It is well know that the best literature uses a varied vocabulary. But even great writers like J.R.R. Tolkien or Stephen King, can get bored of using the same old words and terms over again. So what do the most creative writers do? They made up a word. Sometimes those words stuck and ended up as a part of our vernacular, though their meanings often changed overtime. Novelists, poets and even the occasional playwright have made numerous contributions to the English language. There are probably hundreds of words that originate in literature, but I have managed to narrow it down to ten words, which to some degree are still used today.
Utopia is used to describe what is an imaginary place, or state of being, in which everything is perfect. The word was first used by Thomas Moore, in his book of the same name, which was published in 1516. In the book it is the name of a fictional island, on which Moore, imagines an ideal society. He derived utopia from the Greek, ou=not and topos=place.
Thomas Moore would later be tried and executed for refusing to acknowledge Henry VII, as head of the Church of England.
In the current age, tween is used to describe a child who is not quite a teenager (around 11 or 12 years old), but is within a year or two of becoming one. The word was created by author J.R.R. Tolkien, known for penning the popular Lord of the Rings Trilogy. In his novel the Hobbit, tween does not quite match the contemporary meaning. When Tolkien, created the word in 1937, it was meant to refer to a hobbit, between the ages of 20 and 33.
The contemporary meanings of yahoo include an expression of joy or excitement, or a boorish or uncivilized person. Its origin, suits the latter meaning rather well. Yahoo, was coined by Jonathan Swift in his 1726 novel, Gulliver’s Travels. In the novel, Yahoos are a race of brutish beings.
Mentor, is yet another word that comes from a work of literature, though it is far older than any of the other words on this list. Today a mentor is considered a wise and trusted counsellor or teacher, which is essentially the original meaning.
Homer was the first to use the word in his epic poem, the Odyssey. In the poem Mentor, is the name of the friend trusted to look after the wellbeing and education of Odysseus’ son during his absence.
Pandemonium, today often refers to a wild uproar or unrestrained disorder, or a place or scene of chaos. Its contemporary meaning, still has echoes of its original meaning, which was far darker.
Pandemonium, comes from the epic poem Paradise Lost, written by John Milton during the 17th Century. In the poem, it is the name of Satan’s capital, in hell. Milton derived the word by combining the Latin word pan=all with the Greek word daimon=deamon.
Something that is blatant, is something incredibly obvious, or right in front of you.
Blatant was originally the name of a creature with one thousand tongues, in Edmund Spenser’s poem The Faerie Queene.
Today working freelance, is something that is popular in a variety of professions, but mainly in the arts, such as writing or painting. Someone who is a freelance, pursues a profession, but does not have a long term commitment to an employer.
The term freelance, originated in Sir Walter Scott’s 1820, novel, Ivanhoe. In the novel, it is used to refer to a soldier, who has no allegiance. A freelance, is instead a mercenary, who offers to fight in exchange for payment. Though working freelance, still involves going from one client to the next, few types of freelance work today involve combat.
A robot is defined as a machine that may resemble a human, and completes mechanical, routine tasks on command.
Considering robots seem to be a more contemporary invention, you might think that the word was a more recent invention. Most people would probably think that some scientist or engineer invented the word, maybe during the 50’s at the earliest. However, like all of the words on this list, the word robot comes from literature.
The word robot was first used by Czech playwright, Karel Capek in his play R.U.R., in 1920. While trying to come up with a name for his androids in the play, his brother suggested the word roboti, which comes from the word rebotnik= drudge/ slave in Czechoslovakian. Therefore today’s definition of robot still has remnants of its roots.
Which word is your favourite literary contribution? Comment below.