Wednesday, January 29, 2014

epic adventures

As a freshman in college, I took a course way outside my comfort zone, an upper level course on Milton taught by a noted Milton scholar. My classmates were mostly English major and graduate students. But I wanted to read Paradise Lost and other poems because I was on an epic binge.

I had read the Iliad and Odyssey in high school English and Vergil's Aeneid in Latin class, and I wanted to continue with the greatest English epic poem. I also liked Milton's politics, especially his defense of freedom of speech and of the press. Not only did we read and discuss most of Milton's works, we also had to memorize long passages of his poetry -- a requirement that, sadly, teachers don't seem to impose any more.

So why do I mention this here? Well, words matter in public policy as well as poetry. And it turns out that Milton coined a great many [or at least was the first to include them in printed works]. While reading a clever British book on the evolution of English words, I see a list of many of the words first used by Milton:

impassive, obtrusive, jubilant, loquacious, unconvincing, Satanic, persona, fragrance, beleaguered, sensuous, undesirable, disregard, damp, criticize, irresponsible, exhilarating, lovelorn, sectarian, unaccountable, incidental, cooking, stunning, terrific, extravagance, enjoyable, unintended, depravity, and silver lining.
Wow! No wonder his 17th century language was clear and understandable. We've adopted his legacy.

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