More word play


ne reader, Mark Davidson, emeritus professor of communications at California State University, responded to my column of July 16 (When News Becomes Olds), in part to tell me I made a mistake.

In that column on recently hatched words, I listed "guesstimate" as a word coined long ago by a friend because I believed this to be the case. Due to a synapses malfunction, I did not do something that I do nearly every business day -- look in the dictionary. The word is there.

I won't repeat that mistake, and that is no guesstimate.

Mark, the author of an American English usage dictionary that he hopes to have published, introduced me to "Coined by Shakespeare," a collection of words and their histories -- and so one column on words begets another.

The book covers about 200 words that -- as far as anyone can tell -- were first recorded by the bard. The authors, Stanley Malless and Jeffrey McQuain, said there is no certainty how many of these words were in use before Shakespeare put pen to paper, but he gets the credit as their originator.

I looked for his words with any travel connection. Not surprisingly, no man living around 1600 thought about travel as much of a business or as a sport, either. Indeed, travel was not much fun, and not too many people went far from their home villages anyway.

But the playwright gave us "luggage." It described something that is lugged and that is inconveniently heavy. We all have had suitcases like that.

It is interesting that in the the word's first usage, in "Henry IV, Part I," the thing being lugged, or the luggage, was a cadaver.

Shakespeare also gave us "jet," obviously not referring to aircraft. The playwright used it as a verb meaning to intrude or encroach. Thus, for example, characters or events "jetted upon" the rights of others.

The word evolved from the French "jeter," which means to throw, and after Shakespeare, it came to mean to spurt or stream. In that way, the word found new lives as an adjective and a noun, as in jet propulsion, jet engine and jet airplane, and then, simply, as the jet that we fly on.

The bard also gave us businesslike words like "advertising," "employer" and "marketable," but it's more amusing to know that he handed down "puke" and "puppy dog."

Except for advertising, the meanings of these entries haven't changed a lot in 400 years, but "puke" was more respectable than it is today. The playwright's "advertising" was an adjective that meant being attentive, a usage that did not catch on very well. The noun certainly did.

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