Text: Burton R. Pollin, “Poe’s Word Coinages: A Supplement,” Poe Studies, December 1983, Vol. XVI, No. 2, 16:39-40


[page 39:]

Poe’s Word Coinages: A Supplement

Bronx Community College of CUNY, Emeritus

In the first edition of Poe, Creator of Words (Baltimore: Enoch Pratt Free Library and Poe Society of Baltimore, 1974; 2nd ea., Bronxville, N.Y.: Nicholas T. Smith, 1980), 959 of Poe’s coinages, with their contexts, were recorded to sene as a clear demonstration of his lively sense of humor, his “graphicality” as he termed it, his innovative tendencies in language, and his unusual capacity to combine varied elements and to “abstractify” proper names. The need for a second edition of the book offered an opportunity to modify some items and augment the total with a net addition of 66 more entries. The present supplement of 24 entries has resulted from the close scrutiny of texts required by the process of editing the full canon of Poe’s works, including uncollected writings from the Aristidean, Broadway Journal, Evening Mirror, Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, Pioneer, and Southern Literary Messenger, as well as a Poe manuscript. The citation from the last source (“cliquerie”) is the sole exception of the “first published” claim from all of these Poe coinages, which now total 1,057 (in 1980, 1,035 was the revised total). The 24 given below include splendid examples of Poe’s ingenNity, liveliness, and whimsicality, such as his hoax coinage (“arrondees”), his probable adaption of a Hamlet passage (“batterer”) and of a George Washington expression (“patriot-farmer”), and his own Granville quotation-word (“unsearchableness”). It is curious to note that for tuuo entries (“didacticism” and “Marginalia”) both Carlyle and Coleridge share with Poe credit for penning the “first coinage” although Poe published his first. In “didacticism” Poe summed up his aversion to the prevailing moralism of contemporary literature; in “Marginalia,” he provided us with an indispensable term of wide application. The research underlying this supplement was greatly aided by grants from the CUNY Research Foundation and NEH.

ALCOTTISM, The Aristidean, Oaober 1845, uncollected Article XII, “American Poetry,” p. 376: “Is there any objection to Orphicism, or Dialism, or Alcottism — or any other frequent compound indicative of confusion.” Not in OED.

ANCESTRICAL, Broadway Journal, 15 November 184S, II, 293; uncollected article introducing newspaper clippings (humorous coinage): “Biographical Ancestrical and Romantic Items from Late European Journals.” Nor in OED.

ARRONDEES, “William Wilson, first in The Gift of 1840 (“Prefatory Advertisement” dated May 1839) with misspelling of “aronde” which is changed to present form in Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine of October 1839 [see Works, II, 425, 443. The full capitals for italics in the guide words designate [column 2:] Poe’s use]. Both given forms of the word are obscure and in a sense incorrect — added reason to deem them coinages of Poe, whose seemingly dear explanation in the text has precluded questioning by American scholars. Mabbott merely annotates thus: “His source of information has not been discovered” (1, 450, n. 17). Poe’s text concerns the cheating-cards that William Wilson uses at the game of ecarte [Works, II, 443]. He has secreted on his person packs “of a species called, technically, arrondees, the honors being slightly convex at the ends, the lower cards slightly convex at the sides.” Poe then explains that “the dupe, who cuts, as customary, at the lengrh of the pack” cuts honors for his opponent, while the gambler, “cubing at the breadth,” turns up low cards for his adversary. Perhaps the “customary” practice resembles the so-called principle of Archimedes concerning “a cylinder swimming in a vortex” in the “Maelstrom [Works, II, 593, 597, n. 21], which Poe later admitted to be his own invention in the “Reviewer Reviewed” [Works, III, 1383]. We definitely disbelieve the origin as given of his “technical” word “arrondees’ to describe rounded or nicked playing cards, since a French word based on a verb “to round” would have to be spelled “arrondies” for the feminine plural, modifying the cards (cartes) in the game ecarte. In reality, “arrondi” is used in English as an adjective for heraldic descriptions and also in the terminology of the ballet for curved or rounded arm postures or leg movements (q.v. in OED, Odham’s Dictionary, and the Century Dictionary and Encyclopaedia, which alone gives the spelling used by Poe for heraldry with no dates or instances). Poe’s word occurs in none of the other dictionaries seen, either of formal English or of cant, argot, or slang, nor is ir in historical and descriptive accounts of playing cards, such as T. Willshire’s large catalogue of playing cards in the British Museum or the four-volume Yale University Library Catalogue of the Cary Collection (1981). It must have piqued Poe’s sense of humor to invent a technical term of this sort for special cards, but it may not be a coincidence that the standard word for a card shark in French is “biseauteur,” derived from the verb which has something in common with Poe’s “rounded cards,” namely “biseau,” a bevellinu o” ruunded edge. Charles Baudelaire, in translating “William Wilson” for its publication in the journal Le Pays (14-15, 18-19) February 1855), first changed Poe’s word to “arrondies.” But in his later version for the book Nouvelles Histoires Extraordinaires of 1869, he altered the whole phrase proprement arrondies” to “en argot biseautees” (see J. Crepet, editor of this volume of Baudelaire’s Oeuvres completes of 1933, p. 360, n. to p. 47). And this explains Poe’s special term for such “nicked, cut, or marked” cards. According to the dictionaries of Robert, Larousse, and Harrap, the word “biseau” refers to furniture, mirrors, and cards. Perhaps Poe heard such a term used in his gambling episodes at the University of Virginia and in writing “William Wilson” resorted to his own version of the French for “rounded,” forgetting thar it would have come from “arrondir” and not a putative “arronder.” This coinage does small credit to the quality of Poe’s French, but much to his ingenuity.

