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Authorisms: Words Wrought by Writers [Hardcover]

Paul Dickson
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

18 Jun 2014

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.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (18 Jun 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1620405407
  • ISBN-13: 978-1620405406
  • Product Dimensions: 21.1 x 14.2 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 102,606 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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This genial book celebrates above all the dazzling inventiveness of authors. (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. (Daily News Gems)

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. (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." (

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 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. (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 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)

Bedazzling . Snappy idea of compiling a chatty list of these author-invented words, which he calls, for want of a better word, Authorisms . Dickson is particularly strong on what he calls nonce words, or words that, coined for a book or an article, have never been used again (Craig Brown Mail on Sunday 2014-06-20)

Book Description

An entertaining, illuminating lexicography of words coined by authors throughout the ages, published on the "sesquiquadricentennial" (450th anniversary) of Shakespeare's birth.

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Customer Reviews

3.0 out of 5 stars
3.0 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Dipintae this! 3 Aug 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In the (forlorn!) hope of adding my own neologism to this ever extending lexicon, this book is what I would call an excellent 'dipintae' (Scots), or for the more prosaic, perhaps, 'dipinto', in that it is the kind of bedside/holiday read one can simply 'dip intae' (dip into)at any time on any page and find something interesting...if words are your thing, of course. Wee tad over-priced, I thought, but I suppose the extensive research involved might justify the cost. Fascinating read, just the same!
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3.0 out of 5 stars American bias 6 Aug 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
There are far too many words here that I'd never heard of; a reflection of a heavy American bias. Some authorisms are clever and deserve to be remembered and used; others are just too contrived.
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Disappointing. I had the feeling that the author was casting about for ideas, so much of his material is obscure and of no great interest.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.7 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The genesis of English words. 22 April 2014
By Sinohey - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The book is a compendium of neologisms by a master of the craft, who informs and entertains with stories and anecdotes about the genesis of English words and phrases.

In the introduction we learn that John Milton coined the most new words in the English language, with Geoffrey Chaucer, Ben Jonson, John Donne, Sir Thomas Moore and Shakespeare not far behind. Milton is credited with 630 neologisms from “ensanguined, emblazonry and horrent” to the more commonly used today,”earthshaking, lovelorn, fragrance, by hook or crook and all hell broke loose”, as well as my favorite - “pandemonium”. Chaucer’s immense contribution of thousands of written words, with many originals, gave us “bagpipe” and universe”, while Moore contributed “anticipate” and “fact” as examples.
Ben Johnson invented 558 words and John Donne minted 342. Shakespeare’s body of literature consisted of 17,245 words and many phrases that were coined or popularized by him, but only about 229 to less than 500 original words could be truly attributed to him. The Bard is given credit for many “first use” of words and phrases. A small section in the back of the book is where the Bard’s contributions are analyzed.
In contrast, Mark Twain, took credit for no word the he coined but popularized the phraseology of the Mississippi river and gold rush/ mines (hardpan, strike it rich).

Chapters of the book are sequenced according to the alphabet. Words beginning with A (Aptronym, anecdotage, angry young man) are explained and attributed to their popularizers. Chapter B (Bacronym etc.), C (Catch-22 etc.) and so on follow the same pattern all the way to W (workaholic etc.), X, Y and Z (yahoo, zombification etc.). Also included are nonce words (Eg: Abricotine) - words made up for a specific, usually one time use in literature; the Oxford English Dictionary contains 4419 nonce words.

In the epilogue, Dickson writes ,”There are fewer authorisms by contemporary writers in this collection than by those who died before the dawn of the twentieth century..”
He goes on to enumerate some words that he coined, only two of which caught on - “word word” as in “are we talking about an ebook or a book book?” and “demonyn”, a term to define a person geographically (New Yorker or Angeleno); although I believe that “demonym” was first used by Olfar Hamst (Handbook of Fictitious Names/1868).

In the Appendix, Dickson tries to answer the question, “How many words has Shakespeare added to English?” and cites different contradicting publications and authors. Many phrases, aphorisms, metaphors and similes attributed to the Bard ( setting your teeth on edge, being cruel only to be kind etc.) and commonly used today, may have been borrowed by him from the popular lexicon of his time.
The book is supported by 24 pages of bibliography and notes.

This book, like a delicious dish, should be savoured slowly and often by students of etymology, wordsmiths and anyone enchanted by the lyricism of words.
I give it an enthusiastic 5 stars!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gratefully received gift 14 Jun 2014
By Sandynp - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This wonderful book answers questions you always needed to be answered! Given as gift to most thankful Shakespeare scholar and he loved it!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Really?! For the inquering mind.Mind you. 28 Jun 2014
By argus - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Who knew? WHO knew? Who KNEW? Most entertaining and makes a great present for any occasion. Keep one copy for yourself.
This reviewer did. Want to give something memorable to the graduate? Fear not! Authorisms with its alliterating title might just do the trick,as they say...
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Addictive reading from a word addict 28 April 2014
By Arthur Plotnik - Published on
Paul Dickson suffers from the very "authorism" defined in Authorisms as "The irresistible impulse for one to become an author in one form or another." If Dickson's authorship of 45 books doesn't indicate the condition, nothing does, and those of us who have benefited from his addictive works are delighted that he caught the bug early. "Authorisms" is typical of the energy, discernment, wit, and research Dickson brings to his language books, making them the go-to resource for fun and facts within a compelling lexical category. Knowing the background of a coined term--who coined it, where and why, etc--not only feeds the curiosity of we curious word users, but juices up whatever quality it was that made the coinage stick. "Stud Muffin," for example, wasn't coined by a Cosmo wag, but by humorist Dave Barry, as a nickname he imagined being used among "House and Senate budget conferees." Nor was "friending" the creation of a social media wonk; it sprang from the head of perhaps the most fecund coiner, William Shakespeare, as a term (in Hamlet) implying "friendly feeling." With background information running up to a page, photo portraits, and engaging back-of-the-book matter, this handsomely produced book will click with word lovers like a--well, like a good coinage.
4.0 out of 5 stars NOT A CLIFF HANGER BUT YOU'LL HAVE FUN 11 July 2014
By Nancy Taylor - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is a great book to wander through and look up words you hear used and maybe pick up a few expressions you don't hear often. It's fun to learn from where and how long ago that everyday words and expressions may come from last week or hundreds of years ago Other words have come to mean totally different things. Such as a candy bar named after Shakespeare word. It's not a book to be read page by page as you would a novel but to skip around the pages, enjoy reading and have fun.
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