“Juvescence” and other poetical “Errors”

This morning on the Twitter came this from @nemoloris:

OED says “juvescence” is “irregular”, not “erroneous”, but (notorious TSE fan) Robert Burchfield himself called it a malformation (in his Eliot memorial lectures, I believe). Eliot’s defensive letter, sourced by @rngould, is worth keeping in mind: irregular needn’t be erroneous, and sometimes poets are looking to produce effects that require some lexical fiddling.

True errors do occur, however, and sometimes they make it into the dictionary. I take this little blurb from my article on Eliot in the OED:

But let’s return to the original questions: what iffy words have poets managed to slip into the language (or at least the dictionary). I decided to have a look, using “juvescence” as a model. My program sought out words with “irreg” or “err” in the etymology or first definition, which had a poem as the first cited evidence.

I found about 300 words. Some were false positives (e.g. ‘err’ part of some other word), some dialectical (especially Scots). But the rest seem to be of the “juvescence” or “opherion” type, i.e. either irregular or erroneous spellings and formations. Here is a list, limited to the more recognizable post-1700 poets who first committed these words to paper, at least as far as OED knows:

Poets' "Errors" in OED

PoetWord they usedWord they meant to use (probably?)Lines they wrote
2nd Ep. to J. Priestley

nymphHe..could tell On one small louse how many licelings dwell!
RassenschandeI ought to be the prize, the living wonder, The really pure from any Rassenschander... The Nordic type, the too too truly Aryan.
Baileysoulical, a.soul-like? [This has been antedated in OED3 to a non-poem]Some of these bodies whom I speak of are Pure spirits, others bodies soulical.
Beddoespurplely, adv.you can't make that word: "fed with purple (things)"The young lord..Like a young dragon on Hesperian berries Purplely fed, who dashes through the air.
Beverlyatheticize, v.
athetize, v.Might he not even Atheticize, and Disannul Sin, and bring it even to nothing?
Browning (E.)volitientvoluntarilyI elected it Of my will, not of service. What I do, I do volitient, not obedient.
Browning (R.)ombrifugeumbrella? refuge?The belfry proves a fortress of a sort,..Turns sunscreen, paravent, and ombrifuge.
Careyinsectic, a.
insectanA laden ant was passing by, And with her small insectic eye, She look'd upon the abject man.
Coleridgepoppeanpoppy(juice)-likeIn drizzly rains poppean dews O'er the tired inmates of the Coach diffuse.
deluginous, a.
deluge-likeHe..enthralls Earth in deluginous ocean.
juvenescenceIn the juvescence of the year Came Christ the tiger.
orpharionSong. For the opherion.
FessendentwisticaltwistedCertain sages, learn'd and twistical... Have prov'd what's wonderful.
limnadThe Limniad takes Her pleasure in the lakes.
Huntcoenaculous, a.
cenaculous (this word never got invented)People grossly coenaculous.
universanimous, a.
universally unanimousThough the learned are not agreed as to the particular dialect employed by Theocritus, they are universanimous..as to its rusticity.
scintillescent, a.
scintillating (feebly?)One pale, Minute, scintillescent, and tremulous star.
Ogleinexhaustless, a.
exhaustlessHer Strength of Soul..a pure but in-exhaustless Store!
RamsayMexiconian, a.
MexicanIn Mexiconian forests fly Thousands [of creatures] that never wing'd our sky.
Ridleywistless, a.
unbotheredSo ore Avernus, or the Lucrine Lake, The wistless bird pursues his purpos'd Flight.
Wordsworthloco-descriptive, a.
locus-descriptive (loco is ablative, as in locomotion)The Epitaph, the Inscription, the Sonnet, and all loco-descriptive poetry, belong to this class [the Idyllium].


  • Giles Goodland wrote:

    Interesting. Perhapls also Browning’s ‘twat’ and Pope’s Phantomnation?

  • Giles Goodland wrote:

    I am sure twistical has some dialect provenance

  • I did think about Browning’s ‘twat’ – it didn’t show up in my scoop because there’s no separate sense for ‘a nun’s attire’ – B’s error is just mentioned in the definition.

    (have to sigh at OED1’s prudish habit of tucking definitions of naughty words within the quotations, instead of rephrasing them in their own editorial voice).

    Twistical I think is just a jocular rhyme (for sophistical). Hudibrastical.

  • Elianne wrote:

    Robert Hass uses the word ‘silm’ in the poem Etymology, claiming that it’s an Anglo Saxon word, when it seems in fact to be a term made-up by Tolkien for the Elvish language (Quenian?) in Lord of the Rings meaning both pussy juice and moonlight on the water. Is this relevant? I’m not sure. But this post brought it to mind.

  • Tim Dowling wrote:

    Lowell’s universanimous is highly expressive and wistless is utterly beautiful.

    Juvescence in Eliot might refer to a timeless renewal of the year, instead of the annual one; a moment when Christ the tiger emerges in historic experience.

  • kts wrote:

    Here’s another 20th-century poetic error that got its own entry: sordume, Auden’s misspelling of sordun(e) (early-music woodwind instrument). Your search didn’t find it because Burchfield (uncharacteristically nonjudgmentally!) labeled it as “alteration” rather than “error”. See discussion at Language Hat: starting here under Suctorialist, my comments here. A prime example of something that shouldn’t be a headword, it should be a citation under sordun.

  • Charlotte Brewer has a whole section on Auden’s citations in /Treasure-house/. It seems there was some sort of lexicographical collusion in the staircases of Christ Church in those days.

  • ktschwarz wrote:

    Anthony Burgess held a lifelong grudge against Eliot’s juvescence and banged on about it at every opportunity (and in his book-review gig he had plenty of opportunity, reviewing Burchfield’s Supplements and the OED Second Edition). He said he was pushing back against Eliotolatry.

    The OED’s entry for juvescence is now linked to a post on their blog that relays comments from John Simpson, who thinks that Eliot might have done it deliberately, ‘for reasons of rhythm, linguistic creativity, etc.’

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