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What's with the name?

Allow us to explain.

Power Grid

6 Made Up Nerd Words That Made it to Common Usage, and 8 That Should

Allow Us To Explain

Allow Us To Explain

Let me let you in on a little secret: writers like words. We like them so much. And so where you might wrinkle your nose and wonder why on earth someone might used the word “pulchritudinous” instead of “pretty,” we’re sitting at our desks and cackling with delight.

We got to use “pulchritudinous” today. And it alliterated.

But as a geek or nerd, you get introduced to new words all the time! Science fiction and fantasy are practically in the business; not just of creating new place names, which is a given; but also of making new nouns in general, new verbs, and new adjectives. And while some of those concepts might not be particularly useful outside of their fictional setting, others have, over time, been accepted wholly by the English of reality. With some of these, we’ve forgotten that they were ever words in fiction to begin with.

And so we present six made up words that have since become inextricable from their meaning outside of their fictional origin (runners up include the very mimsy word “vorpal”), and, because we love words, eight words that we would like to say all the time and not get weird looks for (runners up include twip, shwey, slag, and every other silly, silly curse word from Batman Beyond).

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  • Amanda Dotson

    What? Ursula K. LeGuin is a great author, but did not write A Wrinkle in Time. That was Madeleine L’Engle. Normally these errors don’t get to me…but this one did.

  • Lisa M. Hayes

    Same here! >:[

  • Anonymous

    I insist that Grok’s the state
    The best is missed if you Grok too late.
    You can’t start docking if your pilot ain’t grokkin’
    Grok makes the worlds rotate.
    –Oat, Ash and Thorn, “Thurb, Kemmer, Grok”
    I’m glad you limited Sci-Fi curse words to just one – there’s been a number of lists with just those. 
    If I have to pick my most-used Sci-Fi word, it’s “Tanj”, short for “There Ain’t No Justice”, from Larry Niven’s Known Space books.  Larry is awesome.
    Nick Pollotta (AKA Nick Smith if you’re an older fan and remember the Phil A. Delphia skits) had a great one in his Satellite Night News books (written under the name Jack Hopkins) – “Whistle”.  The refernce being to the horrifying noise you’d hear if a micrometeorite pierced your spacesuit.  It’s such a common occurrence in space, the act of whistling is bad luck, and only newcomers to space would dare do it.

  • Faye Chao

    madeleine l’engle writing “a wrinkle in time” is besides the point because ursula le guin wrote “rocannon’s world” and is the originator of the term “ansible”

  • heidi(8)

    It’s interesting that you mentioned Nancy Stouffer re Muggle, because the end result of that court case had the judge finding that she had forged/faked documents that she claimed were evidence of her prior use of the term MUGGLE, and she was fined about 50,000 because the judge found she had engaged in a “pattern of intentional bad faith…” 

  • Anonymous

    Ugh, that explains why I was so confused on that one. I’ve had Ms. L’Engle on the brain for a couple weeks now because of the Wrinkle anniversary. 

  • nmlop

    Fantastic list! So glad you included “robot.” And WORD on the dolphins!!

  • Arania

    “writers like words. We like them so much.”

    Unless you’re making a pun I don’t understand, the last sentence of the Muggle entry should have “illicit”, not “elicit.”

    Thank you from another word lover.

  • Sheila

    I would just like to point out that ALL words are “made up”, so the title only needs to say “Six words…” :-p

  • Helen the Dreamer

    “Lets face it, despite what that MPAA will tell you, adults curse in informal situations, all the frakkin’ time.” It took me so many years to realize this, I always thought my friends and I were, not exactly bad but not really normal either for cursing so much in high school.

  • Jen H

    “I’m gorram ruttin this shiny poozer, ya grok it?”

  • Emma Jones

    My fiance and I regularly use the word “Matango” (from Secret of Mana) as a greeting. 

  • Jill Pantozzi

    We like words. We are not perfect at them at all times.

  • Arania

    Which is why word lovers have friends who are word lovers!

    I’m really sorry if I sounded bitchy.  I didn’t mean to!  I just thought you might like to know about the typo?

