James Fenimore Cooper, born on this day in 1789, is considered America’s first major novelist. While he’s perhaps best known for books such as the Leatherstocking Tales, The Last of the Mohicans, and The Deerslayer, the New York native was also a coiner of words, several of which we still use today. Here we take a look at six.
A No. 1
“I set all the Effinghams down as tip-tops, or, A No. 1, as Mr Leach calls his ship.”
Homeward Bound, 1838
A No. 1, meaning first-class or outstanding, is an alteration of A1, says the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). The term A1 originally referred a wooden ship being “first-class in respect of both hull and fittings,” especially “as classified in Lloyd’s Register,” a maritime classification society. The figurative meaning of A1 was first used by Charles Dickens in The Pickwick Papers: “‘He must be a first-rater,’ said Sam. ‘A, 1,’ replied Mr. Roker.”
“A sailor’s blessing on you—fair winds and a plenty.”
Water Witch, 1830
This word meaning in plentiful supply or abundant is still used aplenty since Cooper coined it. From a recent article in The Huffington Post: “Jeremy can find work aplenty in today’s job market and good wages, too.”
“If there are to be knights and nobles and academicians, they must be of the number; not that such distinctions are necessary to them, but that they are necessary to the distinctions; after which the oi polloi are enrolled as they can find interest.”
Recollections of Europe, 1837
Of course Cooper didn’t invent this ancient Greek phrase meaning “the herd,” but his was the earliest use in English transliteration. The earliest to use the Greek characters for hoi polloi in English was John Dryden in 1668: “If by the people you understand the multitude, the οἱ πολλοὶ.”
“Marry him I don’t think I will—unless he becomes steadier and more of a homebody.”
Stay-at-homers everywhere can thank Cooper for this cozy word.
“I suppose these muscle men will not have much use for any but the oyster-knives, as I am informed they eat with their fingers.”
Homeward Bound, 1838
While Cooper’s meaning of muscle man is, well, a muscular man (especially a wrestler or bodybuilder), around 1929 the term gained the meaning of someone “who uses violence or threats to intimidate people, [especially] on behalf of another,” says the OED.
“‘Come, old chap,’ said Billy, good-naturedly, ‘don’t be crabbed, but hear what a man has got to say.’”
While Cooper is American, this familiar term of address is chiefly British, says the OED. The word chap meaning lad or fellow once meant “customer” and comes from the now obsolete chapman, a peddler or merchant.