Damon Runyon: Word ‘Moxie’ ‘In Spades’

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A scene from ‘Guys and Dolls.’

While Damon Runyon might be best known for his 1920s, Broadway-focused short stories — two of which were adapted into the musical Guys and Dolls — what we’re celebrating today are the terms he coined or popularized. Take a look at six of them on the writer’s birthday.

go overboard

“We go overboard today. We are washed out. We owe every bookmaker.., and now we are out trying to raise some scratch to pay off.”

Collier’s, September 26, 1931

According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), Runyon’s is the earliest recorded usage of this idiom meaning to go to extremes. The literal term of overboard refers to being over the side of a ship.

in spades

“I always hear the same thing about every bum on Broadway, male and female, including some I know are bums, in spades, right from taw.”

Hearst’s International-Cosmopolitan, October 1929

Since the spade is the highest suit in bridge, it’s fitting that this saying means “to a considerable degree.”

zing

“I felt him fall and I sensed the ‘zing’ of a boob-face Arab’s knife.”

Tents of Trouble, 1911

You can thank Runyon for possibly creating the word for this zingy, high-pitched sound. By 1918, says the OED, zing also meant energy, vigor, or a zest for life.

moxie

“Personally, I always figure Louie a petty-larceny kind of guy, with no more moxie than a canary bird.”

Collier’s, December 20, 1930

Before becoming slang for “the ability to face difficulty with spirit and courage”; aggressive energy or initiative; or skill or know-how, moxie was the name of a soft drink (which is apparently still around), which was patented as a “nerve food” around 1885. According to the Dictionary of American Regional English, the name might come from the Algonquian base maski-, meaning “medicine.”

stinkeroo

“The contest..turns out to be something of a disappointment, and, in fact, it is a stinkeroo, because there is little skill and no science whatever in it.”

Collier’s, November 24, 1934

If something isn’t just bad but really bad, it’s not just a stinker but a stinkeroo.

zillion

“I love him a zillion dollars’ worth.”

Runyon a la Carte, 1944

When a million, billion, trillion, or even a quadrillion aren’t enough, you can always use a zillion. If a zillion still isn’t enough, there’s always a gazillion, which, according to the OED, might have been coined by long-time television critic Tom Shales in a December 3, 1978 article for The Washington Post: “Everything is played not to the people in the seats but to the unseen gazillions who will watch the tape played back later that night, when it is teleported into their proverbial bedrooms.”

Five Jazzy Words from F. Scott Fitzgerald

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F. Scott Fitzgerald, one of the quintessential authors of the Jazz Age, was born on this day in 1896. While best known for his novels (This Side of Paradise, The Beautiful and Damned, The Great Gatsby, Tender Is the Night, and The Last Tycoon, unfinished and published posthumously), his tumultuous marriage to fellow writer Zelda, and being one-time BFFs with Ernest Hemingway, he also coined or popularized several terms that have entered the lexicon. Today we dive into our five favorites.

daiquiri

“Here’s the old jitney waiter. If you ask me, I want a double Daiquiri.”

This Side of Paradise, 1920

While this cocktail of rum, lime or lemon juice, and sugar is believed to have been invented in 1896 by a U.S. mining engineer in Cuba — according to the Online Etymology Dictionary — Fitzgerald’s use in his first novel is the earliest recorded in English. The word daiquiri comes from Cuban village of the same name.

deb

“Both Tom and Amory had outgrown the passion for dancing with mid-Western or New Jersey debbies at the Club de Vingt.”

This Side of Paradise, 1920

Deb or debbie is a shortening of debutante, “a young woman making a formal debut into society.” The word debutante debuted in English in the early 1800s, and at first also referred to a female performer making her first appearance in public, says the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).

petting

“On the Triangle trip Amory had come into constant contact with the great current American phenomenon, the ‘petting party.’”

This Side of Paradise, 1920

Petting led to heavy petting 40 years later, according to the OED: “What is called ‘heavy petting’ in which frank exploration of each other’s bodies is permitted.”

wicked

“You two order; Phoebe and I are going to shake a wicked calf.”

