The Best Slang Terms in Literature (and What They Mean)
The best part about writing, aside from being able to exact revenge upon those who angered you in a forum they can't fight back in, is the ability to pretty much say whatever you want whether or not the words actually exist. Hell, The Lord of the Rings isn't really so much a fantasy trilogy as it is a chance for a stodgy linguist to make up languages. Anthony Burgess did much the same with A Clockwork Orange, as did George Orwell in 1984. The precedent goes back at least to Shakespeare himself, who coined more than a hundred new words and phrases in his plays, including "There's the rub," "lackluster," and "silliness."
With that in mind, we decided to list some of our favorite slang words and phrases from the world of literature.
Fewmets means dragon poop. Now, it's unique in this list in that it was an actual Old English word before the writing world got a hold of it. Specifically, the word refers to the droppings of an animal by which hunters identify their prey.
Miranda Sings Live...You're Welcome
TicketsSun., Jan. 22, 8:00pm
The Curious Incident of the Dog In the Night-Time (Touring)
TicketsTue., Jan. 24, 7:30pm
Super Comedy Bowl Explosion
TicketsWed., Feb. 1, 8:00pm
Love Jones, The Musical
TicketsThu., Feb. 2, 7:30pm
TicketsSat., Feb. 11, 7:00pm
However, the word entered the fantasy lexicon back in 1958 when T. H. White published his Arthurian novel The Once and Future King. King Pellinore tracks The Questing Beast by its fewmets, and the word has since gone on to be associated with other fantastical creatures. Madeleine L'Engle made mention of fewmets in The Wind in the Door, as did Jane Yolen in the acclaimed Dragon's Blood novels.
TINK'S A DISNEY WHORE
Also, "Tink's red panties," "Tink's tiny blue dildo," and many, many more.
In the Rachel Morgan mystery novels written by Kim Harrison, fairies, vampires, and werewolves all walk the modern world. Yes, there are dozens of series just like that, but none of them have the walking phrase machine that is a pixie named Jenks.
Jenks works as Morgan's saboteur, electronics expert and spy in her private detective agency. In the mythos of Harrison's universe, all fairies, including Disney's Tinkerbell, are real. As such, Jenks tends to use her name as the basis for all his swear words because of his dislike of the overly commercial existence she lives...
At least until he visits her shrine at Disneyworld. After that, he's her biggest fan.
Stranger in a Strange Land is one of those novels they will never, ever make a movie out of. Robert A. Heinlein remains one of the most well-known and controversial science fiction writers, and many would point to Stranger as the best thing he ever wrote.
The story details the last son of a doomed space mission to Mars who returns to Earth after having been raised to adulthood by the Martians. He possesses superhuman powers, and establishes a religion that completely changes the world.
Grok is the only Martian word that is actually printed in the novel, though many other words and phrases are described. The actual definition is "to drink," but that is only one of the hundreds of uses the word has.
On barren Mars, water is seen as a something holy and sanctified. To drink water is an act of communion. The characters in Stranger use grok to communicate love, hate, understanding, compassion, sex, and any other powerful emotion or action that must be felt by complete empathy. To grok is to observe so thoroughly that you become one with what you are observing.
WHO IS JOHN GALT?
You may have seen the new movie, though to judge by the returns you haven't. Just like Lord of the Rings, bringing Ayn Rand's masterpiece Atlas Shrugged into the medium of cinema is quite an accomplishment. It remains to be seen if it will help Rand's most famous phrase enter more common usage.
It's very hard to define the phrase "Who is John Galt?" as it is used in several different instances. Most often, the phrase is an exclamation of the inability to fight the decay of a society. As the country's best minds disappear one by one to escape from the growing power of corrupt and incompetent businessmen and bureaucrats, America slowly sinks into a chaotic state where accomplishment is punished in the name of looting the efforts of the geniuses.
At every turn, all efforts to stave off the decline are met with failure, and characters are reduced to shrugging their shoulders and asking, "Who is John Galt?"
Who is John Galt? Galt is the man who begins the exodus of the brightest and best of American art and science in the novel. He himself is an unparalleled genius who invents a motor that would forever solve the energy crisis. He leaves his discovery rusting in an abandoned auto factory, having quit at a meeting run the factory as a collective. As he storms away he promises to stop the motor of the world, and his coworkers begin to whisper the iconic phrase.
You may quibble that comic strips aren't literature, but please quibble to yourself, because Art Attack has no interest in your whiny, crybaby opinion. Gary Larson is one of the most influential comic strip creators ever, and all you have to do is open to the funnies in any major newspaper to see just how influential The Far Side has been.
One of Larson's most famous comics was of a caveman symposium where a lecturer is showing anatomy slides of a Stegosaurus. He points to the spiked tail and calls it the Thagomizer after the late Thag Simmons.
The funny part about this is that a paleontologist named Ken Carpenter at the Denver Museum of Natural Science realized there wasn't really a name for the spiky part of the tail of a Stegosaurus. As a result, Thagomizer has become the informal term, making Larsons the person who has reached the highest on this list for getting his slang entered into academia.
We're going to assume that you all know what a robot is... and if you deny it means you are one. However, did you know that the term was born not out of science, but literature?
The word first appears in a 1920 Karel Capek play called Rossum's Universal Robots. The play deals with a factory that produces life-life androids as servants, and whether or not exploiting beings who appear to be happy to be exploited is a crime. Capek did not actually come up with the term, though. For that, he credits his brother Josef as the originator, and wrote a letter to the Oxford English Dictionary to make sure he received proper credit.
Use of the word exploded mostly through the science fiction works of Isaac Asimov, who coined the word robotics as the study of robots.
When Kurt Vonnegut introduced this term in Cat's Cradle, it was as a term used in his fictional religion of Bokononism. A granfalloon is a false collective, a group of people who have pledged shared identity or loyalty to the group, but whose actual associations are meaningless. Basically, a granfalloon is grand, but pointless organization.
The word has since gone on to have technique amended to it, and is used to described the promise by which people are encouraged to give up their personal identity in favor of loyalty to a group ideal. In one study, two groups of people were formed by dividing them with a coin toss. Even though the act that divided the two groups was completely pointless, once in the group people tended to act as if the people they were teamed with were close friends or family.
And that is why we vote using a magic 8 ball.
No list of made-up terms would be complete without a trip to Lewis Carroll's nonsense poem "Jabberwocky." Many of the terms used are actually just neologisms of common words, so tracking down the real meaning isn't too terribly difficult. But what of the vorpal blade that slays the great beast?
Nothing. It literally has no meaning whatsoever. Even Carroll couldn't come up with an origin for the word. The vorpal blade has gone on to be a famous sword used in any number of fantasy works and video games, but no one actually knows what the hell a vorpal is or why it makes a sword so great.
The ironic thing is the meaning of the word has actually come to be, "something badass enough to slay a Jabberwocky." So in a sense, Carroll somewhere managed to come up with a word that would supply its own definition later on down the line. What else would you expect from the man who wrote Alice in Wonderland?
Get the Theater Newsletter
Get a rundown of upcoming theater events and ticket deals in Houston.