Unremarkable Poetic Neologisms

The word soulmate is by now at least verging on cliché, if not well in that category, which is why it was somewhat surprising and refreshing to learn that the OED lists Coleridge as the first user of the word. It was a reminder that common words can have uncommon origins–and that the coiner loses control of his word the moment it goes public. We tend to think of new words as remarkable things, but they don’t always stay remarkable.

So I decided to have a closer look at the great poet-neologists [neologizers, neologians?] in OED2, to see which of their coinages have most firmly taken root in English. I took a few of the most frequently-cited first-users after about 1500, and collected only coinages occurring in poetry or verse drama. I then checked these for their frequency in the British National Corpus, both for all lemmas (BNC is marked up for this), and for the particular part of speech, when that was appropriate. I discounted those usages that clearly didn’t correspond to the most likely modern usage [like Spenser’s leave, v.3 “trans. To raise (an army)”].

Here are the top 5 or 6 most common words invented [*as far as first evidence in OED can be mapped to coinage] by these poets in verse:

Sidney [ws_table id=”25″]

Spenser [ws_table id=”18″]

Donne [ws_table id=”23″]

Shakespeare [ws_table id=”15″]

Jonson [ws_table id=”21″]

Milton [ws_table id=”16″]

Dryden [ws_table id=”17″]

Pope [ws_table id=”22″]

Coleridge[ws_table id=”19″]

Tennyson [ws_table id=”20″]

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