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Authorisms: Words Wrought by Writers Hardcover – April 22, 2014

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“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.” ―About.com

“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.” ―TheRabidReader.com

“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, fabover50.com

“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

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.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (April 22, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1620405407
  • ISBN-13: 978-1620405406
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.9 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #789,854 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By SInohey TOP 1000 REVIEWER on April 22, 2014
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.).
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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...
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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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Format: Hardcover
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.
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This wonderful book answers questions you always needed to be answered! Given as gift to most thankful Shakespeare scholar and he loved it!
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Fun collection of the origin of well known words and expressions. Belongs in every word lover's library..
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Fascinating to find where well accepted words and phrases originated. Who would have thunk it? Fun read.
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