Utopia is the Latin word for “nowhere,” but that’s not what we associate it with today. Utopia became a synonym to paradise on Earth, a perfect place free of war, illness, and other foes. This new definition is not a coincidence, as in his 1516 book carrying the same name, Thomas More imagined the country of Utopia and its inhabitants - Utopians - as the perfect civilization and people, respectively.
International is one of those words we use and see all the time. It seems as if it’s been around for a long time. In reality, the term international goes back to a 1789 publication by the utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham. In his book An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation, Bentham suggests using “international jurisprudence” as the replacement of the term “law of nations,” which he didn’t like.
A person from their early 20s and 30s is often called a tween. The term is a play on the word teen, of course, which describes a person between ages 13 and 19. Interestingly, the word tween can be traced back to none other than J.R.R. Tolkien himself. In The Fellowship of the Ring, Tolkien explained that a Tween was a Hobbit aged from 20 to 33. Who would’ve thought that the word tween comes from a fantasy novel, huh?
We certainly enjoy myth-busting or debunking, here on Babamail, so we just have to credit the inventor of the work debunk. The term was created by the novelist William E Woodward, who exposed several commonly believed false claims in his 1923 novel Bunk. Ironically, many of Woodward’s claims have since been debunked, but we can certainly thank the author for giving us the words “debunker” and “debunking.”
The word for the mechanical creature comes from the Czech word robotnik, which means "worker" or "serf." The term was invented by the writer Karel Čapek, who described a world with artificially-made laborers who rebel against humans in the novel R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots). But unlike mechanical robots, Čapek’s robots were indistinguishable from humans, so they were closer to cyborgs or clones than the robots of today. Before Čapek’s novel was translated into English in the 1920s, robots were known as automatons.
One more word that the Bard of Avon had coined is “alligator.” Linguists believe that it may come from the Spanish word “el lagarto,” meaning lizard, but in English, the word “alligator” first showed up in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.
Lewis Carroll’s fascinating imagination is the stuff of legend. The Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter, and the mythical Jabberwocky are all excellent examples of that. Speaking of the latter, there’s one word in the famous Jabberwocky poem you may treat as “normal” today, but Carroll’s contemporaries wouldn’t understand or recognize. That word is chortle - a combination of "chuckle" and "snort." This is because Carroll invented the chortle, and it stuck.
The word nerd was first printed in Dr. Seuss’ 1950 book If I Ran the Zoo. The children's book describes one Gerald McGrew who invents a number of imaginary creatures, like the preep, the seersucker, and of course, the nerd, which he would like to collect in his imaginary zoo. The meaning of the word has certainly changed a lot since then, as the nerds of today are just a group of quirky people.
Scientist is another one of those extremely popular words most of us use or see daily. Few people realize that this word is not even 200 years old. For centuries before that, people used the word philosopher in place of scientist. William Whewell is credited for inventing the word in 1840.
The term appeared in the book The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, which was partly a book about scientific terminology. Many other common terms have sprung from the same book too. Whewell was the first to invent the physicist and distinguished it from physician, for example.
In his masterpiece, Paradise Lost, John Milton gives a name to the capital city in Hell - Pandæmonium. To this day, we think of the word as a place of utter chaos and evil. But if you think that this word sounds Greek or Latin, you’ll be right as well, as Milton used the Greek prefix pan-, meaning all, and the Latin word demonium, or "evil spirits," to craft this word. Therefore, the entire name of the demon capital can be translated as “the place of all the demons."
Share these fascinating word etymologies with those who enjoy learning!