Thursday, May 6, 2010

Make your mark on literary history.
Invent a word like Willie and I did.



William Shakespeare's birthday was celebrated on April 23. Since it was his 446th birthday, he was not present to blow out 446 candles.

The Oxford English Dictionary shows more than 2000 entries where a quotation from Shakespeare is the earliest source available. That doesn't mean that Willie invented those words, but he certainly popularized and legitimized them.

It's been said that the celebrated "bard of Avon" introduced somewhere between 8,000 and 15,000 words into English literature -- far more than other writers.

Here's a list of some of the words he is credited with inventing.

accused
addiction
advertising
aerial
alligator
amazement
arouse
articulate
assassination
bandit
beached
bedroom
befriend
besmirch
birthplace
blanket
blushing
bloodstained
bump
buzzer
caked
cater
champion
circumstantial
cold-blooded
compromise
countless
courtship
critic
critical
daunting
dawn
deafening
demure
discontent
dishearten
dislocate
dwindle
educate
elbow
entomb
epileptic
equivocal
excitement
exposure
eyeball
fashionable
fixture
flawed
frugal
generous
gloomy
gnarled
gossip
gust
hint
hobnob
hoodwink
hurried
hurry
impartial
impede
investment
invulnerable
jaded
label
lackluster
lapse
laughable
leapfrog
lonely
lower
luggage
majestic
marketable
metamorphize
mimic
misplaced
monumental
moonbeam
mountaineer
negotiate
noiseless
numb
obscene
obsequious
ode
olympian
outbreak
pander
pedant
premeditated
radiance
rant
remorseless
savagery
scuffle
secure
submerge
summit
swagger
torture
tranquil
trickling
undress
unreal
varied
vaulting
wappened
worthless
zany

I, on the other hand, claim to have invented just one word: answerer. I will now present my claim to fame:

In 1969 and '70, I was assistant editor of High Fidelity Trade News -- a magazine that went to hi-fi dealers. In addition to audio components such as speakers, turntables and receivers, we also covered other electronic products that could be sold in hi-fi stores.

Part of my job was to edit press releases into brief new product announcements. The format included a one-line headline with the brand and type of product, plus a photo and a brief description with suggested retail price.

Unfortunately, our magazine columns were just 2-1/4 inches wide. That was big enough for "Harman-Kardon: Receiver." But there was no way to fit "Crowne: Telephone Answering Machine" into that narrow space.

So, with the approval of my editor, Bryan, I decided to call the device a phone "answerer," and no readers complained that they did not understand the term.

In later years, as recording tapes and motors and other mechanical guts were replaced with digital circuitry, newer terms such as "Telephone Answering Device" ("TAD"), "Digital Answering Device" ("DAD") and "Answering System" came along.

Although dictionaries still define "answerer" as a person who answers,  General Electric uses the word my way. As with Shakespeare, my word may outlive me. I am proud to have contributed one small bit to the English language.

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