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A weekly show where knowledge junkies get their fix of trivia-tastic information. This week, John looks at words invented by authors.


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Hi, I'm John Green, welcome to my salon, this is Mental Floss on YouTube, and I am a nerd and did you know that Dr. Seuss gets credit for inventing the word nerd? In his 1950 book If I Ran the Zoo, Seuss wrote, "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!"

And that's the first of many words invented by authors that I'm going to share with you today. One note though, these are the first times these words were found in print so it is possible that they were already being used orally, but we can at least credit these authors with being the first known users of the terms.

(Intro)

Charles Dickens coined the term "Flummox" in his first novel, The Pickwick Papers which was published in 1837. Later in his career, Dickens invented the word "Boredom" in his 1853 novel Bleak House. That's funny because that's what Bleak House made me feel when I read it in high school but it turns out that it's actually quite good, I was just kind of an idiot.

The Oxford English Dictionary credits Geoffrey Chaucer with the first known use of the word "Twitter." Of course back then it meant to chirp continuously whereas now, it still kind of means to chirp continuously. Regardless, that word is #old.

JJ Astor didn't invent the word spaceship in his 1894 sci-fi novel A Journey in Other Worlds but he did change its meaning to the one we know today, a spacecraft.

Speaking of authors that have repeating consonants in their name, J. R. R. Tolkien came up with the word "Tween." In The Fellowship of the Ring, he wrote, "At that time Frodo was still in his tweens, as the hobbits called the irresponsible twenties between childhood and coming of age at thirty-three." I guess that makes Denarius a tween...and everyone who works on Mental Floss except for me. Oh my God, I'm so old.

The word "Serendipity" was first used by Horace Walpole in 1754; he was writing a letter and coined the term which was inspired by a Persian fairy-tale, The Three Princes of Serendip.
In Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll invented the word "Chortle."

The word "Blatant" is first found in Edmund Spenser's 1596 poem, The Fairy Queen. In the poem, the blatant beast is a monster with iron teeth and a thousand tongues.

The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge who lived from 1772-1834 invented many words including "Bisexual," "Psychosomatic," and "Narcissism." Oh, we have a narcissist, beaded Walter White!

Speaking of dead English poets, in John Milton's Paradise Lost, the capitol of Hell is called "Pandæmonium," which gave us our word for - you guessed it - pandemonium.
In the 1958 poem, The Ghost's Leavetaking, Sylvia Plath invented the word "Dreamscape."

"Yahoo" is a race of brutish people in Jonathan Swift's novel Gulliver Travels and then the world adopted it to mean essentially the same thing. Or that company you used for your email until Gmail.

The word "Beep" is first found in print in a 1951 Arthur C. Clarke novel The Sands of Mars.

And speaking of science fiction, we can thank the genre for the word "Cyberspace." Like throughout the 80s, the word was used in novels; in 1982 the William Gibson short story Burning Chrome used the term to mean what we know it as today: communication between a network of computers.

Tintinnabulation was Edgar Allan Poe's word for the sound of ringing bells in his 1848 poem, The Bells. Though you probably don't hear this one regularly, it is in the dictionary.

"Utopia" was Sir Thomas More's 1516 book about the society of a fictional island. This is why we now describe ideal societies as utopias.

And if you like words that start with vowels, you're going to love this one. There's a software called "Ansible" which got its name from the 1966 novel Rocannon's World by Ursula K. Le Guin. I know there's lots of Orson Scott Card fans out there who are like "No, no, no, that term was in Ender's Game!" Y-yes, but that came after.

This is technically two words, but it's interesting, so I'm just going to squeeze it in here. The term "Atomic bomb" was first seen in a 1914 novel by H. G. Wells called The World Set Free. Then the Hungarian-American physicist Leó Szilárd read that book and patented the idea of a nuclear reactor.

The word "Gargantuan" is borrowed from a 16th century French story called The Life of Gargantua and of Pantagruel by François Rabelais. Here at Mental Floss, we like to make gargantuan things tiny, like Genghis Khan and uh this huge dinosaur and what-oh my God, what are you?

Now for an obvious one: Vladimir Nabokov coined the term "Nymphet" in his 1955 novel Lolita.

"Freelance" meant a mercenary in medieval times. It was coined by Sir Walter Scott in his 1820 novel Ivanhoe. These days of course freelance means a job - without benefits - but with more taxes!

Merriam-Webster defines "Runcible" spoon as "a sharp-edged fork with three broad curved prongs." The term runcible comes from author Edward Lear who used it in multiple works to mean multiple things, but the word probably gained popularity thanks to his 1871 poem, The Owl and the Pussycat, which refers to a runcible spoon.

Sci-fi writer Karel Capek coined the term "Robot" in his 1920 play RUR. The play was in Czech, but the spelled-out acronym of its title can be translated to Rossum's Universal Robots.

In Richard Brinsley Sheridan's 1775 play The Rivals, there was a character named Mrs. Malaprop who often used the wrong words, and from that character we get our word, "Malapropism."

The following passage can be found in James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake: "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." So in short, we can thank James Joyce for the word "Quark."

Washington Irving gets credit for the word "Knickerbocker" because it was actually his pseudonym for a while. He went by the name Diedrich Knickerbocker in the early 1800s before the word came to mean pants.

Stephen King may or may not have coined the term "Pie-hole" in his 1983 novel Christine. That book, by the way, is like Herbie: Fully Loaded, but it's actually even scarier. Anyway, that's the first time pie-hole can be found in print, but it may have been slang that he picked up.

Mark Twain was responsible for putting a few words into print for the first time, like "Hard-boiled" and "Bicentennial."

In 1907, author Gelett Burgess invented both the blurb and the word "Blurb."

Louisa May Alcott gets credit for the abbreviation "Co-ed" which can be found in her 1886 novel Jo's Boys.

I'm going to finish up here with some words that Shakespeare invented because he invented a lot of them, including "Alligator," and "Cold-blooded," and "Eventful," and "Bump" (as a noun at least). Then we have "Bedazzled," from Taming of the Shrew, "Obscene" in Love's Labour Lost, "Luggage" in King Henry IV, and "Assassination" in Macbeth.

And finally, I return to my salon to tell you that the first known use of the word "Swagger" if from none other than Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Something for you rap stars to consider.

Thanks for watching Mental Floss here on YouTube, which is made with the help of these nice people. Don't forget to watch our other shows. Thank you again for watching this one, and as we say in my hometown, don't forget to be mockwock! See I can make up my own words, I never said I was good at it, but I can do it.