Much like raisin bread from your kitchen toaster, another Paul Dickson book has popped up, much to the delight of his devoted legion of followers.
Dickson, who has written more than a dozen word books and dictionaries, including ``Words from the White House’’, the ``Congress Dictionary’’, the ``Dickson Baseball Dictionary’’, `` Journalese: A Dictionary for Deciphering the News,’’ and ``Family Words and Slang,’’ just published a true word lovers dictionary; ``Authorisms: Words Wrought by Writers,’’ https://goo.gl/lR9eoa a smart book released on April 22nd in honor of William Shakespeare’s 450th birthday; the legendary poet and dramatist who knew a thing or two about turning a clever phrase or enriching our vocabulary with new ones.
Getting into the weeds with his signature entertaining style, Dickson chronicles the origin of words and phrases that have seeped into our popular culture without, many times, knowing where they came from; who wrote them; and who (at least in some cases) was erroneously given credit for coining a word or expression which actually belonged to someone else. Others, such as Mark Twain, may not have invented words or expressions normally attributed to him, but he certainly gave currency to the words that were already in use-and if not for his Midas touch-these expressions may not have become as fashionable as they did.
Then there are words that caught fire by pure accident. Joseph’s Heller’s ``Catch-22’’, for example, was originally titled, ``Catch-18’’; but when the author learned Leon Uris’s novel, ``Mila 18’’ was published; the title was changed to ``Catch-22’’ in order to avoid confusion. Many since have pointed out, ``Catch-18’’ didn’t have the rhythmic panache of ``Catch-22’’, a popular and often invoked term that has come to symbolize a paradoxical situation from which an individual cannot escape.
Once you crack the covers of this fascinating (and highly informative) dictionary-rest assured-you won’t set it down again until you’ve gone through the complete A-Z of entries; that’s assuming, of course, that you’re a lover of words.
No fewer than three of Dickson’s dictionaries (not including his latest masterwork) are parked near my desk computer, which is enormously invaluable to have around for quick and reliable reference purposes.
We’re all aware the ``Bard of Avon’’, William Shakespeare, is legendary for his neologisms or new words which flowed from his pen as easily as the head waters from the River Thames. Dickson cites data from Gavin Alexander, lecturer in English at Cambridge, who plunged deep into the recesses of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), and estimates Shakespeare created 229 new words (not phrases); far less, I was surprised to learn, than John Milton who coined 630 neologisms, at least according to Alexander’s count. Ben Jonson, the 17th century poet and playwright coined 558 words, followed by John Donne (English poet, satirist, and lawyer) with 342.
Even Dickson himself created two neologisms, which are cited in Authorisms: ``word word’’ (a word repeated to distinguish it from a seemingly identical word or name) and ``demonym’’ (a word created to fill the void for common terms that define a person geographically, such as Angeleno for a person from Los Angeles).
For those unfamiliar with Dickson's extensive body of work, he's written more than 65 non-fiction books, along with a number of newspaper and magazine articles on a variety of subjects from ice cream to baseball to slang to jokes to Sputnik and the Bonus Army.
His first biography, ``Bill Veeck--Baseball's Greatest Maverick'', published in 2012, received three awards: the Jerome Holtzman Award from the Chicago Baseball Museum, the Reader’s Choice Award for the best baseball book of 2012 from the Special Libraries Association and the Casey Award from Spitball magazine.
Apparently unfamiliar with the word ``respite'', Dickson is now hard at work on a major new lexical adventure, ``The Dickson Golf Dictionary.''
The Yonkers, N.Y. native lives in Garrett Park, Maryland with his wife, Nancy.
Though I enjoyed, immensely, discovering the origins of words from a host of distinguished and influential writers and novelists, such as Artful Dodger (Charles Dickens); CounterCulture (Theodore Roszak); Dismal Science (Charles Carlyle); Factoid(Norman Mailer); Melting Pot (Israel Zangwill); Mole (British spy novelist, John le Carre); and the American Dream (James Truslow Adams); I found the terms coined by a number of prominent journalists to be equally as compelling,
Since I’ve been around newsrooms for a good part of my adult life; I’ve always been fascinated by those skilled journalists with a flair for turning out pure poetry in the throes of a fast approaching deadline, especially those gifted few who helped shape our language by coining new words and expressions, many of which are still fashionable and regularly used today in the 21st century.
What follows are some examples from Dickson’s dictionary of words or expressions coined by journalists
Afghanistanism: Coined by Jenkin Lloyd Jones (1843-1919), former member of the National Conference of Editorial Writers and columnist and editor of the Tulsa Tribune, in describing the predilection of placing too much attention in distant parts of the world; while ignoring domestic issues.
Baseball: Many assumed the term ``baseball’’, originally written as two words: ``base ball’’ was introduced by Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey, the first of her romantic novels, published in 1817. Recent research, however, shows baseball first appeared in an English newspaper, Whitehall Evening Post on September 12, 1749 with the following paragraph: ``On Tuesday, last his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, and Lord Middlesex, played at Base-Ball, at Walton in Surry; and notwithstanding the Weather was extreme bad, they continued for several hours.’’
Beatnik: In trying to come up with a term to describe a new breed of bohemians, San Francisco Chronicle columnist, Herb Caen (1916-1977) used the word ``beatniks’’ in his column on April 2, 1958, a word that caught on immediately with the American public.
Cold War: First used by Herbert Bayard Swope (1882-1958) of the New York World in speeches he wrote for financier and industrialist Bernard Baruch, such as on April 16, 1947, during a speech in South Carolina, Baruch said: ``Let us not be deceived- today were are in the midst of a cold war.’’
Fourth Estate: The popular term for the press, which was believed to have been first used by political theorist and philosopher, Edmund Burke in 1790 when describing the press’s relationship to government; actually first showed up in 1787 in ``On Heroes, Hero Worship, and the Heroic in History’’ by Thomas Carlyle.
Middle America: National columnist Joseph Kraft (a former speech writer for John F. Kennedy) of the Washington Post is credited with first inventing this term in his column on June 23, 1968; while Richard Nixon soon embraced it on the campaign trail; in evoking a state of mind of those bloc of voters who still cling to traditional values.
Slam Dunk: The common basketball turn for when a player flies through the air and slams the ball through the net was first used by Los Angeles Lakers broadcaster Chick Hearn (1916-2002) in 1972.
Stereotype: Once strictly a printing term for a relief printing plate that was cast in a mold made from composed type; would be refashioned by American newspaper columnist Walter Lippmann (1889-1974) in his 1922 book ``Public Opinion’’ in which he defined stereotype as an intellectual crutch or substitute for precise analysis and an excuse for not viewing individuals as they actually are.
Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD): The common war term used frequently during George W. Bush’s offensive into Iraq, beginning in 2003, was first used by The Times of London in 1937 when referring to the aerial bombing campaigns of the Spanish Civil War with the German attack on the Spanish city of Guernica.
Whodunit: A term to describe a traditional murder mystery, was first used by book critic Donald Gordon in the July 1930 issue of the American News of Books in his review of a new murder mystery novel, ``Half-Mast Murder’’ by Milward Kennedy.
Yes Man: First used in 1913 by sports cartoonist T.A. ``Tad’’ Dorgan (1877-1929) in a cartoon in which the yes men were assistant newspaper editors praising the work of the top editor.
May 1, 2014