copasetic and coralapus: a suggestion

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Mon Aug 27 19:40:24 UTC 2007

As is well known, the origin of "copasetic" is unknown; or, at least, there is
no consensus. Many agree that the earliest so-far found published use is from
1919. This note is a suggestion that, as far as I know, has not been made
before; please correct me if I'm mistaken about that. Also, this suggestion
could probably be falsified if anyone presents a securely-dated use, rather
than unconfirmed claimed memories (as e.g. in American Speech 1953 230-1 and The
Believer Oct. 2005 by D. Mamet)--of "copasetic" before 1919. Put simply, I
suggest that Irving Bacheller made it up.

In his book A Man for the Ages: A Story of the Builders of Democracy, about
Abraham Lincoln, Bacheller gives this word to Mrs. Lukins, a person who does
not seem to fit many ethnic proposed associations with the word. Some thought
Lincoln unattractive. But Mrs. Lukins admires Lincoln: "'Stout as a buffalo an'
as to looks, as ye might say, real copasetic.' Mrs. Lukins expressed this
opinion solemly and with a slight cough. Its last word stood for nothing more
than an infinite depth of meaning." (p. 69) Bacheller explains the new word.

Page 287: "There was one other word in her lexicon [not ours yet] which was in
the nature of a jewel to be used only on special occasions. It was the word
'copasetic.' The best society of Salem Hill understood perfectly that it
signified an unusual depth of meaning."

Page 401: "In the words of Mrs. Lukins 'it is very copasetic.'"

The word we are introduced to reportedly has "depth." Mrs. Lukins has another
another special, prized word with depth: "coralapus" (pages 212 and 286). The
latter is quite probably a newly-made word. Perhaps "copasetic" was too, the
difference being that only one of them--used favorably of Abraham
Lincoln--caught on,

Stephen Goranson

The American Dialect Society -

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