copasetic and coralapus: a suggestion

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Tue Aug 28 04:17:09 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.'"

I see HDAS quotes this book (apparently following OED) using the
spelling "copesetic". Error? Or was there another edition with the
different spelling?

Is it clear what "copasetic" means in the Bacheller book? Granted it
is something positive, but what?

>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,

Seems a reasonable conjecture. Hard to prove if true, but easy to
disprove if false.

One may still ask whether the made-up words were meant to have any
particular sense or origin. One might casually speculate, say,
"coral" + "lapis" [from a jewelry ad or something] = "corallapis",
etc. Did the character who had these favorite words have other odd
words or malapropisms? (I have only the despicable snippets.)

-- Doug Wilson

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