Word Origins That Will Surprise You

Prolific author Ralph Keyes shares some of his favorite stories about surprising word origins and what makes a coined word likely to stick.

Mignon Fogarty
1-minute read
Episode #816
The Quick And Dirty

The most successful word coiners are often the least earnest. Some of the most successful words started out as jokes, insults, and off-the-cuff comments. Some of the most prolific coiners often made use of prefixes and suffixes to create new words.

Ralph Keyes is a prolific author who has published 17 books, including "The Courage to Write."

In this interview, we talked about his book "The History of Coined Words" and the origin of:

  • "Scientist"
  • "Impressionist"
  • "Beaknik"
  • "Paradigm"
  • "Mugwumps"

We also discussed the prolific word coiners John Milton (e.g., "advantage,” “complacency,” “damp," “dismissive,” “fragrance," “jubilant,” “obtrusive,” and “terrific”) and Charles Dickens (e.g., "careless," "peniless," “unchangeable,” “unapproachable,” “unholy,” and "arrival").

You can listen to the interview using the player at the top of this page, or you can read a complete rough transcript.

About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.