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Popular Words Invented by Authors

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Chortle, droid, tween, freelancer, meme, scientist… Who invented these words and how did they come into everyday usage? In this episode of Otherwords from PBS Storied, host Dr. Erica Brozovsky shares just a few of popular words that were originally invented by authors or used by authors in inventive new ways, including authors William Shakespeare and J. R. R. Tolkien.

gossiping and elbowed, used anew by William Shakespeare

When authors create words for a one-time usage, they’re known as nonce words. Though it kind of sounds like “nonsense,” the word nonce is actually a cognate of “once,” as in, words to be used only once.


However, sometimes these single-usage words can pick up steam, becoming neologisms, terms that are still new and limited to certain fields. And perhaps some of those will eventually make their way into our shared vocabulary as full-fledged words, becoming so common that we totally forget their literary origins.

Tween, invented by JRR Tolkien
Learn more of the stories behind words with PBS Storied.

Watch more videos about words and literature, including:
• Where do new words come from?
• What does OK stand for?
• Ukulele – Mysteries of Vernacular
• Making Sense of Spelling

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