By Paul Dickson
Are you a literary muscleman or a munchkin? A word ninja or a spewer of malaprops? And who came up with these terms anyway? In Authorisms, Paul Dickson traces writerly coinages (a coinage of the Elizabethan scribe George Puttenham) of words and expressions ranging from assassination (Shakespeare’s Macbeth) to zombification (the poet Andrei Codrescu). He takes things too far sometimes—while Jane Austen may have been the first to mention base ball in print, for instance, it wasn’t the baseball we know. Yet I was fascinated to discover that sayings I’d mistaken for relatively recent—blurb (1907), frenemy (1953), weapons of mass destruction (1937), wimp (from an 1898 children’s book by Evelyn Sharpe)—actually predated me. It’s enough to drive an anxious magazine editor to verbicide.
This review originally appeared in our May/June 2014 issue of Mother Jones.