Made-up Words from Authors

Photograph: a disordered pile of rectangular white refrigerator magnets with words on them: sorrow, believe, to, torn, dad, wet, explore, and more.Let's face it.  There just aren't enough words in the English language.

The human experience is infinitely complex, and we're always discovering (or rediscovering) phenomena that we don't quite have the words for.  Plus, sometimes the right words just elude us.  And when you can't find the word, sometimes you just have to make it up!

At Brilliant Books, we have our fair share of made-up words.  For instance, we refer to some of our smaller items (like pens, pins, or bookmarks) as "walkoffable".

walkoffable / ˌwȯk-ˈȯf-ə-bəl / adjective : capable of walking away (of an object); easily disorganized or misplaced.

On some days, our booksellers (or other staff members) find themselves "regooglying" merchandise or artwork.

regoogly / ˌrē-ˈgüglē, -li / verb (transitive or intransitive) : to reapply googly eyes to an object from which said googly eyes have fallen off.

We could go on about our made-up words, but we'd rather share the work of some of our favorite linguistic innovators.  We've curated a list of literary figures who crafted brilliant works out of existing words, while adding a few of their own to the mix.  Check out the list below for words you never knew were coined by authors!


Book cover: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Lookingglass Lewis Carroll.  Above a black and white banner with the title, author, and the word: "Penguin Classics" in an illustration of a young girl in a blue and yellow dress, looking up at a large women and a deck of life-sized playing cards.chortle / ˈchȯr-tᵊl / intransitive verb. 1 : to sing or chant exultantly. 2 : to laugh or chuckle especially when amused or pleased. 

This word was first coined by Lewis Carroll in his novel Through the Looking Glass.  It's one of the made-up words he used in his nonsense poem "Jabberwocky" - and while we're glad this one has caught on, we'd love to hear more people using this other words like frabjous, burble, and galumph.


Book cover: Neuromancer by William Gibson. Against a bright green background is a rough silhouette of a human head made up of winding cords.  Over where the figure's eyes would be is a white patch resembling goggles, filled with the word "NEUROMANCER" repeatedly.cyberspace / ˈsī-bər-ˌspās / noun : the online world of computer networks and especially the Internet.

The word "cyberspace" was invented in 1982 by William Gibson in his short story Burning Chrome, which is available in a collection of the same name.  However, Gibson is perhaps best known for his first novel (and seminal science fiction piece) Neuromancer, which also takes place in and around cyberspace.



Book cover: Rossum's Universal Robots by Karl Capek, translated by Claudia Novack-Jones and Ivan Klima. Above a banner with the author, title, and the text "Penguin Classics" is a photograph of a bald human head, facing away from the camera.  In the center of the head is a battery port with three AA batteries, and one empty slot.robot / ˈrō-ˌbät / noun. 1 : a machine that resembles a living creature in being capable of moving independently and performing complex actions. 2 : a mechanism guided by automatic controls.

Derived from the old Slavonic word "robota," meaning servitude or drudgery, the word "robot" first appeared in Karl Čapek's 1920 play Rossum's Universal Robots, or R. U. R.  Čapek credits his brother Josef for the invention of the word.  While the modern conception of robots generally includes automatic machines, the robots in R. U. R. more closely resemble the modern conception of androids, since they are described as enslaved creatures made up of synthetic organic material who may or may not rise up against human oppression over the course of the play.


Photo: a set of four books (The Hobbit, and three Lord of the Rings books) in a case. Across the front of the case is written: J. R. R. Tolkien. The books in the case are muted red, yellow, orange, and brown. tween / ˈtwēn / 1. preposition : between. 2. noun : pre-teen; a youngster between 10 and 12 years old, between childhood and teenage.

While Tolkien didn't invent either of the definitions listed above (the first predating him, and the second emerging much later, potentially as a reduction of the word "tweenager"), he did create his own meaning for the word, which foreshadowed the second of these definitions.  The word appears in both The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, with a proper definition coming in Book 2 of LOtR: "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."


Book cover: Ivanhoe by Walter Scott.  Below a panel with the title, author, and the text "Penguin Classics" is an illustration of two figures on horses.  The red figure points a lance at the blue figure, who leans back on his horse. Behind the two there in a man holding banners, and audience members in tall lavender stands.freelance / ˈfrē-ˌlan(t)s / 1. adjective : not sponsored by or affiliated with an organization or authority. 2. verb : to act or work as a freelancer. 3. noun : freelancer; a person who pursues a profession without a long-term commitment to any one employer.

The word "freelance" first appeared in 1819 in Walter Scott's Ivanhoe.  It first referred specifically to knights who were not employed by a specific army, but who worked as independent mercenaries (hence free - lance!). 


Book cover: Paradise Lost by John Milton.  Above a banner with the author, title, and the text "Penguin Classics" is an illustration of a naked woman with blonde hair, reaching up into a fruit tree while a snake and parrot watch.pandemonium / ˌpan-də-ˈmō-nē-əm / noun. 1 : a wild uproar, or a chaotic situation 2 : capitalized: the infernal regions: Hell.

John Milton is credited with coining the most new words in the English language (according to TIME, he coined 630 new words).  His neologisms include "emblazonry," "horrent," "loveborn," and of course "pandemonium."  In Paradise Lost, Milton's epic poem exploring the origins of man's existence, Pandemonium is the capital of Hell (literally, the place of all devils).


Book cover: Henry VI part 2 by Shakespeare, edited by William Montgomery and Janis Lull.  Beneath a white banner with title, author, and editor is a burgundy panel with a blue, yellow, and white line illustration of a young king holding a scepter and orb.jaded / ˈjā-dəd / adjective. 1 : fatigued by overwork; exhausted. 2 : made dull, apathetic, or cynical by experience.

Okay, so you knew Shakespeare was going to be on this list.  He's one of the most famous word-creators. Estimates of his original words have been as high as 1700, but the truth is likely in the 400's.  And even for the words he did create, his linguistic creations were almost already combinations or existing words - or a new use of an old word.  For instance, since the 14th century "jade" had been used in England as a noun denoting a tired-out horse, and in the mid 16th century (right around Shakespeare's birth), it expanded into an insult - primarily for women, but also referring to mean or worthless men.  The word "jaded" appears in three of Shakespeare's works: first in Henry VI, Part 2, and also in Antony and Cleopatra and Henry VIII as an adjective (meaning lowly) and a past participle (meaning beaten down or overcome).


Those are some of our favorite neologisms by authors!  We hope you learned something new—we certainly did.