Words Wrought by Writers

By Paul Dickson
(Bloomsbury USA, Hardcover, 9781620405406, 240pp.)

Publication Date: April 22, 2014

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William Shakespeare’s written vocabulary consisted of 17,245 words, including hundreds that were coined or popularized by him. Some of the words never went further than their appearance in his plays, but others—like bedazzled, hurry, critical, and anchovy—are essential parts of our standard vocabulary today.

Many other famous and lesser-known writers have contributed to the popular lexicon. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Sir Walter Scott ranks second to Shakespeare in first uses of words and giving a new and distinct meaning to already existing words (Free Lances for freelancers). John Milton minted such terms as earthshaking, lovelorn, by hook or crook, and all Hell broke loose, and was responsible for introducing some 630 words.

Gifted lexicographer Paul Dickson deftly sorts through neologisms by Chaucer (a ha), Jane Austen (base ball), Louisa May Alcott (co-ed), Mark Twain (hard-boiled), Kurt Vonnegut (granfalloon), John le Carrè (mole), William Gibson (cyberspace), and many others. Presenting stories behind each word and phrase, Dickson enriches our appreciation of the English language in a book as entertaining as it is enlightening.

About the Author

Paul Dickson has written a dozen word books and dictionaries, including Words from the White House, The Dickson Baseball Dictionary, and Slang. An occasional contributor to the late William Safire’s On Language column in the New York Times, Dickson has coined several words of his own, including “demonym” (term that describes a person geographically, as in a New Yorker). He lives in Garrett Park, Maryland.

Praise For Authorisms

"This genial book celebrates above all the dazzling inventiveness of authors." –Henry Hitchings, The Wall Street Journal

"Much like raisin bread from your kitchen toaster, another Paul Dickson book has popped up, much to the delight of his devoted legion of followers. … Once you crack the covers of this fascinating (and highly informative) dictionary-rest assured-you won’t set it down again until you’ve gone through the complete A-Z of entries; that’s assuming, of course, that you’re a lover of words." –Vic Mikunas, Dayton Daily News

"I was fascinated to discover that sayings I'd mistaken for relatively recent - blurb (1907), frenemy (1953), weapons of mass destruction (1937), wimp (from an 1898 children's book by Evelyn Sharpe) - actually predated me. It's enough to drive an anxious magazine editor to verbicide." --Michael Mechanic, Mother Jones

"Dickson … has written a dozen word books and dictionaries. In Authorisms, it’s clear he has perfected the genre. His tone is light but informed. He sprinkles in his own wit and several amusing digressions, involving recipe-containing footnotes for anchovy paste (spun off an entry detailing the first English appearance of "anchovy" in "Henry IV, Part I") and "daiquiri" (popularized by F. Scott Fitzgerald). Dickson’s prose is readable even when it delves into more scholarly debates, such as how many words Shakespeare coined, with estimates ranging from several hundred to more than 10,000. Dickson is also careful about making clear when a writer invented a word vs. having been the first one to record it. Authorisms is an unputdownable (Raymond Chandler) exercise in philology that makes you chortle (Lewis Carroll). As James Fenimore Cooper would have said, "A-Number-1.""—The Washington Post

"If, like me, you are a lover of words – especially made up words – this is the perfect book, gift book and guest nightstand book. Authorisms are words which authors have made up to fill a semantic void: words like yogibogeybox which is what James Joyce called the paraphernalia of a spiritualist. The ability to neologize – or create new words – makes English a vibrant and living language. …The author, Paul Dickson, has written forty books and other dictionaries such as The Dickson Baseball Dictionary Dictionary of the Space Age and Slang. Dickson has a light touch and a clever way of listing definitions which makes his book a great pleasure to read. If you are a graduating student who was lucky to have a gifted English teacher, this would make a very fine present." –San Francisco Book Review

