Language has a way of evolving over time — particularly when authors start just making up new words! Here’s a list of some of our favorite author-created words with surprising origins.
No, it’s not just a popular app! Way back in the 1300’s, Geoffrey Chaucer created the word “twitter” to describe the sound of birds chirping in his famous work, The Canterbury Tales. So how might Chaucer feel about people “tweeting” all the time if he were alive today? Considering the content of some tweets out there (as well as the often risqué nature of Chaucer’s stories), I’m sure Chaucer would be cool with it.
If you already knew number one on this list, you most likely belong to this group. The word “nerd,” however, didn’t start as a high schooler’s taunt or a trendy compliment. Dr. Seuss first used the word in his children’s book, If I Ran the Zoo: “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 a SEERSUCKER, too!” The illustration for “nerd” shows a grumpy creature sporting sideburns and a black T-shirt. Based on that picture, “nerd” should’ve just become another term for “rock bassist” imho.
“Tween” sounds like a word coined by a pop culture blogger, but the credit actually belongs to fantasy writer J.R.R. Tolkien. In his Lord of the Rings trilogy, Tolkien writes, “…Tweens as Hobbits called the irresponsible twenties between childhood and the coming of age at thirty-three.” While the age ranges of Hobbit tweens and human tweens clearly differ , we can all be incredibly grateful that our world’s tweens don’t stay that way for 13 years.
Memes are just those funny pictures on the internet, right? INCORRECT. “Meme” originally had a much more serious meaning. Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist and meme-maker extraordinaire, first used the term in 1976 and defined it as something that “represents ideas, behaviors or styles that spread from person to person. It can be a trendy dance, a viral video, a new fashion, a technological tool or a catchphrase. Like viruses, memes arise, spread, mutate and die.” He then posted several dank Nicolas Cage memes in his local newspaper as the internet had not yet been invented.
It sounds mythological, like “gargoyle” or “griffin,” but it’s not. The Royal Naval Air Service created “gremlin” as recently as WWI, and jokingly used it to refer to little creatures that could cause mechanical problems in aircraft. Roald Dahl popularized the phrase in his book, The Gremlins: A Royal Airforce Story. Thank goodness he did — otherwise the masterpiece Gremlins movies might never have come to be.