This Side of Paradise, 1920

Ron Weasley can thank Fitzgerald for the ironically positive usage of wicked meaning wonderful, splendid, or remarkable. However, it was used in a jocular way to mean mischievous or sly since starting in the 17th century. From Shakespeare’s As You Like It: “That same wicked Bastard of Venus,..that blinde rascally boy.” As for how wicked became a New-England-centric intensifier (wicked smart, for example), check out this post from Merriam-Webster.

T-shirt

“So early in September Amory, provided with ‘six suits summer underwear, six suits winter underwear, one sweater or T shirt, one jersey, one overcoat, winter, etc.,’ set out for New England, land of schools.”

This Side of Paradise, 1920

While Fitzgerald’s is the first known mention of the word T-shirt (thought to be named for its shape), the simple yet iconic garment existed long before, says The New York Times.

Jazzed for more? Check out our posts on the language of the 1920s beyond the “bee’s knees”  as well as 10 terms coined by Ernest Hemingway.

James Fenimore Cooper: An A No. 1 Word Coiner

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James Fenimore Cooper, born on this day in 1789, is considered America’s first major novelist. While he’s perhaps best known for books such as the Leatherstocking Tales, The Last of the Mohicans, and The Deerslayer, the New York native was also a coiner of words, several of which we still use today. Here we take a look at six.

A No. 1

“I set all the Effinghams down as tip-tops, or, A No. 1, as Mr Leach calls his ship.”

Homeward Bound, 1838

A No. 1, meaning first-class or outstanding, is an alteration of A1, says the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). The term A1 originally referred a wooden ship being “first-class in respect of both hull and fittings,” especially “as classified in Lloyd’s Register,” a maritime classification society. The figurative meaning of A1 was first used by Charles Dickens in The Pickwick Papers: “‘He must be a first-rater,’ said Sam. ‘A, 1,’ replied Mr. Roker.”

aplenty

“A sailor’s blessing on you—fair winds and a plenty.”

Water Witch, 1830

This word meaning in plentiful supply or abundant is still used aplenty since Cooper coined it. From a recent article in The Huffington Post: “Jeremy can find work aplenty in today’s job market and good wages, too.”

hoi polloi

“If there are to be knights and nobles and academicians, they must be of the number; not that such distinctions are necessary to them, but that they are necessary to the distinctions; after which the oi polloi are enrolled as they can find interest.”

Recollections of Europe, 1837

Of course Cooper didn’t invent this ancient Greek phrase meaning “the herd,” but his was the earliest use in English transliteration. The earliest to use the Greek characters for hoi polloi in English was John Dryden in 1668: “If by the people you understand the multitude, the οἱ πολλοὶ.”

homebody

“Marry him I don’t think I will—unless he becomes steadier and more of a homebody.”

Spy: A Tale of the Neutral Ground, 1821

Stay-at-homers everywhere can thank Cooper for this cozy word.

muscle man

“I suppose these muscle men will not have much use for any but the oyster-knives, as I am informed they eat with their fingers.”

Homeward Bound, 1838

While Cooper’s meaning of muscle man is, well, a muscular man (especially a wrestler or bodybuilder), around 1929 the term gained the meaning of someone “who uses violence or threats to intimidate people, [especially] on behalf of another,” says the OED.

old chap

“‘Come, old chap,’ said Billy, good-naturedly, ‘don’t be crabbed, but hear what a man has got to say.’”

Pioneers, 1823

While Cooper is American, this familiar term of address is chiefly British, says the OED. The word chap meaning lad or fellow once meant “customer” and comes from the now obsolete chapman, a peddler or merchant.

Want more author-coined words? Check out our posts on terms invented by Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, and Cooper’s frenemy, Mark Twain.

Words from Walt Whitman: More Than Barbaric Yawps

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While best known for his “barbaric yawp,” poet and journalist Walt Whitman was also the creator of words, several of which we still use today. On his birthday, we take a look at six words and phrases Whitman coined or popularized.

open road

“Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road!”

Song of the Open Road,” 1857

The term open road originally referred to a country road, says the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), “outside the urban areas, where unimpeded driving is possible.” The figurative sense of “freedom of movement” was first used by Whitman in a poem in his collection, Leaves of Grass.

shebang

“Besides the hospitals, I also go occasionally on long tours through the camps, talking with the men, &c. Sometimes at night among the groups around the fires, in their shebang enclosures of bushes.”

