Word Nerd: 4 words from fantasy fiction that are now part of our real lives

29 Apr

In 1989, ‘hobbit’, a creature from from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings universe, was added to the Oxford English Dictionary. It comes as no surprise that Tolkien, who is considered the godfather of fantasy writing thanks to his genre defining Lord of the Rings, had a word from his fictional universe recorded in the Oxford English dictionary. However, he was not the first author to do so. In the 20th century alone, the work of Roald Dahl and Lewis Carrol was similarly honoured.

What separated these writers and their words from others was their ability to shape the culture. Their worlds– the rules, customs and languages within– were and are debated, discussed and reproduced over and over, often in the form of role-play, which blurs the line between reality and fiction.  According to associate editor for Oxford Dictionaries, Charlotte Buxton, words from fictional worlds have to cross over in everyday use in the real world to be included in the large black (but also now available online) dictionary. Here are four words other than ‘hobbit’ that have successfully journeyed from fiction to non-fiction.


Jabberwocky was originally the title of a poem in Lewis Carrol’s Through the Looking Glass. In it, the jabberwock is a creature with sharp claws and eyes of flame. The poem itself is absurd, full of made up words intended to confuse.  In recognition of Carrol’s nonsensical poem, jabberwocky is defined by the OED as “invented or meaningless language; nonsense”. Essentially, jabberwocky is a more sophisticated way of saying ‘gibberish’, and more self-aware of its ridiculous nature than ‘jargon’.

Oompa loompa

BrainGain Magazine

Oompa Loompas first appeared as workers in Roald Dahl’s classic novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. While in the book they are described as black– an unfortunate byproduct of the rampant anti-black times– in most cinematic adaptations, they are portrayed as short, orange men. Therefore, they are ‘officially’ described in the dictionary as “a person whose skin has an orange appearance, typically because they are very suntanned.” Remind you of a certain person up for re-election in 2020?


BrainGain Magazine

Harry Potter was a story that gripped the imagination of millions of children around the world in the late 90s and early 2000s. Perhaps that is why the only new words from fictional worlds included in the Oxford Dictionary in the 21st century were taken from the Potter books. In the books, a Muggle is used to refer to a non-magical person, weaponized later on in the series once Voldemort begins actively hunting muggles. However, in our world, Potterheads used Muggle as a derogatory term for someone with less than average abilities, defined in the dictionary as “a person who is not conversant with a particular activity or skill.”


This magical sport has perhaps seen the most successful cross-over into real life, effectively blurring the line between role-play and reality. In the books, quidditch is played on broomsticks, up in the air. The aim of the game is to have as many points, mostly by capturing the golden snitch, worth 150 points. Muggle quidditch works almost the same way, except the players can’t fly, and the role of the snitch is played by a person completely dressed in yellow. Universities in the U.S. and U.K. now have official quidditch teams and championship.

By: Anandamayee Singh


If you liked this, check out our other word nerd blogs:
Word Nerd: 6 magical words from Greco-Roman mythology
Word Nerd: 5 English words that owe their cool factor to hip-hop
Word Nerd: 5 words banished from the queen’s English in 2018

No comments yet

Leave a Reply