new)

Amber Martingale Karolyn wrote: "Shakespeare invented over 1700 of our common words by changing nouns into verbs, changing verbs into adjectives, connecting words never before used together, adding prefixes and suffixes, and devis..."

Yep.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9-6I...


message 22: by Andrea (new)

Andrea Shakespeare was so badass.


message 23: by Patrick (new)

Patrick One day I sprained my Grok when this butterfingered nerd with a peculiar swagger hit my quark which left a visible bump on my tokus. I sometimes chortle at this unsusual experience but still to this day share with my tween nephew who randonly shouts YAHOO when I stop yacking.......yuk, yuk.


message 24: by Amber (new)

Amber Martingale lol


message 25: by SoulSurvivor (new)

SoulSurvivor Barbora wrote: "So that's where swagger came from!
Also: I have chortles!"


I think there is a new medication that works curing chortles !?


message 26: by SoulSurvivor (new)

SoulSurvivor Andrea wrote: "Shakespeare was so badass."

I think he saved me from a life of misery : in college , I dated a girl named Juliet . She wanted me to call her Julie , but I told her I couldn't do that to Shakespeare .
We broke up shortly thereafter !


message 27: by sunshine (new)

sunshine swagger


message 28: by Revanth (new)

Revanth Ukkalam Wow


Mac Dubista Keso The Bibliobibuli v(=∩_∩=) awespiring!

:D

awesome and in some aspect inspiring!

^^,


message 30: by Amber (new)

Amber Martingale LOL


message 31: by Rachel (new)

Rachel Redhead I use the word relaxified a lot, meaning trying to be relaxed about something but actually being terrified of it


message 32: by Fred (new)

Fred Waiss Patrick wrote: "One day I sprained my Grok when this butterfingered nerd with a peculiar swagger hit my quark which left a visible bump on my tokus. I sometimes chortle at this unsusual experience but still to th..."

Patrick, "Grok" was used almost exclusively as a verb, though it did, in Martian, mean "water" as well. No way to sprain it.


message 33: by Ari (last edited Apr 16, 2015 08:33PM) (new)

Ari B No, someone above said something like 'Wow, Dickens invented butterfinger?' Um, no. He changed the definition of the word to make it a noun. Duh, but he invented in the manner of saying he changed the definition and made it popular.


message 34: by Lauren (new)

Lauren Garrett This is a great list.


message 35: by C. J. (new)

C. J. Scurria Pretty great article. Thanks, Goodreads!


message 36: by Casey (new)

Casey Fredrick Dr. Seuss came up with nerd....


message 37: by Jacqueline (new)

Jacqueline Dauny Hello to the nerds behind others one


message 38: by Cristian (new)

Cristian  Morales Hah! Very interesting!


message 39: by Patrick (new)

Patrick Fred wrote: "Patrick wrote: "One day I sprained my Grok when this butterfingered nerd with a peculiar swagger hit my quark which left a visible bump on my tokus. I sometimes chortle at this unsusual experience..."

Now Fred, how did I not know this? Thanks for spraining!


message 40: by Jacqueline (new)

Jacqueline Dauny always very interesting american speaking


message 41: by Fred (new)

Fred Waiss Karolyn wrote: "Shakespeare invented over 1700 of our common words by changing nouns into verbs, changing verbs into adjectives, connecting words never before used together, adding prefixes and suffixes, and devis..."

Bill Watterson did that in one "Calvin and Hobbes" strip when Calvin said that he loved "to weird language," using 'weird" as a verb.


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