Specimen Days,” The Complete Prose Works of Walt Whitman, 1862

Before shebang became the whole shebang, Whitman used it to mean a shanty or temporary living quarters. He might have picked it up from Civil War soldiers who, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, popularized the phrase. The word might be an alteration of shebeen, meaning an unlicensed drinking establishment, but the tavern sense of shebang came after the Civil War.

Shebang came to mean any situation or matter of concern around 1869 or earlier, says the OED, which lists Mark Twain’s as the earliest recorded usage: “I like the book, I like you and your style and your business vim, and believe the chebang will be a success.”

Trib

Trib: of July 4 to Rob’t Buchanan, Oban S.”

Daybook, 1878

Whitman may have been the first to nickname a U.S. newspaper with “tribune” in its title (e.g., the Chicago Tribune) the Trib.

northeasterner

“There shall be countless linked hands—namely, the Northeasterner‘s, and the Northwesterner’s, and the Southwesterner’s, and those of the interior.”

Leaves of Grass, 1860

If you call yourself a northeasterner, you have Whitman to thank. He was also the first to use native state words Kansian, Oregonese, and Utahan.

alert

“When the fire-flashing guns have fully alerted me.”

A Broadway Pageant,” 1860

Before the 20th century, using alert as a verb was rare, says the OED. Whitman’s is the earliest recorded usage.

escapee

“Some three or four hundred more escapees from the confederate army came up on the boat.”

Specimen Days,” 1875–1876

While Whitman’s recorded usage is from the 1870s, the Online Etymology Dictionary says escapee came about in American English around 1865, perhaps, like shebang, in association with Civil War soldiers.

The Oxford Roald Dahl, an “extra-usual” dictionary: Talking with Dr. Susan Rennie

Dr. Susan Rennie

Early last month, in celebration of what would have been Roald Dahl’s 100th birthday, Oxford University Press published the Oxford Roald Dahl Dictionary. Aimed at young logophiles, the dictionary includes both everyday words and those invented by the author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

We had the chance to speak to the compiler of the book, lexicographer Dr. Susan Rennie, and to hear about the process behind putting together such an “extra-usual” dictionary, the excitement of defining some of Dahl’s invented words for the first time, and what Dahl words are the most fun to say.

What’s your favorite Roald Dahl word?

A particular favourite of mine is zozimus. That is what the BFG calls the stuff that dreams are made of, which he whisks with his magical egg-beater. It has a wonderfully mystical sound to it, and it uses Z which is one of Roald Dahl’s favourite letters, as in words like phizz-whizzing, zippfizzing and zoonk.

How did you go about compiling these words?

We began by creating a special database which allowed us to search and analyse all of Roald Dahl’s writings for children. That helped us to identify 393 words that Roald Dahl invented, and to find quotations to show how he used them in his books. It also helped us to find ordinary words, like alarm-clock and glove, which have special significance in his stories.

Throughout the project I also reread Roald Dahl’s books many times to help keep his spirit to the forefront, as we wanted the dictionary to be both authoritative and a little bit mischievous.

Was the process different from a “traditional” dictionary?

This has been a very extra-usual dictionary to work on, because it has involved so much creative thinking and experimentation. It is a rare treat to be able to define a word for the very first time, and I’ve been able to do that for all of Roald Dahl’s invented words, from aerioplane to zozimus. It is also the first dictionary where I have been able to write a definition backwards (in the entry for Esio Trot) and in the form of a limerick (for limerick of course).

What Dahl word do you think everyone should have in their vocabulary?

Biffsquiggled! I use it all the time now as it is so much more expressive than saying “confused” or “puzzled.” Another word that I find myself using is sizzlepan, which is far more fun to say than “frying-pan.” The words redunculous and exunckly are particularly useful for grown-ups as we can get them into all sorts of everyday conversations.

Are there dialect or jargon words that Dahl picked up that you wouldn’t expect in children’s books?

Roald Dahl uses some old-fashioned British slang like blithering, blighter and ruddy. You wouldn’t normally find those words in a children’s dictionary, but they are very much part of Roald Dahl’s world and the dictionary is there to help readers navigate through that.

