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.

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.


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.


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.

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Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner