Ever wonder where some of the words you use every day came from? Bet you didn’t know that even some of the most common words you hear and use on a daily basis have their origins in literature. It’s well known that Shakespeare was one of the most prolific inventors of new words that eventually became a part of our everyday vernacular—phrases like “heart of gold,” “good riddance,” and even the best intro to a joke ever! “Knock knock!” “Who’s there?” But his aren’t the only words that have an indelible presence in contemporary English. Let’s take a look at some of the unexpected origins of common words we use today!
The contemporary use of this word refers to children in age between adolescence and their teenage years—think between and Teen. Lord of the Rings author J.R.R. Tolkien created the original meaning, and the word itself. In The Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien stated that a Tween was a Hobbit between the ages of 20 and 33 (the latter being when Hobbits come of age).
Better known these days as a mini-blog platform peppered with hashtags and 140 characters worth of storytelling, the word twitter first appeared in the works of Geoffrey Chaucer—14th-century author considered to be the father of English literature. In his time, the word was meant to be onomatopoeic, evocativeof the sound of birds.
Chances are when you read this word you hear a certain yodel-ific ditty ringing in your ears. Long before you searched for airfare or added a “.com” after it, the word yahoo first appeared in the 1726 adventure travels of Jonathan Swift called Gulliver’s Travels, in which the Yahoos were a race of dangerous, pitiless men. It didn’t take long for the word to whittle its way into the English language bearing the meaning of someone who was violent or unsophisticated. Nowadays, calling someone a “yahoo,” however, takes a bit of a softer tone, meaning a goof or a dunce.
Writers, developers, and artists alike can identify with the modern meaning of the word freelance. They pick up work where they can and have no strong allegiance to any one organization. All in all, the meaning of the word hasn’t strayed too far from its origins in Sir Walter Scott’s 1819 novel Ivanhoe, in which mercenary knights and soldiers sought work for hire for whichever country would hire them.
Aside from the obvious usage on a language-learning site (like language nerd), a popular definition of the word nerd today is a “single-minded enthusiast: somebody who is considered to be excessively interested in a subject or activity that is regarded as too technical or scientific.” Luckily, the term doesn’t possess the same meaning as it did in Dr. Seuss’s 1950 children’s book, If I Ran the Zoo, which contains the first printed usage of the word describing a strange little animal that one might like to keep locked up: “And then, just to show them, I’ll sail to Ka-Troo/And Bring Back an It-Kutch a Preep and a Proo/A Nerkle a Nerd and a Seersucker, too!”