He also uses some words that children are less familiar with these days, such as breeches (in Matilda) and steeplejack (in James and the Giant Peach), so we explain those too. The word crockadowndilly, which is the BFG’s name for a kind of crocodile, is based on a dialect word daffadowndilly meaning “daffodil.”

The dictionary doesn’t include pronunciations. Are there words where you would have liked to include them? What Dahl word do you think is the most fun to say?

The one word where we do indicate pronunciation is Knid, as Willy Wonka is very clear that the K should be pronounced, as in K’NID. He doesn’t tell us how to pronounce Gnooly (another nasty creature in Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator), or knickle (which is what Gnoolies do to you if they catch you), but I like to think they would both have their first letters pronounced too.

All of Roald Dahl’s invented words are fun to say out loud, which is why children love them, but I think those where he uses an internal rhyme, like Oompa-Loompa and rumpledumpus, or those which are very onomatopoeic, like lickswishy and uckyslush, are especially satisfying.

Are there are any other authors you think should have their own dictionary?

I would love to write a Lewis Carroll dictionary, as he was also very creative with language. Carroll came up with the name portmanteau for a word that combines two other words, and he invented the words chortle and galumph which are now part of everyday language.

Dr. Susan Rennie has worked on many dictionaries for both children and adults, including the Oxford Primary Dictionary, Oxford Primary Thesaurus, Oxford English Thesaurus for Schools and the New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. She also writes books in Scots for children, and has translated the first Scots edition of Tintin. She is currently a Lecturer in English Language at the University of Glasgow, where she teaches lexicography and the history of Scots and English.

10 Ultra-Violent Slang Terms from ‘A Clockwork Orange’

Clockwork Stem

In his iconic novel A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess creates a dystopian world in which youths down milk doused with narcotics before committing random acts of ultra-violence.

He’s also created a language. Nadsat-talk, or just Nadsat, is a mix of Russian, German, French, and Cockney influences, as well as almost every linguistic trick in the book, including blends (chumble, possibly “chatter” and “mumble”), reduplication (baddiwad for “bad”), nounification (warbles for “songs”), shortenings (guff, “to laugh,” from guffaw), and pure invention (cables for “blood vessels” and flatblock for “home”).

On what would have been his 99th birthday, we take a look 10 words invented by Burgess in A Clockwork Orange.

clockwork orange

“So I creeched louder still, creeching: ‘Am I just to be like a clockwork orange?’”

In addition to being the title of a book within the book, a clockwork orange refers to someone who has been made to work “like clockwork,” that is, mechanically and without free will.

As for the title’s origin, Burgess himself has a couple of explanations. In The New Yorker, he writes that he first heard the expression “as queer as a clockwork orange” before World War II in a pub in London, and that it’s “an old Cockney slang phrase, implying a queerness or madness so extreme as to subvert nature.” The phrase also juxtaposes “a thing living, growing, sweet, juicy, to a cold dead artifact.”

In Joysprick: An Introduction to the Language of James Joyce, Burgess notes that when he “wrote a novel called A Clockwork Orange, no European reader saw that the Malay word for ‘man’ — orang — was contained in the title.” The Malay orang is also contained within orangutan, which translates as “man of the wilderness.”

droog

“There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim.”

Droog, a young hooligan or gang member, is the one Burgess neologism that has made it into the Oxford English Dictionary, at least so far. The word comes from the Russian drug, meaning “friend.” It may be no coincidence that drug is also a homograph of the English drug since pharmaceuticals play a large part in the novel.

nadsat

“‘Oh I shall go home. Back to my pee and em.’
‘Your — ?’ He didn’t get nadsat-talk at all, so I said:
‘To my parents in the dear old flatblock.'”

Nadsat is another Russian-influenced invented slang term. Meaning “teenage,” the word comes from the Russian suffix for “teen,” nadtsat.

eggiweg

“I read this with care, my brothers, slurping away at the old chai, cup after tass after chasha, crunching my lomticks of black toast dipped in jammiwan and eggiweg.”

Reduplication is another device Burgess uses in Nadsat-speak. The childish singsong of words such as eggiweg, jammiwam, and punchipunching are a chilling apposition against the depraved ultra-violence of Alex and his droogs.

moloko plus

“I took the large moloko plus to one of the little cubies that were all around this mesto, there being like curtains to shut them off from the main mesto, and there I sat down in the plushy chair and sipped and sipped.”

