I’ve always been intrigued by words. Can’t say I always use, spell or pronounce them correctly, but that’s never stopped me from trying out a new one. I recently bought Paul Dickson’s new book, “ Authorisms: Words Wrought by Writers”. What a treat! Out of the hundreds of words and phrases that Dickson has compiled, here are a few words and their origins that really tickled my fancy:
Sparrow Fart– How have I never heard this term before? Love it! Dickson gives its meaning as,” A person or thing of no consequence”. It comes from the terrifyingly esotetic, “Ulysses” by James Joyce. Damn! I may need to read it someday! Joyce refers to a group of people talking about politics as a “lot of sparrowfarts”. Thank you, James Joyce! Thank you, Paul Dickson, for bringing this term to my attention! Will use it soon!
Brobdingnagian and Lilliputian- Two of my favorite words (though I always seem to misspell brobdingnagian and spellcheck rarely catches it). Both from Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels”. The people of Brobdingnag were giants and the folks inhabiting Lilliput were the size of one’s finger. Yes, yes. I did read this book many years ago. It was very entertaining.
Nerd- Holy cow! I would have never guessed this! We can thank the beloved Dr. Seuss for this commonplace word. Dickson tells us that it first appears in “If I Ran the Zoo”. Dr. Seuss is know for (and often criticized for) making words up. I guess one or two should have made it in to common usage. Look for this in the book: “And just to show them I’ll sail to Ka-Troo/And bring back a IT_KUTCH, a PREEP and a PROO/, A NERKLE, a NERD, and a SEERSUCKER, too!
Cojones- Well, most of us know that cojones is the Spanish word for testicles or balls. I was surprised and delighted to find out that it was Mr Manly Man himself, Ernest Hemingway, who first used the term ‘cojones’ to represent courage and steely determination in his book on majesty of bullfighting, “Death in the Afternoon”. He claims,” It take more cojones to be a sportsman where death is a closer party to the game.”
Frenemy- This word is a portmanteau (a word formed by combining to different words to form a new word). Enemy and friend combine to make frenemy. Frenemy, come on take a guess, means an enemy disguised as a friend (the uban dictionary)The reknowned journalist, Walter Winchell, first used frenemy in 1953 when speaking about the Russians. BTW, portmanteau is also an authorism brought to us by Lewis Carroll.
Got a favorite word? Let me know about it!
Need a gift for a word lover? Buy “Authorisms” here. I have the ebook but I would have preferred the hardcover.
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