Word Spy Blog

Wordsmith as a verb

While investigating the verb form of the noun wordsmith (don’t judge: it’s what I do), I discovered not only that it’s very old (the earliest citation I could find was from 1943; see the ad, below), but the derivative form wordsmithing is positively ancient, as witnessed by this delightful citation (the author, alas, is unknown) that I found in the February 9, 1899 edition of The Record-Argus (Greenville, Pennsylvania):

Words, like men, must have ancestors or be self-made. Of the old words many lose their primitive vigor and sink into the dead-alive suburbs of the dictionary. And the self-made words come in end take their places in the busy marts of life. And again, like men, these self-made words are of two kinds—the quiet, strong kind that endures, and the pompous, pushing kind, with ponderous polysyllabic paunch that oft passes for dignity with the public. The words that are the aristocrats of this generation sink to genteel boarding house conversation in the next, and are embalmed in the next. Man riots in wants, but man has not really talked very long; his tongue runs away with him. Small wonder that in slang every man tried his hand at word-smithing.

The OED has 1920 as its earliest example of wordsmithing, so this is a significant antedating.

The Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio), June 30, 1943 (click to enlarge)