Oxford University Press's
Academic Insights for the Thinking World

Do you know how these words were coined? [Quiz]

What makes a new phrase stick, really stick, in general parlance? Author Ralph Keyes explores that question in his book The Hidden History of Coined Words while also providing entertaining explanations of some of English’s most nonplussing words and phrases. All sorts of situations beget new words—hoaxes, insults, and jokes have all created common words, while more than a few resulted from typos, mistranslations, and mishearing (bigly and buttonhole, for example), or from being taken entirely out of context (robotics). Neologizers (a Thomas Jefferson coinage) include not just scholars and writers but cartoonists, columnists, children’s book authors. Keyes also tackles terms with contested coinages, addressing the controversy of the origins of gonzomojo, and booty call.

How many surprising coinage stories do you know? Take our quiz to find out!

Recent Comments

  1. charles reesink

    loved the quiz…got only 13% dismal, but I learnt so much!

  2. Wendy

    I know “blog” is a portmanteau of “web log,” but I don’t see what makes it “snarky.” And “Google” is from “googol,” which is a number (10 to the 100th power) that mathematician Dr. Kasner asked his nine-year-old nephew, Milton Sirotta, to name. “Googly eyes” have nothing to do with it.

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