Tristan Saldaña, a writer and scholar who made wonderful contributions to Vex, Hex, Smash, Smooch, just sent me notes about a UC Berkeley poetry seminar he’s auditing, taught by Robert Hass, former poet laureate. The subject is John Clare (1793-1864), whom Hass describes as ”a poet-peasant naturalist among the Romantic poets.”
(The 19th-century poet was an uneducated farm laborer who went mad and was confined to an asylum; he continued to write poetry for the last twenty-five years of his life. Clare had delusions he was Lord Byron, among other personages.)
Clare detested grammar and did not know the formal conventions of punctuation in the early 19th century (to the extent that any existed) and, therefore, did not punctuate his poetry. Later editors have, of course, felt free to reverse-engineer the punctuation, and Hass in the class is inviting students to “time the emotions.”
Saldaña, rightly, thought I would enjoy some of the verbs Clare coined:
- chelp (to chirp or squeak);
- chicker (to chirp as a cricket);
- chuff (to swell or plump out [the cheeks]);
- nauntle (trans.: to lift, rear up; intrans.: to rise up, hold oneself erect)
- poddle (to walk with slow, short, or unsteady steps)
- soodle (to walk in a slow or leisurely manner; to stroll, saunter)
Clare is as inventive as Chaucer (who borrowed amble from Anglo-French) and Shakespeare (who coined verbs like arouse, drug, hoodwink, hurry, rant, and swagger) when it comes to coinages. Many people don’t realize this about English, but we have a robust history of creative folks inventing new words.
Think of these relatively recent additions to the lexicon: gadget probably came from late nineteenth-century sailors’ slang, scrounge was popularized by soldiers in World War I, square (as an adjective) came from jazzmen’s slang, and wangle wangled its way into the world of Standard English from the world of printers.
Today we an accelerated pace of neologisms in technology, not just in verbs like google and tweet and friend, but also in brand names like iPhone, LinkedIn and StumbleUpon.
In citing these examples, I’ve soodled far from Clare’s imaginative verbs, so I’ll stop.
But I wonder: do you have some favorite coinages, from any era?