"There is no plot. There is no flowing narrative, no protagonist, no conflict, no rising and falling action, no denouement. Yet, Authorisms is peopled with characters – the authors who "wrought" these words – and even some controversy – did Shakespeare create thousands of new words or just a few hundred – and it is a fascinating read that you will come back to time and again. It is a "recreational" look at words as Dickson said in a recent presentation. If you like words and the myriad ways in which writers manipulate them, you will be delighted by this well-researched, well-written, and entertaining exploration of how some words came to be. Words are arranged alphabetically in a short paragraph or two that explains who coined the word, its meaning, and when it likely appeared first in print. When that is in question, Dickson lets us know. Keep Authorisms close at hand, suitable for browsing at random. It is a delightful way to improve your vocabulary and provide more than an occasional "chortle."" –

"Lexicographer Paul Dickson deftly sorts through neologisms by Chaucer (a ha), Jane Austen (base ball), Louisa May Alcott (co-ed), Mark Twain (hard-boiled), Kurt Vonnegut (granfalloon), John le Carrè (mole), William Gibson (cyberspace), and many others. Presenting stories behind each word and phrase, Dickson enriches our appreciation of the English language in a book as entertaining as it is enlightening.".—

"As with Mr. Dickson’s earlier books, "Authorisms" is both highly readable and informed by broad (but never pedantic) scholarship written in strong, clear prose, with an obvious love of the English language."-- John R. Coyne Jr., The Washington Times.

"A rich history of neologisms that reveals how funny and random language is … Surprises and revelations abound in Dickson’s quirky alphabet … Dickson restores a shock of novelty to words or phrases that have become shop-soiled … As a herbivore, Dickson expects words to taste good when they’re uttered and he acknowledges that they can sometimes go to the head and leave us feeling woozy … Why, I wondered while reading Authorisms, is all this so funny and so much fun? Perhaps because it demonstrates that language is a comically implausible, absurdly unnecessary phenomenon, airy proof of the lightness of our being. Dickson deluights in harmless insults, such as "Malaga!" – a dire-sounding but nonsensical curse from a Dumas novel – or Ben Bradlee’s gloriously learned "retromingent", which refers to insects that pee backwards; he also take a riotous pleasure in onomatopoeic noises such as "chortle" and "chug-a-lug"" –  Peter Conrad, The Observer

"The English language has given us some wonderful words and phrases – such as gremlins and flibertigibbets. But where did they come from? In his fascinating new book, Paul Dickson reveals all." –The Daily Mail

"For language fanciers it is a potentially vertiginous thought that every single word must once have been coined by a particular individual … Pleasantly surprising … The lesson I drew from this book at last, was that successful coinage, like happiness, may be more likely the less you aim directly at it." –  Steven Poole, The Guardian

"Almost unputdownable … Paul Dickson … Has crammed his slim A-Z of neologisms with such entertaining factoids … So is Authorisms unputdownable (Raymond Chandler, 1947)? Steady on, but it may appeal to those suffering from alogotransiphobia, the fear of being caught on public transport with nothing to read." –  Robbie Millen, The Times (London)

"Light-hearted, informative, and never the least bit vagulous, Dickson gives us all of these and more. You can easily while away an afternoon going through Authorisms from A to Z, and come out with, if not an enriched vocabulary, at least a fresh stock of verbivoria (dare I say logovoria?) with which to entertain some of your friendlings, that is, people you like friending."—Linda Wolfe,

In "Authorisms: Words Wrought by Writers" ($18), veteran lexicographer Paul Dickson tells the fascinating backstories of words invented by writers. You'll learn that Washington Irving coined the phrase "Almighty Dollar," that John Milton created "pandemonium" for "Paradise Lost," and that William Shakespeare invented "lackluster" for "As You Like It." Charles Dickens first used "butterfingers" to describe an inept ball catcher in "The Pickwick Papers," while Willa Cather pioneered the use of "stuffed shirt" in "O Pioneers!"—Rob Kyff, "The Word Guy" Pittsburgh Times.

"I love this!" —Mika Brzezinski on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, on Words from the White House

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