  • Björn Rhoads

    Utlanning, Framling and Varelse are just standard swedish words for Foreigner (Utlänning), Stranger (Främling) and Being (Varelse). Ramen is not :) Also these are used in Ender’s game, see wikipedia

  • Andy Sirkin

    I agree with a lot of the commentary in here… I really hope there’s some better fact checking in the future.  

  • Jill Pantozzi

    I mentioned to the gals after the fact that we should have made one paragraph using all the of the words.  :)

  • Jill Pantozzi

    Oh for sure and no worries! You can feel free to email us if you catch something in the future. We’re probably more likely to see that quicker anyway. Use the tips email on the side of the page. That goes for everyone!

  • Eric Lindberg

    Controversies aside, it’s a good list. I can think of a few other geek words that have gone mainstream:

    Brainiac – From the Superman villain, now used to describe a smart person.
    Bizarro – Also a Superman villain, used to describe things that are strange or reversed.
    Shazam – Captain Marvel’s magic word, later made popular by Gomer Pyle. Used when something sudden occurs. It’s also now a smartphone app.
    Chortle – Do we count Lewis Carroll as geeky? This word from ‘Jabberwocky’ is now in the dictionary.

  • Eleri Hamilton

    I was always fond of ‘fiction’ to describe a particular place/time in quantum space.

  • Faye Chao

    the words aren’t used until speaker of the dead.  if wikipedia says differently, they’re wrong.

  • Carmen Sandiego

    I didn’t know that about ‘chortle’!  Cool.

  • Bob Farrell

    “slag” is very common British slang. The noun means “slut”, the verb (“to slag somebody/something off”) means to deride. And, of course, it’s a legitimate word to any geologist/volcano enthusiast.

  • Samantha Wilson

    I can not bear it when people say frickin’ or darn instead of actually swearing, so I would not approve of ‘frak’ being used, just swear!
    I understand it in the context of the show but I couldn’t cope with it in everday life.

    In saying that I do like the word ‘smeg’ and I am chuffed if I hear people say it.

  • nwhepcat

    I also loved the future teen slang of Connie Willis’ “Doomsday Book.” Apocalyptic! was good, and necrotic was bad. I always kinda hoped they would catch on.

  • brad

    “Poozer” was originally from a Dr. Seuss book, where the characters run afoul of the Perilous Poozers of Pamplemousse Pass.

  • Anonymous

    It’s bad enough when people fake-swear without fake-swearing out of nerdery. Nothing is more embarrassment squicky that hearing someone say frak or frell out loud.

  • Franken Fran

    Wouldn’t the fact that people eat ramen noodles freak our new “ramen” friends the hell out (at least initially)?

  • Emilie Poulsen

    Well, I couldn’t really help noticing the word “Utlanning”. It’s practically just the Swedish  word for foreigner (utlänning), without the umlaut. Also the Norwegian word (utlending), the Danish word (udlænding) and the German word (Ausländer) are very similar.I can see why the author has used it, but he didn’t make it up.

  • Theresa Slabosz

    In my last semester of college, I took a class on the philosophy of love where one of the major points was learning how to grok and how to allow it to fill your life with love. Very interesting.

  • Francesca M

    Thanks for mentioning that because I was like ‘wasn’t that a huge fake out’

  • Jill Pantozzi

    Embarrassing for whom, exactly?

  • Clyde Meli

    Actually the word “grok” exists in the Maltese language too since before 1961. It’s written “grokk” and means (alcoholic) drink too.

  • Moshe Feder

    I’ve long admired this schema of Scott’s, and I appreciated learning about its Swedish linguistic source, I just wish the one category that was an exception didn’t share the name of a noodle.

    I must remember to ask his editor, a colleague of mine, why she let him get away with that.

  • Nina Wikstrom Aguilar

    SO glad you wrote in….I was reading down thru the comments and was going to mention this myself.  but I speak such poor norsk that I couldn’t have written  your comment with such authority!!  Hilsener, Nina Viking Cybrarian

  • Nina Wikstrom Aguilar

    In that case, it is just approximating the scandinavian word “glog”  written with an omlaut over the o.   It is spiced, warmed wine, drunk with a shot of akavit,  in the winter. 

