We have countless authors to thank for coining some of the more colorful words in our language. This week, let’s celebrate a few.
Jonathon Swift brought us the word yahoo with the publication of Gulliver’s Travels in 1726. Yahoo referred to a race of backward, brutish people with hair on the backs of their hands. Yahoo’s subsequent metamorphosis appears to be a bit of a mystery.
Richard Brinsley Sheridan coined the term malaprop in his play, The Rivals (1775). One of his characters was inclined to abuse her metaphors, coming up with such gems as, “He’s the very pineapple of success!” Her name was, of course, Mrs. Malaprop.
Oddly enough, James Joyce brought us the word quark in Finnegan’s Wake back in 1939. Joyce gave it no particular meaning, beyond the possible meaning of cheer, in the line “…three quarks for Muster Mark,” but the sound of the word appealed to physicist & linguist Murray Gell-Mann, who applied quark to fractionally charged subatomic particles in 1964.
Dr. Seuss’s 1950 picture book If I Ran the Zoo brought us the word nerd, an odd creature one might want to put under lock and key. Here’s another word that has grown & changed since its birth. The changes don’t appear to have been tracked carefully. I guess some of us word nerds must have been snoozing.
Good followers, any thoughts about quarks, yahoo, malaprops& nerds?
My thanks go out to this week’s sources, Etymonline.com, Mental Floss, Flavorwire & the OED.
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.