A moloko plus is milk spiked with drugs. Moloko is a direct translation from Russian for “milk.” (Mesto, by the way, is Russian for “place.”) Like eggiweg and jammiwam, moloko plus sets up the childish (milk) against the depraved (hard drugs).

Moloko plus is also called knify moloko — “There we were, a-waiting and peeting away at the the old knify moloko, and you had not turned up” — or “milk with knives in it,” which is made to “sharpen you up and make you ready for a bit of dirty twenty-to-one.”

What does all of this mean? Knives refer to amphetamines, according to the introduction of the book, but perhaps also plays on the term spiked, containing drugs or alcohol. Peet comes from pit, the Russian word for “drink,” while being sharp may be an allusion to being hyper-aware and sped up, an effect of amphetamines. Dirty twenty-to-one might refer to gang violence involving sexual assault.

Other fictional drug names in the novel include synthemesc, vellocet, and drencrom. Synthemesc might come from “synthetic mescaline” while vellocet might play on the name of a motorcycle company, evoking speed and velocity. Drencrom might be an alteration of adrenochrome, a drug that causes “thought disorder, derealization, and euphoria.”

hound-and-horny

“Dim put on a hound-and-horny look of evil, saying: ‘I don’t like you should do what you done then.’”

Hound-and-horny seems to be a kind of invented rhyming slang term that means “corny.” Other such terms include, for “money,” pretty polly (“If you need pretty polly, you take it”) and cutter, which might come from bread and butter, meaning livelihood. Luscious glory meaning “hair” (“my luscious glory was a wet tangled cally mess”) might come from crowning glory.

vaysay

“I wanted to be sick, so I got out of bed all trembly so as to go off down the corridor to the old vaysay. But behold, brothers, the door was locked.”

Vaysay is Nadsat slang for the restroom, coming from the French pronunciation of the British English W.C., or water closet. Other French-derived slang terms include sinny, which comes from cinéma or ciné, and tass from tasse, “cup.”

shilarny

“Why this sudden shilarny for being the big bloated capitalist?”

Shilarny, meaning “concern,” seems to be a purely invented with perhaps an Irish influence. Another invented word with an unclear origin is sharp, slang for “woman.”

barry place

“Next it’s going to be the barry place and all my work ruined.”

The barry place, or prison, refers to the bars of a cell. Another slang term for jail is stripey hole, again for the image of prison bars.

Staja

“This is the real weepy and like tragic part of the story beginning, my brothers and only friends, in Staja (State Jail, that is) Number 84F.”

Staja is another term for jail, a blend of “State Jail,” but also reminiscent of Stalag, a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany. Stalag is a shortening of Stammlager, which comes from Kriegsgefangenen-Mannschafts-Stammlager, which translates roughly as “main POW camp.”

Other German-derived words include shlaga, a club or a bat, which comes from Schlager, to hit, and tashtook (“He’d taken a big snotty tashtook from his pocket”), which comes from Taschentuch, “handkerchief.”

The Rime of a Romantic Poet: 10 Words Coined by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

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Poet and critic Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born on this day in 1772.

A leader of the British Romantic movement, Coleridge’s most famous poems include “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” which originated the idea of an albatross as a burden or obstacle; “Kubla Khan,” which popularized Xanadu meaning a magnificent and luxurious place (and inspired a terrible Olivia Newton-John movie); and “Christabel,” which some critics call a vampire story.

Coleridge was also fond of creating new words, many of which we still use today. Here are 10 of our favorites.

actualize

“To make our Feelings, with their vital warmth, actualize our Reason.”

The Friend,” The works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge: prose and verse, 1809

Corporate executives can thank poet Coleridge for verbifying the adjective actual. The psychology term self-actualization, or the realization of oneself, is from 1939, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).

impact

“In any given perception there is a something which has been communicated to it [the mind] by an impact, or an impression ab extra.”

