Copasetic writer Irving Bacheller

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Sun Mar 16 13:59:22 UTC 2014

"Copasetic" appears with "coralapus" as two words presented as uniquely part of the lexicon of Mrs. Lukas in a fictionalized tale about Abe Lincoln published in 1919, A Man for the Ages, by Irving Bacheller. I previously quoted the texts containing these two words and provided observations suggesting that Batcheller invented both for this best-selling book[1, 2]. Does anyone doubt that "coralapus" is new here? Or that the words are presented as similarly attested? And that the words are similar and vaguely Latinate? (Bacheller studied Latin in college.[3]) Mrs. Lukas is a character of European origin, then Vermont, Upstate New York, then to the midwest, not a likely speaker of Hebrew or Yiddish, Creole French, Black English, Italian or Chinese. Of course, as has been said (since at least Dec., 1895) "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence," though many have searched for any pre-1919 evidence and not presented anything reliable.

Rather than wait perpetually, I read a bit more of Bacheller, prolific journalist and fiction writer; even if his vast output (I surely haven't read it all) may not prove "copasetic," it may show a plausible inventor, even if a character (not he) once said "I tell you sir, words are an invention of the devil." His early book, The Master of Silence (1892) mentions use of a few Sanscrit words and "a word from some language wholly unfamiliar"; Sanscrit words are held by many to have ritual effect. Elsewhere, one could "...resort to the economy of slang." "I can sling some some rather big words." Tea is called "murky";  ham could be "reesty." In answer to "Fisht?" a very large fish is claimed, eliciting the reply: "'M-mountaneyous!' He used this word when contemplating in imagination news of a large and important character." (Another word meaning, more or less, mighty fine.)

"One does not feel like asking her to dispel his ignorance when she speaks the word 'Shrimpstone' as if it opened vistas of incomparable splendor and inspiration." (Another word distinguishing a great individual.) "...whose first name was a kitchen word.""I think that the dictionary spells it wrong. It should be icesolation."

In Coming up the Road: Memoirs of a North Country Boyhood (1928) Bacheller recalls his childhood. In "'Select school' ...I had a curious notion of the meaning of the words, for an older brother had told me that students were selected by tapping them on the forehead with an iron rod to see which could stand it the best." (p. 41). "...My vocabulary was unusual. Large words caught my fancy. I loved to play with them. My mother was my dictionary." (pp. 73-74) Bacheller attempts to recall a long speech from his Mother about words, including (p. 184): "When one man asks another: 'What is the meaning of the words Addison Irving?' would you have him say: "I have looked them up in the dictionary and I find this definition--a liar, a dishonest, ungrateful person, one who cannot be trusted'? Or would you have him say; "An honest boy, one who speaks the truth, a trustworthy person'" What could I say?..."

What can be said? Perhaps that Irving Bacheller is the earliest known writer of "copasetic," and plausibly, the first.

[1] Comment at

[2] Ads-l string starting at

[3] An onion skin carbon copy from his school, St. Lawrence U. of a 603 page Syracuse U. Ph.D. dissertation by Charles E. Samuels, Irving Bacheller: a critical biography,  (here p. 98).

Stephen Goranson

The American Dialect Society -

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