Word Nerd: 4 Words inspired by comic book characters

30 Dec

Art Batman GIF by Rafahu

English is a busy language. Every year, English dictionaries can add up to 1000+ words. The words can come from memes, movies and comics! The coinages of comics have a mass appeal and often slip into canon. So, here’s a list of four words that the comics gave us.

1. Milquetoast

The word means a timid or feeble person. It was coined by H.T. Webster in 1924 when he created the character of Caspar Milquetoast to star in his ‘Timid Soul’ comic strip. His name is said to be inspired the bland breakfast of milk and toast. And since the 1930s, it has become a byword for weak and ineffectual people.

2. Zilch

Zilch means zero, nothing. It was used in the Ballyhoo magazine in 1931 to name a character who never appeared – ‘President Henry P. Zilch.’ Even today it is used as a nickname for someone who doesn’t exist (or if you were one of my classmates – to describe exactly how much you knew before the biology test).

3. Shazam

Marvel fan or not – chances are you know exactly what this exclamation means. Shazam is not just the name of Zachary Levi’s character in the movie, but it is also used to introduce an extraordinary action, story or transformation.

The word is originally said to have been used by magicians, maybe before they pulled rabbits out of their top hats.

4. Brainiac

While today, it might serve as a compliment, brainiac (a blend of brain and maniac) originated as the alien adversary of Superman.

Brainiac is first featured in “The Super-Duel in Space” published in 1958.
Since the 1970s, the word has been mostly used to describe experts and intellectuals.

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