  • Anonymous

    Why we recommend you the man in military? The reason is simple: They are
    not only dependable, but also romantic. They are brave and strong but also warm
    in heart. Now it’s a new year, find your strong and warm
    arms for a new beginning at —- uniformedkiss*c’o’m —-


  • Jason Johndrow

    As a 40 year old geek I have to make light of GROK in correct context. To Grok something is to so completely understand it to a level that you the observer becomes a part of the observed.

    IE: After 31 years of programming I GROK C++ so much I feel I’m in the mind of Dennis Richie

  • Wes Schmidt

    frak – oilfield usage dates from the early 80′s, at least, when I first heard it.  Refers to high pressure subsurface fracturing of the rock strata.   Recent tech advancements over the last decade have made it a game changer for oil production in this country, which is why you’re hearing so much about it now. 

    btw, “utlanning”, meaning foreigner, also matches up with the somewhat archaic English term, “Outlander”.  (Auslander)

    linguistically, “grokk” and “glog” match up with “grog”, the old British sailor’s ration.

  • Anonymous


  • Anonymous

    Interesting enough, in NYC fandom, “Blog” was the term for the highly-alcoholic punch beverage served at fannish parties. This was DECADES before its current use was coined.

  • Anonymous

    dr. suess also invented the word + the concept (so he claimed) of ‘gremlins’.

  • Amelie Harms

    Actually, it might not be an exception! I got a couple of different readings of “ramen” in swedish that are possible:
    ramen = råmän (reads as half-formed men, not fully human)
    ramen = ramen/rammen (the devil)
    ramen = ram (reads as an old dialectal word for someone who is not educated, stupid, vulgar and most probably a farmer.
    (Ur SAOB: RAM (7) om
    person, betecknande att han betraktas med motvilja l. är grov l. rå l.
    obildad l. socialt mer l. mindre lågtstående; särsk.: inpiskad,
    durkdriven; särsk. i uttr. en ram bonde, en enkel l. tarvlig l. obildad
    bonde; numera bl. i sg. o. pl. best. (äv. i superl.) o. med anslutning
    till 10. MESSENIUS Swanhuita 6 (1613). En grof och ram hedning. VDAkt. 1720 nr 396. Huru vida en ram bondeklåckare kan sådant lära . . lämnas derhän. Därs. 1774 nr 471. Den vildmenniskan! Det är ju en ram Indian. PALMBLAD Nov. 1: 48 (1840). Kyrkoherden skall ju vara en ram bonde . . en riktig slusk. EKSTRÖM Vandr. 28 (1871). SAO L (1900). särsk. i superl. Den ramaste pöbel. TEGNÉR (WB) 7: 497 (1834); jfr 10.)
    It would be nice to know what O.S Card thought of though. :)

  • Aviana Knochel

    Pretty sure Ender says that’s the language he got the words from in the book they’re introduced in. 

  • Anonymous

    I personally prefer frell to frak but each to their own :p

  • Johnathan Christian Stroud

    Ramen was also used as a race of people in the Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever chronicles by Stephen Donaldson. Just saying :-)

  • Cindy Parker Hoskey

    Other scifi shows that predate BSG have used substitute curse words, like “Frell!” used in Farscape.

  • Cindy Parker Hoskey

    “Stranger in a Strange Land”

  • Scott Curry

    I guess this entire article depends on what you consider “common usage,” as I am a geek and have only heard MAYBE 2 of these words before…

  • Anonymous

    I refer to them as “ram-in” noodles.

  • Christopher Forsyth

    They’re not used in the copy of Ender’s Game I own–maybe you have an omnibus version or something?

  • Christopher Forsyth

     I always think of it as a Transformers term, myself–still a swear word, refering to someone who’s equated to metal slag. :-)

  • Christopher Forsyth

    …Apparently I need to get around to watching Firefly, as I have *no* idea what ‘shiny’ is refering to in that context. It mentions it being a synonym for cool…though I am reminded of usage elsewhere describing technological items and/or weapons as being ‘shiny’, but’s more of a reference to them being brand new and the latest thing, not just being ‘cool’ as such.

