When J. R. R. Tolkien invented the word “tween,” he definitely didn’t have Justin Bieber in mind. Although it has become synonymous with glitter-coated cellphone cases, excessive use of the word “like” and awful boy-band music, Tolkien’s original definition from The Fellowship of the Ring was “the irresponsible twenties between childhood and coming of age at thirty-three.”
You may not realize it, but authors are responsible for inventing many of the words we use in daily conversation. Dr. Seuss, for example, came up with “nerd,” and Shakespeare is responsible for “alligator.” And this all makes sense; anyone who spends as much time thinking about language as a writer does is bound to have a revelation or two about the new ways we ought to be using it.
But there are also plenty of made-up words that we haven’t adopted. In celebration of the 196th anniversary of the publication of Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language, we encourage you to start making one of the literary creations below part of your daily conversation. After all, you never know what the next “tween" is going to be.
1. “Horrorshow” from A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Burgess’s classic is filled with creations that you could add to your vocabulary, like “lewdies” (people) and “pony” (understand), but “horrorshow” is by far the most satisfying, enough like English that it doesn’t seem out-of-place, but a totally new creation in its own right. Like many of the other “Nadsat” words in A Clockwork Orange, horrorshow is inspired by a word in Russian, in this case khorosho, meaning “good.” Burgess’s creation takes the definition a step further than just “good,” though. When something is “real horrorshow,” you pony it’s something that’ll blow every lewdy’s mind.
2. “Granfalloon” from Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
To understand Vonnegut’s definition of “granfalloon” — a “false karass” — you have to be familiar with the intricate language that Vonnegut invented for Cat’s Cradle, which includes a “karass” as a group of random individuals that unintentionally does purposeful work. Both words are probably applicable to your life. A “karass” could be your college group of friends, while a “granfalloon” might be the bureaucratic system at your desk job.
3. “Heffalump” from Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne
“Heffalumps” are fictional animals featured in Milne’s popular children’s books. Appearing in illustrations as Indian elephants, it has been speculated by many that heffalumps do not refer to a fictional character, but rather a child’s perception of an actual elephant. Given Pooh’s and Piglet’s insistence that they want to catch one of the animals, though, the word “heffalump” in everyday conversation might refer to something that seems real but isn’t. It also seems destined to be used as some sort of sexual slang — perhaps by The Black Eyed Peas.
4. “Snozzberry” from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
You probably know the line from Dahl’s famous book or movie adaptation when Willy Wonka points out his tastable wallpaper to the visiting children and their parents: “The strawberries taste like strawberries! The snozzberries taste like snozzberries!” What you don’t know is that snozzberry isn’t just a word Dahl made up; it’s a word he gave a definition to: A snozzberry is a penis. In his later work My Uncle Oswald, Dahl references the word again, this time making it quite clear as to just what species of fruit a snozzberry belongs to: "I grabbed hold of his snozzberry and hung onto it like grim death and gave it a twist or two to make him hold still.” Yeah.
5. “Scrumdiddlyumptious” from Matilda by Roald Dahl
Other than the obvious snozzberry jokes you could make using this other wonderful made-up word of Dahl’s, “scrumdiddlyumptious” deserves a place on this list because it’s just so fun to say. The feeling of using “scrumdiddlyumptious” to describe something that’s absolutely great is “scrumdiddlyumptious” itself — the perfect amount of ridiculous.
6. “Californiad” from Mating by Norman Rush
Rush uses the invented word “Californiad” in his novel much the way you would jeremiad the California lifestyle. To be fair though, if “Californiad” deserves a place in the English language, “Brooklyniad” probably shouldn’t be too far off.
7. “Bellyfeel” from 1984 by George Orwell
Orwell made up about 40 new words for the language Newspeak in his novel 1984, creating a philosophy that turned Oldspeak (English) into limited words and phrases that forces the characters in Orwell’s novel into a kind of verbal oppression. They’re all biting — “thoughtcrime,” “ownlife” and “goodsex” — and apart from being potential indie band names, they all seem like slang that we would find a way to use today. The catchiest, though, has got to be “bellyfeel,” meaning, as Orwell writes, “a blind, enthusiastic and casual acceptance.” The idea of willing acceptance without hesitation seems unfortunately applicable for every generation, and “bellyfeel,” almost the verbal equivalent of taking a belly flop into a deep pool of unquestioning, is the perfect word for it.
8. “Frithrah” from Watership Down by Richard Adams
To be fair, the Lapine language invented by Adams for his British novel isn’t actually spoken by humans, but rather rabbits. (Aren’t authors weird?) Lapine is filled with inventions that every mother and father in Hollywood would fight over for their next child’s name — “nildro” (blackbird) and “hlessi” (wandering rabbit) could be coming to a screen near you sometime soon. Adams’s best creation, though is the exclamation “frithrah,” which literally translated to “Lord Sun” and used in the same way as “Oh my God.”
9. “Slythy” from “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll
Listening to the Cheshire Cat sing Disney’s catchy version of this 1855 poem might have been one of the most terrifying moments of our youth. But before Sterling Holloway was singing it, “Jabberwocky” was just a poem filled with whimsical words like “mimsy” and “outgrabe.” It also included “slythy” (or “slithy,” as later editions spelled it), one of Carroll’s best inventions. A combination of “slimy” and “lithe,” it would be perfect to describe everyone from politicians to your latest match on Tinder.
Now, for the moment of truth: Can you use all of these literary creations in one sentence? Don’t be a snozzberry, it’d be really horrorshow if you gave it a try! And let us know in the comments if we’ve missed any words you know and love.
Adina Applebaum is Michigan native studying English and creative writing at Barnard College. Her crowning achievements in life are memorizing all the lyrics on The Slim Shady LP and eating an entire gallon of chocolate-covered raisins during orientation week of college.
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