Biographia Literaria; Or, Biographical Sketches of My Literary Life and Opinions, 1817

The earliest sense of impact is from about 1601, says the OED, with the meaning “to press closely into or in something.” In 1781, it also came to refer to the act of one body colliding into another. Coleridge’s figurative sense, “the effect or impression of one thing on another,” is from 1817.

intensify

“But the will itself by confining and intensifying the attention may arbitrarily give vividness or distinctness to any object whatsoever.”

Biographia Literaria,” Works: Prose and Verse Complete, 1817

Coleridge includes an explanation slash apology for his neologism:

I am aware that this word occurs neither in Johnson’s Dictionary, nor in any classical writer. But the word ‘to intend,’ which Newton and others before him employ in this sense, is now so completely appropriated to another meaning, that I could not use it without ambiguity.

As so he created his own word, as one should.

logolatry

“What is the whole system from Philo to Plotinus, and thence to Proclus inclusively, but one fanciful process of hypostasizing logical conceptions and generic terms? In Proclus it is Logolatry run mad.”

Coleridge’s Literary Remains, Vol. 4, 1834

This word that means “a blind regard for words or verbal truthfulness” should definitely be used more often (especially during this election season). Logolatry combines the Greek logos, “word,” and latreia, “worship.”

narcissism

“Of course, I am glad to be able to correct my fears as far as public Balls, Concerts, and Time-murder in Narcissism.”

Letter, 1822

Coleridge’s sense of narcissism is “excessive love or admiration of oneself,” and is based on the Greek myth of Narcissus, a beautiful young man who falls in love with his own reflection in a pool of water, only to drown in that same pool. The flower that grows in his place is named for him.

Narcissism as a psychology term — “characterized by self-preoccupation, lack of empathy, and unconscious deficits in self-esteem” — originated in 1905 from the German Narzissismus, which was coined in 1899 by by German psychiatrist Paul Näcke.

pessimism

“Why, ’tis almost as bad as Lovell’s ‘Farmhouse,’ and that would be at least a thousand fathoms deep in the dead sea of pessimism.”

The Complete Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge: Poetry, Plays, Literary Essays, Autobiography and Letters, 1794

Coleridge’s use of pessimism is borrowed from the French pessimisme, which comes from the Latin pessimus, “the worst.” Pessimism is modeled on optimism, which is from 1759.

relativity

“In every religious and moral use of the word, God, taken absolutely, that is, not as a God, or the God, but as God, a relativity, a distinction in kind ab omni quod non est Deus.”

Notes on Waterland’s Vindication of Christ’s Divinity,” Complete Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1834

The physics use of relativity arose in 1858, not long after Coleridge’s. Albert Einstein’s special theory of relativity was published in 1905, says the Online Etymology Dictionary, and his general theory of relativity in 1915.

selfless

“Ant tribes, with their commonwealth and confederacies, their warriors and miners, the husband-folk, that fold in their tiny flocks on the honeyed leaf, and the virgin sisters with the holy Instincts of Maternal Love, detached and in selfless purity.”

Moral and Religious Aphorisms,” The Complete Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1825

Almost 200 years older than selfless is selfish, which combines self and the Old English suffix -ish. The word selfish was apparently coined by Presbyterians.

soulmate

“In order not to be miserable, you must have a Soul-mate as well as a House or a Yoke-mate.”

Letters, Conversations, and Recollections of S.T. Coleridge, 1822

Wise words, S.T. While Coleridge coined this term in an 1822 letter to an unidentified “young lady,” the use of soulmate didn’t take off until the 1980s, although it’s not clear why. Perhaps it was due to a 1980 edition of Carl Jung’s The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious which mentions man having a soul-mate “somewhere in the upper world.” Another possibility is the 1980s expansion of the New Age movement. Or maybe it was all those romcoms.

Coleridge might have coined the term in light of his own unhappy marriage. When the woman he actually loved became engaged, he married another and spent much of the marriage away from his probably equally unhappy wife.

suspension of disbelief

“A semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith.”

Biographia Literaria; Or, Biographical Sketches of My Literary Life and Opinions, 1817

The term suspension of disbelief refers to an audience’s “voluntary withholding of scepticism,” says the OED, “with regard to incredible characters and events.” In other words, sure there’s no such thing as zombies, but Walking Dead fans are willing to suspend their disbelief to have their pants scared off them.