Popular Words That Were Invented by Famous Authors

In an archival episode of the PBS series Otherwords, host Dr. Erica Brozovsky, Ph.D. of the University of Texas at Austin explained how some very commonplace words in the modern English lexicon were invented by famous authors throughout history, albeit as nonce words that would only be used once.

The authors in this genre include Geoffrey Chaucer, John Milton, Lewis Carroll, J.R.R. Tolkien, Dr. Seuss, and of course William Shakespeare.

Sometimes these single-usage words can pick up steam, becoming neologisms, terms that are still new and limited to certain fields. And perhaps some of those will eventually make their way into our shared vocabulary as full-fledged words, becoming so common that we totally forget their literary origins.

Some of these nonce words have even been used in corporate settings. Perhaps Chaucer might have been surprised to learn that his famous onomatopoeia “twitter”, describing the manner in which birds communicate, would become famous for the way humans communicate throughout the world.

The English poet Geoffrey Chaucer, famous for his Canterbury Tales, wanted to describe the light, tremulous call an encaged bird makes as it yearns for freedom, and came up with the onomatopoeia “twitter.” 700 years later, we’re the encaged birds, tweeting our takes into the void.

Twitter Chaucer

via The Kid Should See This

Lori Dorn
Lori Dorn

Lori is a Laughing Squid Contributing Editor based in New York City who has been writing blog posts for over a decade. She also enjoys making jewelry, playing guitar, taking photos and mixing craft cocktails.