Swift Coinages
[ Issue 28 ]

Emily Bronto clearly approves of Swift Coinages

Bikwil celebrates Swift Coinages

Swift Coinages

Harlish Goop here reminds us of the common origin of two well known expressions.  They are Land of Nod and Yahoo.

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A Word in Your Pink Shell-like — Harlish Goop


Mention 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.

Firstly, there’s the expression the Land of Nod, meaning “sleep”. He used in No. 214 of his Polite Conversation of 1738.

The full 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.

Polite 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):

The sight of you is good for sore eyes

She's no chicken; she’s on the wrong side of thirty, if she be a day

She looks as if butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth.

Whatever 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. 16:

And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden.

The 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:

(a) The 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.

(b) I told him, we had great Numbers [of Houyhnhnms] . . . [that] Yahoo-Servants were employed to rub their Skins smooth . . .

(For the 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.)

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