Words born in your favorite literature and poetry

2 min read

One of the best ways to improve your vocabulary is to read. But sometimes the words you come across in your favorite books aren’t even “real” words yet. A word gets added to the dictionary based on the popularity of its usage. We can thank authors for creating the following words that made it into the dictionary.


Malapropism has French origins, stemming from the word malapropos, which shows up as far back as 1630. However, malapropism wasn’t popularized as a word until 1775 when Richard Brinsley Sheridan created a character named Mrs. Malaprop. Yes, she’s aptly named, constantly using the wrong word for the context.


The word portmanteau existed before Lewis Carroll adapted its original meaning. It started as a French word for something similar to a briefcase. But Carroll gave it a more metaphorical meaning. Today, we know a portmanteau as a combination of two words creating a new one. You might be familiar with a telethon (telephone + marathon), edutainment (education + entertainment), and brunch (breakfast + lunch).


Frabjous is another Lewis Carroll original, but this time it’s from his poem Jabberwocky.” Frabjous is a portmanteau of the words fabulous and joyous, and it carries the same connotation of these words, if a bit more emphatically.


Many literature-inspired words have deliberate meanings, such as pandemonium. Milton created this one with his 1667 epic poem, “Paradise Lost.” The chaotic word, used for the capital of Hell, combines the Greek word “pan,” meaning “all,” and “demon” to mean “all demons.” These demons caused quite a pandemonium.


English lord Horace Walpole read the fanciful Persian fairy tale “The Three Princes of Serendip,” and in a 1754 letter, he coined the word serendipity. The word's origin story gives context for the meaning Walpole intended, making serendipity the act of finding something pleasant without meaning to. In other words, it's a happy accident, much like the series of events in the original story.


Stentorian goes all the way back to the Greek poet Homer, author of “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey.” Stentor was a character in “The Iliad” characterized by the volume of his mighty yell, which apparently surpassed that of fifty men. Yikes. Thanks to Stentor, we now recognize exceptionally loud people as stentorian.


Utopia has become a word synonymous with perfection, largely because it means an ideal world. It comes from Sir Thomas More's 1516 novel, “Utopia,” and since then, we've seen innumerable books based on the same concept.

The word utopia has Greek roots, stemming from the “ou” (not) and “topos” (place). We now understand a utopia to be a perfect place that doesn’t exist.


Not all words created in literature and poetry are fancy or sophisticated. If you’re familiar with Dr. Seuss (and, really, who isn’t?), you won't be surprised to learn that “nerd” came from his 1950 book, “If I Ran the Zoo.” Out of all the ridiculous words Dr. Seuss made up, this one made it into our regular vocabulary.

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