“Frenemy” seems like a word that would have been coined in the 2004 movie “Mean Girls,” but it was actually first used in 1932. One would also think that Sherlock Holmes author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was the first to pen “a-ha,” but that honor goes to Geoffrey Chaucer. Inventor of “Knock, Knock, Who’s There?” William Shakespeare.
Authorisms—the origins and stories behind popular words and phrases—is a fascinating topic not to mention an important part of grade school English curriculum. Lexicongrapher (someone who compiles dictionaries) Paul Dickson has put together a treasure trove (1523 French phrase) of famous idioms and their origins.
According to Dickson’s Authorisms: Words Wrought by Writers, John Milton coined the most new words in the English language, although the bard also leads the pack in giving new meaning to existing ones. It’s not only an interesting part of literary history, it explains why some phrases stick and others don’t, bringing the history of words full-circle (Shakespeare, yet again) so to speak. Not only that—you can find out exactly who is to blame for giving the world the phrase “Stud muffin.”
Test your knowledge of word and phrase origins here.