by Fizzgig in the
last issue of Jonathan Swift has reminded me of a particular couple of
coinages the great Anglo-Irish satirist is responsible for, but whose
origins tend to be forgotten today.
there’s the expression the Land of Nod, meaning
“sleep”. He used in No. 214 of his Polite Conversation
title of this droll work was, in characteristic 18th century style, A
Compleat Collection of Genteel and Ingenious Conversation, according to
the most polite Mode and Method, now used at Court, and in the best
Companies of England, in several Dialogues.
Conversation is often credited as the source of many a fine quote like
the following three, (though some, I strongly suspect, are old sayings
from long before Swift’s time):
of you is good for sore eyes
chicken; she’s on the wrong side of thirty, if she be a day
as if butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth.
the case with them, however, the Land of Nod is Swift’s own. Mind
you, it is actually a pun on the Biblical passage in Genesis. iv.
went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on
the east of Eden.
second coinage by Swift will be very familiar to (and valued by) those of
you using the Internet — the word Yahoo. Yes, this very common word
for “lout” or “philistine” was an invention of Jonathan Swift’s. He coined
it for a race of degraded “brutes in the form of men” in the nowadays
virtually ignored Book IV of Gulliver’s Travels (1726). The two
quotes the Oxford English Dictionary gives run as follows:
Fore-feet of the Yahoo differed from my Hands in nothing else, but the
length of the Nails, the Coarseness and Brownness of the Palms, and the
Hairiness on the Backs.
told him, we had great Numbers [of Houyhnhnms] . . . [that] Yahoo-Servants
were employed to rub their Skins smooth . . .
record, the word Houyhnhnms is onomatopoetic for the sound of
neighing, being another invention of Swift’s to name the race of
reason-endowed horse-beings who ruled over the Yahoos.)