These Words Were Born in Your Favorite Literature and Poetry

From Word Genius

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 considered real words yet. A word gets added to the dictionary based on the popularity of its usage, so your favorite writer (or you!) might just be ahead of the curve. 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” (the practice of unintentionally using the wrong word or phrase, usually to humorous effect)  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 (author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) adapted its original meaning. It started as a French word for something similar to a briefcase. But Carroll gave it a more metaphorical meaning. We know a portmanteau as a combination of two words to create a new one. You might be familiar with a “telethon” (telephone + marathon), “edutainment” (education + entertainment), and the classic portmanteau, “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 literal translations, 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, notable for the volume of his mighty yell, which apparently surpassed that of fifty men. Thanks to his skill, we now recognize exceptionally loud people as “stentorian.”


“Utopia” has become a word synonymous with perfection, but it started as the name for an ideal world. It comes from Sir Thomas More’s 1516 novel, Utopia, detailing the idyllic land. The word “utopia” has Greek roots, from ou (not) and topos (place). We now use “utopia” to describe 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 (zizzer-zazzer-zuzz, obsk, lerkim), this one made it into the regular vocabulary.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content