J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, June 02, 2012

Joel Barlow Utilizes New Words

Michael Quinion of World Wide Words recently wrote:
In 1807, the American diplomat, politician and poet Joel Barlow [1754-1812] published his epic, Columbiad, which was widely regarded as a pompous and grandiose vision of the New World (even he admitted that he was no genius as a versifier). A lesser criticism concerned the many words he coined.

The Edinburgh Review wrote that some “were as utterly foreign, as if they had been adopted from the Hebrew or Chinese” and that others had been contorted from existing English words. The review recorded multifluvian, vagrate, inhumanise, conglaciate, micidious, luxed, fulminent, utilise (which has since had some success) and many others.

“His new words are not necessary,” commented Washington Irving, “and very uncouth, such as cosmogyre, cosmogyral, fiuvial, ludibrious, croupe, brume, gerb, colon [not in the anatomical or punctuation senses but meaning a colonist], coloniarch, numen, emban, contristed, asouth ...”
However, Quinion reports that one of the words Irving had complained about as uncouth and new, ludibrous, was actually uncouth and old. At least two centuries old, not that many writers had used it in that time. Originally a synonym for ludicrous, by Barlow’s it had come to mean mocking or scornful.

Here’s the passage in question, which extolled the power of the printing press to spread knowledge:
Genius, enamor’d of his fruitful bride,
Assumes new force and elevates his pride.
No more, recumbent o’er his finger’d style,
He plods whole years each copy to compile,
Leaves to ludibrious winds the priceless page,
Or to chance fires the treasure of an age;
But bold and buoyant, with his sister Fame,
He strides o’er earth, holds high his ardent flame,
Calls up Discovery with her tube and scroll,
And points the trembling magnet to the pole.
Hence the brave Lusitanians stretch the sail,
Scorn guiding stars, and tame the midsea gale;
And hence thy prow deprest the boreal wain,
Rear’d adverse heavens, a second earth to gain,
Ran down old Night, her western curtain thirl’d,
And snatch’d from swaddling shades an infant world.
Just imagine what Barlow would have written about the internet.


Rob Velella said...

Addendum: Just imagine what Barlow what have Tweeted about the internet. There's a challenge.

Eric Indiana said...

Barlow is a kindred soul. He must have been great at late night conversations. Just in case the internet works through time as well as space, I am sending him this link to some words I made up: http://daisybrain.wordpress.com/2010/11/30/new-words-from-daisybrain/