ART-NOVEL, The Aristidean, October 1845, uncollected Article XII, “American Poetry,” p. 376: “Criticism is not . . . an essay . . . nor a prose-poem, nor an art-novel.” Not in OED.

BATTENER, “Marginalia” No. 58, December 1844 [Complete Works, XVI, 36]: “A fetid batrener upon the garbage of thought. No man. A beast. A pig.” In OED the only instance. The succession of thoughts, phrasing, and rhetoric clearly emanate from Hamlet’s scolding of Gertrude: “Could you . . . batten on this moor?” [III, iv, 66-67].

CLIQUERIE, in the 1846 manuscript essay, ‘The Living Writers of America,” to be included in Collected Writings: “The spirit of cliquerie perhaps the worst feature we have next to the want of International Law.” The word is given in OED with a first instance of 1859.

COTTONDOM, Broadway Journal of 31 May 1845, I, 337, uncollected [page 40:] article probably by Poe: “Success is flowing . . . toward Cottondom” (that is, the South) . The OED cites only an 1889 instance, and Mitford Mathews’ Dictionary of Americanisms on Historical Principles [Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1951] one for 1856 as earliest.

DEATH-STRUGGLES, The Maelstrom of 1841 (Works, II, 590): “My death-struggles with the water.” Not in OED (unlike “death-throe”). William A. Craigie and James R. Hurlbert’s Dictionary of American English on Historical Principles [Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1960] gives an unpublished 1837 item from Diplomatic Correspondence, issued in 1908.

DIDACTICISM, review of Ballads and Other Poems by Longfellow in Graham’s Magazine, April 1842 [Complete Works, XI, 68-69]: “the too obtrusive nature of their didacticism” and “But didacticism is the present tone of his song.” Also, in review of Poems by Lowell in Graham’s of March 1844 [Complete Works, XI, 247]: “The defects observable in the ‘Legend of Brittany’ are, chiefly, consequent upon the error of didacticism.” (This article is sometimes disputed but is clearly in the canon and accepted by Mabbott; this word helps the attribution.) Also, in The Aristidean, March 1845, “Longfellow’s Poems,” p. 140: ” ‘Maidenhood’ is a graceful little poem, spoilt by its didacticism.” The OED gives a Carlyle instance as earliest with the date of 1843 although this was from Carlyle’s unpublished journal, from which this and other excerpts were first printed by James A. Froude in his 1884 Thomas Carlyle, I, 222: “Harriet Martineau . . . full of spirits, vivacity, didacticism.” It cites Poe’s 1842 use with the wrong date of 1864 — the date of a Griswold edition used for citations. Poe’s two instance are clearly earliest, in conception and publication.

FARCICALNESS, review of the play Fashion, 1845 [Complete Works, XII, 118]: “without any compensating incongruousness — that is to say, farcicalness, or humor.” First date in OED is 1864.

FICKLE-MINDEDNESS, A Tale of Jerusalem, used in the first version of June 1832 [Works, II, 43]: “Fickle-mindedness has ever been an attribute of the worshippers of Baal.” Not in OED.

HOOD-ISM, The Aristidean, April 1845, uncollected Article XI “Longfellow’s Poems,” p. 139: “‘The Village Blacksmith’ is a mere Hood-ism — nothing more.” Not in OED.

