An authorism is a word, phrase or name created by an author or journalist; a literary neologism. William Shakespeare whose written vocabulary consisted of 17, 245 words included hundreds of authorisms. Some of them, true nonce words, never went further than their appearance in his plays, but others – like bump, hurry, critical, and road–are essential parts of our standard vocabulary today. Here are some prime examples–some more successful than others.
Banana Republic. A politically unstable, undemocratic and tropical nation whose economy is largely dependent on the export of a single limited-resource product, such as a fruit or a mineral. The pejorative term was coined by O. Henry (William Sidney Porter) in his 1904 collection of short stories entitled Cabbages and Kings.
Beatnik was created by San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen in his column of April 2, 1958 about a party for “50 beatniks.” Caen was later quoted, “I coined the word ‘beatnik’ simply because Russia’s Sputnik satellite was aloft at the time and the word popped out.
Bedazzled. To be irresistibly enchanted, dazed or pleased A word which Shakespeare debuts in The Taming of the Shrew, Act IV, Scene V: “Pardon, old father, my mistaking eyes, that have been so bedazzled with the sun that everything I look on seemeth green.” – Katherina.
Co-ed. Short for co-education–any co-educational institution or system. Louisa May Alcott wrote in her 1886 novel Jo’s Boys. “Never liked co-ed” The line is uttered by a boy named Adolphus “Dolly” Pettingill objecting to eating with girls.
Cyberspace. Novelist William Gibson invented this word in a 1982 short story, but it became popular after the publication of his sci-fi novel Neuromancer in 1984. He described cyberspace as “a graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system.
Door Mat. As a metaphor applied to a person who upon whom others people ‘wipe their boots.’ First used in this sense by Charles Dickens in Great Expectations.
Factoid. Term created by Norman Mailer in 1973 for a piece of information that becomes accepted as a fact, although it is not actually true; or an invented fact believed to be true because it appears in print.
Freelance. 1. One who sells services to employers without a long-term commitment to any of them. 2. An uncommitted independent, as in politics or social life. The word is not recorded before Sir Walter Scott introduced it in Ivanhoe which, among other things, is often considered the first historic novel in the modern sense. Scott’s freelancers were mercenaries who pledged their loyalty and arms for a fee.
Granfalloon. Any large, amorphous organization without real identity. Coined by American writer Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007) who added: “Other examples of granfalloons are the Communist Party, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the General Electric Company, the International Order of Odd Fellows — and any nation, anytime, anywhere.”
Little grey cells. The neurons of the brain which allow fictional Belgian detective Hercule Poirot to click and solve innumerable cases in English mystery author Agatha Christie’s (1890-1976) many stories about the fastidious detective stars.
Murdermongress. A female writer of murder stories, a term invented by Ogden Nash to describe Agatha Christie in his 1957 anthology You can’t get there from Here. The word was fashioned to rhyme with Library of Congress.
Pandemonium. For Book 1 of his epic poem Paradise Lost, published in 1667, John Milton invented Pandemonium– from the Greek pan, “all,” and daimon, “evil spirit,” literally “a place for all the demons”–or as Milton first expressed in the poem: “A solemn Councel forthwith to be held At Pandæmonium, the high Capital Of Satan and his Peers.”
Robot. Coinage of Czech writer Karel Čapek’s (1890-1938) in his 1921 work Rossum’s Universal Robots. Kopeck took the Czech term for “serf labor” and adopted it to the animatrons that we think of today. In 1941, Isaac Asimov invented the words robotic and robotics after Čapek’s robot.
Scaredy-Cat. A timid person; a coward. Introduced in 1933 by U.S. author, Dorothy Parker in a short story “The Waltz” with this line: “Oh, yes, do let’s dance together. It’s so nice to meet a man who isn’t scaredy-cat about catching my beri-beri.”
Undertoad. A form of intense anxiety, the chief feature of which is an overwhelming fear of the unknown in general and of one’s personal mortality in particular. This is American novelist John Irving’s term for fear of tragedy, coined in The World According to Garp (1976).