Though these days the term wordmonger refers to "a writer or speaker who uses language pretentiously or carelessly," please join me in proposing a new meaning. A fishmonger appreciates and promotes fish, therefore, a wordmonger does the same for words.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Thank You, Authors

Thank You, Authors

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,,  Mental Floss, Flavorwire & the OED.


  1. I knew about Yahoos and Mrs. Malaprop, but I did not know that nerd and quark came to us via James Joyce and Dr. Seuss (what a great duo: can you imagine them as a comedy team?) Thanks for the weekly enlightenment!

  2. I don't know why more of Dr. Seuss's wonderful words have not made it into our lexicon, actually. Why don't we have wockets and zowers wandering around. Or...maybe we do. Thanks for the fun thoughts!

  3. That unknown was actually me. Don't know what made me a temporary unknown. Kinda creepy!

  4. Hi Anne & Christine,
    Good to hear from you both. Christine, maybe we should coin a word for this phenomenon. Have you been denamed? Have you experienced identiloss? Have you been anonymified?

  5. quarks, yahoo, malaprops & nerds?
    Quarks besiege us all, particularly in the nerdle of the night when Mr. and Mrs. Malaprop are getting it on (and wrong). Ergo, one must yahoo to one's Knight errant for salivation (or is that salvation?). Howmsoever, I have for lo these many decades believed that a knight errant was a stupid, buffed- and be-armored guy who was prone (or supine) to slipshod, and thus error-filled, work. In truth, I find out in this my dotage, that the stupid, buffed- and be-armored cuss is on an ERRAND. He easily we are bemused.
    ---Steve of

  6. Oops! HOW easily we are bemused.