MARGINALIA, a title given by Poe to the various installments of the 291 comments and short essays published in magazines from November 1844 through September 1849 [Complete Works, XVI, 1-178] and often cited elsewhere in his works under that term by Poe himself. He could not have known of Coleridge’s use of the term in a letter of 22 April 1832, first published in 1895 and cited in OED, which cites Poe’s as well, with the wrong date of 1849. Poe’s first publication and parallel creation of the term have been noted only by J. A. Greenwood, Edgar A. Poe [(Princeton: Wolfhart Book Co., 1968), p. 85, n. 1], who correctly ascribes it to the medieval Latin “marginalis” (first cited for 1265), although probably assumed by Poe to be classical Latin. Greenwood wishes to coin the word “marginale” for a single item of the “Marginalia“ — a desirable term that no one in Poe studies has as yet adopted, to my knowledge. See Poe, Creator of Words, p. 31, for Poe’s coinage of the referential adjective “marginalic” at the start of the “Marginalia” [Complete Works, XVI, 2] and given in OED as a nonce word.

NEGROPHILIC, The Aristidean, March 1845, uncollected Article XI, “Longfellow’s Poems,” p. 131: “The first volume is [column 2:] entitled ‘Poems on Slavery,’ and is . . for . . . those negrophilic old ladies of the north, who form so large a part of Mr. Longfellow’s friends.” Not in OED, but see “negrophil” or “negrophile: a friend of the negroes” of 1803 (Edinburgh Review). Longfellow himself is credited with “negrophilist” of 1842 (see OED) and there is a “negrophobia” of 1819.

NINE-TITLED, Letter to B ——— , 1831 [Complete Works, VII xiii]: “Poetry . . . with as many appellations as the nine-titled Corcyra” (for modern Corfu). Not in OED.

OMNIPREVALENT and OMNI-PREVALENT, review of Longfellow s Waif” in the Evening Mirror, 13 January 1845: “The single feather is imperfectly illustrative of the omniprevalent darkness”; reprinted in Godey’s Lady’s Book, August 1845, us No. 134 of “Marginalia” [Complete Works, XVI, 73] with “here” inserted after “feather” and the hyphen in “omniprevalent.” Credited to Poe as first by OED, when it means “universally prevalent,” although Fuller in 1661 used it for “having all power or influence.”

PATRIOT-FARMER, review of Pauldings Life of Washington, Southern Literary Messenger, May 1836 [Complete Works IX, 14], reprinted in the “Griswold Marginalia” of 1850 as No. CXCIII: “He has taken us abroad with the patriot-farmer in his rambles about his homestead.” Not in OED but compare “patriot army,” cited in Mathews’ Dictionary from the 1783 Washington Writings: “The illustrous appellation of the patriot army.”

PSEUDO-VERSES, “Notes upon English Verse,” in the Pioneer March 1843, paragraph 36: “These pseudo-verses, and those which are met in mock Pindaric Odes” (reprinted by Greenwood, p. 67, lines 1-2; see “Marginalia” above). Not in OED. See Poe, Creator of Words, pp. 34-35 for other “pseudo” compounds.

READING-FLOW, “Notes upon English Verse,” as above, paragraph 56: “It yet preserves . . . a concordance between its scansion and reading-flow” (essay reprinted by Greenwood; for this, see p. 80, lines 6-7). Not in OED.

SUBENTITLED, review, “American Drama” in American Whig Review, August 1845 [Complete Works, XIII, 60]: “subentitled ‘A Dramatic Poem,’ rather than ‘A Play.‘” Not in OED, but in the Century Dictionary with date of 1890 as first.

TASK-WRITING, Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine, August 1839, V, 116, uncollected review: “this despicable speciff of taskwriting.” Not in OED.

THREE-BOTTLE, Marginalia No. 109, in the December 1844 Democratic Review [Complete Works, XVI, 61]: To Coleridge’s Table-Talk Poe assigns the title “Three-Bottle Sermonoids,” the last word also being a coinage. Not in OED.

UNDER-TONED, review of Big Abel in Godey’s Lady’s Book, November 1845 [Complete Works, XII, 74]: “to give voice to under-toned comments about the condition of the Island of Manhattan.” In OED, with a different meaning, given as first in 1849; then, as here in meaning ascribed to 1861, 1876, 1888.

UNSEARCHABLENESS, motto of Descent into the Maelstrom, May 1841, Graham’s Magazine [Works, II, 577]: “the vastness: profundity, and unsearchableness of His works.” The third word of the set is added by Poe to the other two in the “Motto,” ascribed to one of Joseph Glanvill’s Essays (see Works, II, 594-595, note to the “Motto”). Not in OED.


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