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    15 Words You Didn't Know Came From Classic Literature

    Fun fact about words: We made them all up!


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    Yahoo is a word gifted to us by Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels. In the novel, the Yahoos are a filthy tribe obsessed with pretty stones they dig through mud to find. Yahoo is a slightly antiquated way to call someone uncouth. The founders of the Yahoo! search engine were partly inspired by this slang term.


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    This word, meaning especially small or trivial, refers to the people of Lilliput, a fictional island in Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels meant to be a parody of England. In the novel, Lilliputians are one-twelfth the height of normal human beings and their major political skirmishes are often portrayed by Swift as silly quibbles over fashion and comportment.


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    Pander comes from Pandoras, a prince who helped two lovers fall in love, as in Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde. Though romantic in origin, pander took on the connotation of a pimp, or someone who arranged untoward sexual situations. This, in turn, produced its current meaning of being eager to fulfill all sorts of questionable desires.


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    First used in Edmund Spenser's epic poem The Faerie Queene, this word was originally an epithet for a thousand-tongued beast made by Cerberus and Chimaera. It now refers to something that is in-your-face obvious, which a thousand-tongued beast certainly is.


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    This word didn't exist before 1871. Lewis Carroll used it in Jabberwocky as a portmanteau of snort and chuckle. Someone who chortles is laughing so hard they may just snort.


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    In Milton's Paradise Lost, Pandemonium is Satan's capital city. It literally means "all demons," but has since come to mean chaotic confusion, which is its own type of hell.


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    This is another Carroll invention used in Jabberwocky. He uses the word galumph to describe the way his fictional creature moves. It connotes clumsiness but may be related to a combination of the words "gallop" and "triumph."



    The French writer Rabelais scandalized 16th century censors with his satirical work, The Life of Gargantua and of Pantagruel, about a pair of giants who get up to no good. In the novel, Gargantua has a ravenous appetite and it reportedly took 17,913 cows to get him his daily milk.


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    In Voltaire's Candide, Master Pangloss is a tireless (and tiresome) optimist who teaches Candide that "all is for the best" in the "best of all possible worlds." Candide, however, is quickly disabused of this notion. A Panglossian theory is one that is irrationally optimistic.


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    This word (as we know it) comes from a character named Mrs. Malaprop in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s play The Rivals, who often misspeaks. In the 1600s, malapropos meant “in an inopportune, inappropriate, or awkward manner,” but after Sheridan's play, a "malapropism" became known as the use of an incorrect, but similar sounding word.


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    This adjective comes from Cervantes' Don Quixote. The titular character was a romantic who didn't heed common sense, so someone who's quixotic is idealistic to a fault.


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    In Homer's The Illiad, Stentor was a Greek herald in the Trojan War whose voice was said to be as loud as 50 men. A stentorian tone is one that is very loud.


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    Utopia comes from the Greek u-topos, meaning "no place." It was first used by Sir Thomas More, an advisor to Henry VIII, in his satirical book Utopia, where the perfect society.


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    Horace Walpole, whose Gothic novel The Castle of Otranto was the first of its kind, invented this word. It derives from a story called "The Three Princes of Serendip," where the princes go on adventures and make "happy and unexpected discoveries by accident." Serendip was what we now call Sri Lanka.


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    Czech writer Karel Čapek introduced the word robot to the world in his play R.U.R., or Rossum's Universal Robots. The robots of his story, which he named for the Czech word robota for "forced labor," are artificially developed androids who are subservient to humans. R.U.R would later inspire Isaac Asimov's coining of the term "robotics."

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