The Word “Nerd” Was First Written by Dr. Seuss
By Kaye Nemec
Although many of us know Dr. Seuss as a children’s author, it was his 15 year career in advertising that really made him famous.
He started working as a freelance writer and illustrator when his talents caught the eye of the ad industry. His first big hit came when he coined the popular catchphrase, “Quick, Henry, the Flit!” Today, it would be comparable to, “There’s an app for that.”
Realizing he had a gift for both illustrating and writing, Seuss wrote his first children’s book, And to Think That I Saw it On Mulberry Street. After submitting it to 27 publishers and receiving 27 rejections, Mulberry Street was finally published with the help of a friend at Vanguard Publishing.
It was a huge hit among teachers and librarians so Houghton Mifflin and Random House asked Seuss to write a children’s book using new-reader vocabulary. They gave him 400 words but told him to cut the list in half. Nine months later, the result was the widely popular, The Cat in the Hat (1957). It uses 223 of the words on the original list and 13 words that are not. Of the 236 words used, 221 are monosyllabic. In three years, about 1 million copies of The Cat in the Hat were sold.
After the success of The Cat in the Hat, Seuss’ editor, Bennett Cerf, bet him that he could not write a children’s book using only 50 different words – 186 fewer words than he used for The Cat in the Hat. In 1960 Seuss won the bet when he published Green Eggs and Ham, a story of only 50 words, 49 of which have only one syllable. It has since become one of the best-selling children’s books of all time.
Dr. Seuss wrote and illustrated several children’s books, most of which have unique histories or quirky facts associated with them. The first time the word ‘nerd’ was used in print was in If I Ran to the Zoo. That wasn’t his first new word, ‘Grinch’ became mainstream after Seuss used it in How the Grinch Stole Christmas.