I read a review in the paper yesterday that Ralph Keyes has published a new book The Hidden History of Coined Words. For those who don’t know Keyes, he is a popular American author of books that fall into the genre I refer to as brain erotica – popular non-fiction works that deal significantly with their topics in a stimulating and arousing fashion but don’t go full out academic. Some books on my shelf that I place in this genre include Freakanomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, Milk by Mark Kurlansky, and The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt.

Anyway, getting back to Keyes. In previous books he has tracked down the origins of quotations, as well as the genesis of popular words, and phrases. In his latest work he traces the origins of neologisms. I eagerly await availability in Austria. The book was just released, focuses on the English language, and yet a German language newspaper has already written a review.

What stuck me in the review was the following anecdote about the origin of the phrase “climate change.” Apparently, the phrase, if not coined, was at least strongly promoted by a Republican advisor to George W. Bush when Dubya was president of the United States. He recommended the phrase “climate change” because it instilled substantially less fear in a focus group than “global warming.”

Additional fact checking is in order but the Ngram in this post provides some strong support for Keyes’ claim. If his claim is true, it also supports my argument of the link between narrative framing and climate change activism that I mentioned in my last post.

What interesting neologism origin stories do you know? Leave a comment.

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