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  • Melanie Evans-Rivera

4 Great Writers Who Changed the English Language



Before the Internet, before acronyms and trendy catchphrases, writers created new words and invented uses for existing ones. You might be surprised to know that many of the words you use on a daily basis were totally made up at one point.


Much of our modern English language didn’t exist more than a few hundred years ago. So who changed it? Who made up all these words and phrases? Let’s take a look.


William Shakespeare


Good old Will Shakespeare was the linguistic equivalent of “if you want it done right, do it yourself.” If there wasn’t an existing word for a concept in his play, he made one up. Shakespeare invented over 400 words that we still use to this day, including obscene, gossip, blanket, critic and gloomy.


Dr. Seuss


Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, is someone you’d expect to make up words. Some of them are silly, meaningless words such as zummers and sneedle while others have caught on — like nerd. Yes, that’s a Dr. Seuss word.


Dr. Seuss didn’t only invent words, he also contributed to changing the reading education system with his books. He created fun rhymes, characters kids loved and a basis for the phonics system used in schools.


Charles Dickens


Charles Dickens did make up some words, but he’s better known for his language contortions. Dickens was the 19th-century equivalent of a millennial on the internet. Without Dickens popularizing slang in his novels, we would have lost words such as flummox and devil-may-care.


He was also the king of turning common nouns into creative adjectives. We can thank Dickens for descriptors such as angry-eyed, hunger-worn, proud-stomached, fancy-dressed, coffee-imbibing and ginger-beery.


Mary Ann Evans


You probably know Mary Ann Evans better by her pen name, George Eliot. Her works featured made-up words, but her words were often derived from existing sources. For example, flop was already in use when she coined the usage “floppy.” Luncheon was in existence when she began to use the more specific “lunch-time.” She commonly expanded the definition of words, such as when she used the word Siberia as a metaphor for a remote, undesirable locale and not the specific geographical location.


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