4. Inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. 5. Inspired by Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s
The word ‘boredom’ first appeared in Charles Dickens‘ Bleak House, which sounds like the exact sort of dismal spot where boredom might take place. Before Dickens, the word ‘bore’ already existed as a verb, but there was no noun for the specific condition of being bored. Since boredom is such a commonplace human experience, one has to wonder what they called it before the invention of the word. Early philosophers sometimes dubbed it ‘the noonday demon,’ a term that’s simultaneously more ominous and more accurate. Now all you high school students out there can say Dickens literally invented boredom and get away with it.
Lewis Carroll, author of the notoriously weird Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, was no novice at inventing words. His poem “Jabberwocky” opens: “twas brillig and the slithy toves / did gyre and gimble in the wabe.” You might not remember the last time you yourself gyred or gimbled, if such a thing is even possible. The reason is simple—all words are inventions, but not all inventions catch on. (Take, for example, the goldfish walker or shoe umbrella.) The word ‘chortle,’ an amalgam of the words ‘chuckle’ and ‘snort,’ is one of Carroll’s more popular creations. We’re all probably grateful he didn’t go with snuckle.
Sir Thomas Moore entitled his most impactful work Utopia, a word with an exciting dual meaning: either ‘good place’ or ‘no place,’ depending on the translation. Considering the popular definition—a perfect society—this confusion seems both reasonable and appropriate. The irony comes in when you realize that Coca Cola’s 1990s beverage Fruitopia is a clear play on Moore’s word. Most likely, Moore’s utopia didn’t include a sugary beverage empire.
Though this word now describes children between early childhood and the full-on teenage years, ‘tween‘ once implied a very different age range. Invented by J.R.R. Tolkien, the word initially described hobbits in their twenties (given that hobbits come of age around thirty-three). It’s worth noting that many human twenty-somethings have also not yet reached full maturity. Another example of how language evolves beyond its original context, tween conjures more images of braces and shopping malls than it does chucking rings into volcanoes.