25 Words Coined by Nineteenth-Century Authors

By Mark Nichol

This post lists a number of words that were introduced to the lexicon by novelists and other writers during the nineteenth century.

1. actualize: Poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge came up with this verb form of actual to refer to realizing a goal; self-actualization came much later.

2. airy-fairy: Poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson, coined this term as a reduplication of fairy to mean “delicate,” “lacking in substance,” or “impractical.”

3. bicentennial: Humorist Mark Twain was the first writer to attach the prefix bi-, meaning “two,” to centennial, a recently coined word referring to a 100-year anniversary.

4. bisexual: Coleridge came up with the term bisexual, but in the context of androgyny, not attraction to both men and women.

5. boredom: Novelist Charles Dickens coined this word for the state of being bored.

6. butterfingers: Dickens was also responsible for this evocative reference to clumsiness, though he hyphenated it.

7. chintzy: Writer George Eliot crafted the adjective meaning “cheap,” “stingy,” or “unfashionable” from chintz, the word for a Calico print originating in India.

8. chortle: Lewis Carroll came up with this mashup of chuckle and snort.

9. coed: Novelist Louisa May Alcott’s truncation of coeducational originally referred, like the word on which it was based, to an educational system accommodating both boys and girls, but by extension it also came to refer to young female students.

10. doormat: Dickens was the first person to use the word doormat (hyphenated) to allude to someone figuratively being walked all over.

11. feminist: Novelist Alexandre Dumas (fils) used féministe, the French form of this term, to refer to someone who asserts that women are due all the rights accorded to men.

12. flummox: Dickens coined this nonsense word alluding to being bewildered or perplexed.

13. freelance: Author Sir Walter Scott employed this term (hyphenated) to describe a mercenary soldier, one whose lance (a long spear) was not wielded in the service of a single master, but (with its bearer) was hired out.

14. hard-boiled: Twain, in a speech, used this word to mean “hardened” to refer to hidebound grammatical usage; later, it pertained primarily to a tough attitude.

15. impact: Coleridge was the first to give this term for the act of collision a figurative sense of “the effect of one thing on another.”

16. intensify: Coleridge coined this term with the justification that “render intense” did not fit the meter of a poem he was writing.

17. linguistics: Multitalented William Whewell, a mathematician, philosopher, and poet, came up with this word for the study of language.

18. narcissist: Coleridge, inspired by the Greek myth of the self-absorbed youth Narcissus, came up with this term to describe a person similarly afflicted with self-admiration, though the psychological condition of narcissism refers also to a lack of empathy and, paradoxical to the primary quality of a narcissist, low self-esteem.

19. pedestrian: William Wordsworth came up with the word meaning “one who travels on foot.”

20. physicist: Whewell, finding physician already taken, coined this term to refer to someone who studies the laws of physics.

21. psychosomatic: Coleridge came up with this term to refer to imagined maladies.

22. relativity: Coleridge created this word to describe the concept of one thing having a relation to another.

23. scientist: Whewell, responding to Coleridge’s dissatisfaction with philosopher to refer to those who pursue the study of science, suggested scientist.

24. selfless: Coleridge coined this word meaning “unselfish.”

25. soulmate: Coleridge came up with this term (hyphenated) to refer to someone with whom one has a profound emotional connection.

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3 Responses to “25 Words Coined by Nineteenth-Century Authors”

  • ApK

    Wow. It’s hard to believe some of those are as recent (and, for that matter, have such a precisely identifiable origin) as that.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Yes, it is interesting that words like these are not so old:
    intensify: to render intense.
    linguistics: the study of language.
    pedestrian: one who travels on foot.
    physicist: someone who studies the laws of physics.
    It seems that “linguistics” would be a very old subject. I have read that some scholars in Ancient Greece established to classifying of the various words into {nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, conjunctions, etc.}
    “Pedestrian” does have its root in the Latin word for “foot”, which is also a root of “pedagogue”. (This was a slave who walked back and forth to school with his master’s children.) Also in Latin class decades ago, we were struggling with the translation of a sentence that looked as if “He walked into the enemy camp naked,” but it really said “He walked into the enemy camp barefooted.”
    I can only reckon that “physicist” was preceded in existence by {biologist, botanist, chemist, dentist, linguist, naturalist, optimist, rationalist, theist}. “Statistician” originated during 1870 – 1900, because that was when the science of statistics was founded.

  • venqax

    @ApK: True. At the same time, I am surprised that “actualize” goes back as far as Coleridge. I would have guessed an anonymous bureaucrat at the General Services Administration around 1950-60, during the explosion of bureaucratese and “ize-ism”. Now we have progressed to the point where we can just actionize or verbize most words without even bothering to append them. So we can effort to forward our plan to vision our agenda (for an end result, but that is another story.)

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