  • Anonymous

     OH Jill, your high-horse must be ever so tall!

  • Lynn Dirden

    i did not find this article that Norenge

  • Timothy A. Kramar

    I used “frick” and “frack” in the ’80s.

  • Timothy A. Kramar

    Maybe it was in Speaker for the Dead instead. “Ansible” was in there though.

  • Christopher-J Carlson

    I don’t know if it was Wheeljack, one of the other Dinobots, or Slag himself, but someone had a pretty low opinion of the ‘Bot.

  • Hamza Saidi

    Bizzaro is also a ride at six flags lol

  • Ian Dowsett

    and btw Wrinkle in Time is a really awful read compared to LeGuin. a book i enjoyed as a child, was hugely disappointing when i reviewed it decades later

  • Matt

    hmm, this site needs to know the difference between a nerd and a geek…

  • Stuart Olsen

    The neat thing about the word “shiny” is that, as an English word, it kind of makes sense. Think about the way we (or at least those raised in the British Commonwealth) use the word brilliant: to mean “great,” “awesome,” “cool” — the same way “shiny” is used in Firefly. Well, the English word “brilliant” comes from French, and literally means “shining.”

  • Bill Hedrick

    very well known in Minneapolis Fandom, we serve it at our con parties

  • Bill Hedrick


  • Angi

    Big and Brother are not words made up by “nerds” and anyone with a big brother used it for YEARS before Orwell was probably even born lol

  • Angi

    That was quite boring

  • Anonymous

    Not to be obvious or sumthin’ but–aren’t ALL words made up?

  • B S

    i find the same, mostly from all the thinly veiled references to religion and christianity she shoehorned into her work that went right over my head as a child. both she and leguin share flat, fairly one-trick-pony characterizations and when they attempt to set an epic feeling setting they come off as dry. a few good ideas, but mostly just the vagueness, pointlessness and mish-mash of religiosity that she packed her work with is grating all these years later.

  • Bruce E. Screws Jr.

    “Under the previous president, many were upset about the reach of government surveillance, and the phrase created by Orwell for his fictional story, “Big Brother is watching,” was often cited.” –

    This is unfortunately true. Objectively, intrusions of government surveillance have continued to INCREASE under the Obama administration with few concerns from the populace. For some reason, Barack Obama’s policies, as similar as they are to the Bush administration’s policies, receive little scrutiny.

  • Steve Cooper

    Very few of these people, if any, would welcome being called nerds.

  • Steve Cooper

    Similar to C.S. Lewis – I loved the Narnia books as a kid but as an adult I can see how clumsy and awkward all the religious soapbox stuff is.

  • Steve Cooper

    No, not really, these are wholly artificial instead of evolving through use over centuries.

  • Steve Cooper

    Was Frak invented only for the BSG reboot? If it came from the original that predates Farscape by quite a bit.

  • Reed Hubbard

    I completely disagree that muggle has loosed the bonds of the Harry Potter Fandomiverse (new word alert!) Some have tried to shoehorn it into conversation, but it is still inexorably tied to Rowling’s world. It sounds out of place in polite discourse, unlike Big Brother or Robot.

    I would say the prefix Mega (or Giga) belongs. While not a product of geekdom per se, it’s use in technical disciplines (especially computers) has spread it to popular usage, hence “mega millions lottery”, etc.

  • K.c. Locke

    As I’m dealing with someone who can’t distinguish between a word/phrase and a concept (Big Brother), I’ll take “shiny”. It appeals to me.

  • K.c. Locke

    And furthermore, no mention of “waldos”, also from Heinlein?

  • Anhedonia Malfoy

    I like using ‘googolpede’ instead of millipede; it makes them order-of-magnitude creepier. I don’t know whom to credit though. I think it’s from a series in which interplanetary travel is so instantaneous that the über rich have doors and windows looking out on any planet they wish. Highly paid workers take a generation to travel to the planet to install the device then walk home.

  • Cara Rowen McGee

    No Smeg?