Nathaniel Ward was born in England in 1578. He became a minister but as a result of his unpopular Puritan beliefs left the country for the Massachusetts Bay colony in 1634. During his 18 years in America he wrote two books, of which the second, usually known as The Simple Cobbler, was published in 1647.
Ward liked to coin words, of which many have achieved a sort of immortality within the pages of the Oxford English Dictionary, though most of them have him noted as the sole user. Among them are exadverse, directly opposed; fool-fangle, a silly trifle; nudiustertian, the day before yesterday, perquisquilian, thoroughly worthless, and transclout, to disfigure with clouts or misshapen clothing.
He was particularly offended by women’s fashions, which led him to make this splendid outburst:
Whatever Christianity or civility will allow, I can afford ... but when I hear a nugiperous gentledame inquire what dress the Queen is in this week ... I look at her as the very gizzard of a trifle, the product of a quarter of a cipher, the epitome of nothing, fitter to be kickt, if she were of a kickable substance than either honoured or humoured.
As the word has never been used since except in reference to this passage, we’re not even sure what Ward meant by it, let alone how he pronounced it, though it has been defined as “given to inventing trifles”. But it is certain that he took it from Latin nugae, nonsense or trifles.
Page created 7 Oct. 2006
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