Friday, March 6, 2009

Word Trivia

“Words are all we have.” – Samuel Beckett

Often when I run a across a new word, I am more interested in its origin than its meaning. Such was the case this week. The word I looked up was ‘eonism.’ It is a term used in psychiatry and means the adoption of feminine mannerisms, clothing, etc. by a male (according to my Random House Unabridged Dictionary).

Because of Chevalier Charles-Geneviève-Louis-Auguste-André-Thimothée d'Eon (1728-1810), this word was coined. According to The Encyclopedia of Useless Information by William Hartston, d’Eon was a diplomat, spy, dragoon officer, swordsman, lady-in-waiting, chess player and part-time nun. No one was sure of his/her sex. In the 1760’s a whopping $230,000 was wagered on the matter. A judge declared d’Eon a woman and she was ordered to always dress as one. However, the doctor who certified his/her death announced d’Eon was definitely a male, causing the woman he’d been living with for twenty years to faint. The news is said to have also caused King George III’s madness. You can read more about Chevalier d’Eon at Wikipedia.

D’Eon may be responsible for this one word. Shakespeare, however, according to wikianswers, is responsible for creating 1,500 new words, including the upstairs, bedroom, belongings and bandit.

According to the an article in the Guardian, “The oldest words in the language, such as "I", "we" and the numbers one, two and three, have barely changed over the past 9,000 years, probably because they are so fundamental to everyday communication. The most resilient words were found to be those that are used most frequently, but are also likely to be nouns or numerals.

“Other types of words, such as adjectives and adverbs, evolve more quickly, making them susceptible to dying out and being replaced. Half of the words we use today would be unrecognizable to our ancestors 2,500 years ago.”

If you are interested as to how new words make their way into the dictionary, stop by Worldwide Words.

Do you have any word trivia to share?

Thanks for stopping by.

Tags: Beckett, Chevalier D’Eon, Shakespeare, King George, word origins,


L. Diane Wolfe said...

None to share, but fascinating stuff. I'd always heard if we went back or forward in time more than a couple hundred years, we would find communication very difficult due to the change in word usage.

L. Diane Wolfe

Anonymous said...

I didn't know Shakespeare coined 1500 words - wow. Interesting post and article. True that trendy words (lasting mebbe only a cupla hundred years) come and go, but basic words remain. I subscribe to the "Urban Dictionary" and get daily emails with new words that are newly "hip-coined."

Morgan Mandel said...

I agree that is fascinating. I don't know where you find such great information. Thanks for sharing.

Morgan Mandel

Angela Wilson, author said...

What a GREAT post! I had no idea the background to eonism. I'm fascinated with this kind of stuff - especially the sex habits of past cultures and how that impacted them.

I purchase old dictionaries and encyclopedias all the time and it is amazing how different they are. I learn words in them you cannot find in dictionaries today. I cannot remember a tenth of the words I read, but still find it fascinating!

Thanks for sharing!

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