Jefferson the Neologist

Painting of Jefferson by Rembrandt Peale (1805)
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In answer to some people who stodgily protested certain Americanisms that had crept into the writing of Jefferson’s founding requirements regarding the University of Virginia, he defended himself by asserting that as new discoveries are made, new words must be invented to name them. Continuing along that line, he said:

And give the word neologism to our language, as a root, and it should give us its fellow substantives, neology, neologist, neologisation; its adjectives neologous, neological, neologistical, its verb neologise, and adverb neologically. Dictionaries are but the depositories of words already legitimated by usage. Society is the work-shop in which new ones are elaborated. When an individual uses a new word, if illformed it is rejected in society, if wellformed, adopted, and after due time, laid up in the depository of dictionaries. And if, in this process of sound neologisation, our transatlantic brethren shall not choose to accompany us, we may furnish, after the Ionians, a second example of a colonial dialect improving on its primitive. — Thomas Jefferson

  • Spellings, including of unhyphenated words, are Jefferson’s.
  • I’ve added italics.
  • To Jefferson’s list I would zealously add my own neologism: neologistics!
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