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Quick Draw: How boring is ‘Bleak House’?

Read Monday, 9 May 2016

In ‘Quick Draw’, Sophie Quick gives short-and-sweet answers to obscure literary questions you never actually asked.

<em>Young Man (Morning) </em> by Mihály Zichy [Public domain], <a href=””>via Wikimedia Commons</a>
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Quite boring at times, depending on your tolerance for long-running jokes about 19th-century chancery litigation. 

But there’s another connection between boredom and Bleak House. Dickens is sometimes credited (including on Wikipedia and in Smithsonian) with coining the word ‘boredom’ and using it for the first time in the book. This claim is the source of some controversy, however – with and assorted word nerds announcing they’ve spotted other, earlier usages. Language writer Ammon Shea has declared, ‘[Dickens] did not invent boredom, and we should stop saying that he did‘. It’s a fair point; Dickens is hardly in need of any extra glory. After all, he’s a giant of English literature and praised as the father of so many other great English neologisms (‘abuzz’, ‘butterfingers’, ‘the creeps’, ‘scrooge’ and ‘rampage’ among them). 

Language writer Ammon Shea has declared, ‘[Dickens] did not invent boredom, and we should stop saying that he did’.

Nevertheless, this surplus of kudos for Dickens should not go unaddressed. With that in mind, here are some other words that Dickens also did not coin:

‘Scaredy-cat’ (invented by Dorothy Parker); ‘pedestrian’ (invented by William Wordsworth); ‘vajayjay’ (invented by Shonda Rhimes); ‘linoleum’ (invented by the man who invented linoleum, he is not famous except in the world of domestic and commercial flooring); ‘pui’ (Romanian word for ‘chicken’, not sure who coined it, probably a Romanian). There, that should do it.


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