Saturday, July 25, 2015

Taking the retromingent

Sir Thomas Browne.
This 17th-century English physician and philosopher, living in provincial isolation from literary London, managed to cultivate the most sonorous organ-voice in the history of English prose. At a time when the prevailing plain style was growing dull and insipid (John Locke is an example), it was Browne who showed the way to new possibilities of Ciceronian splendor. In doing so, he became a prolific contributor of novel words to the English language. Among his 784 credited neologisms are “electricity,”  “hallucination,”  “medical,”  “ferocious,”  “deductive” and “swaggy.” (Other coinages failed to take: like “retromingent,” for urinating backward.)
Good Old Uncle Tom.

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