Words, words, and more words

I think the linguistics of word formation is fascinating – so this post is dedicated to that topic. Check out The Guardian’s article with a whole smorgasbord of interesting words. Here are some of my favorites:

Butterfingers: Originally used to describe a clumsy person (not a tasty candy bar), Charles Dickens first penned the word in 1836 in The Pickwick Papers. “At every bad attempt at a catch, and every failure to stop the ball, he launched his personal displeasure at the head of the devoted individual in such denunciations as ‘Ah, ah!—stupid’—’Now, butter-fingers’—’Muff’— ‘Humbug’—and so forth.”

Chortle: First written by Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking-Glass, “chortle” is a blend of “chuckle” and “snort.” It first appears in Carroll’s poem “Jabberwocky” (which is in and of itself a fascinating study for many linguists), and is an example of a “portmanteau word—meaning a word that has been blended from two other words (a phrase also coined by Carroll). Other more common examples of portmanteau words include smog (smoke+fog), chillax (chill+relak), and brunch (breakfast+lunch).

Eyesore: Shakespeare invented this word first in The Taming of the Shrew. “Doff this habit, shame to your estate, an eyesore to our solemn festival!” It meant then what it means today: something that is offensive to the eye, ugly, or bothersome to look at.

Litterbug: Coined by author and highway beautification advocate Alice Rush McKeon, the term first appeared in her 1931 book The Litterbug Family, which was instrumental in passing the first billboard-control law in the state of Maryland.

Nerd: Dr. Seuss invented this now-popular term in his 1950 book If I Ran the Zoo. Young protagonist Gerald McGrew insists that the animals in the zoo are boring and claims that if he ran the zoo, “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 SEERSUCKER, too!” The illustration for the fantasy animal nerd depicts a grumpy, tousled “Seuss-creature” with a black t-shirt. For whatever reason, “nerd” became a popular term while “it-kutch” “preep” “proo” and “nerkle” have never made it to the dictionary.


This post also appeared at http://samedaytranslations.com/blog/


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