C.S. Lewis, Sexology, and the OED

I came across the word “sexology” in my recent teaching of The Four Loves. I was curious about the history of the word as it seems like the kind of word that Lewis might make up, like Aristocratophobia, Lowerarchy, Disredemption, Grailologist, Uglification, Bulverism, and other neologisms that I went into in my series here. So I did what I normally do when I’m curious about a word: I turned to the Oxford English Dictionary, the OED.

There is, indeed, an entry for “sexology.” The word has been kicking around since the 1800s, but very rare. Beyond scientific literature, it doesn’t become a popular term until–wait for it–the late 1960s. So although Lewis was ahead of the curve on this one, and although he may have thought he was making up a word, this one was living already. There is even a 1915 book called Sexology of the Bible: The Fall and Redemption of Man, a Matter of Sex by Sidney Calhoun Tapp–a truly hilarious addition to WWI literature, I think.

What made me curious, though, was that the OED had quoted the passage in The Four Loves that led me there in the first place–a phrase about “the ‘sexology’ of the medieval church.” How often, I wondered, did the OED use Lewis as a popular writer and English professor to provide examples of English words?

As it turns out, the OED turned to Lewis a lot.

In searching, I found that there are actually more than 300 references to C.S. Lewis in the OED–300+ times that Lewis is evoked to demonstrate word usage in context. A number of these are mundane usages, like “abate” (from Prince Caspian), “accent” (from Surprised by Joy), “Arabia” (from That Hideous Strength), “book” (from a 1919 letter), “bourgeois” (from Studies in Words), and “but” (from Allegory of Love) … and those are just “A” and “B.” There’s a whole alphabet worth of these kinds of entries.

Some Lewis references are a little more technical, like “ad idem” (from a 1928 letter), “alba” (from The Allegory of Love), “alpha” (as in a letter grade, from a 1962 letter), “altitudo” (from The Discarded Image), “anti-feminist” (from a 1930 letter), “article” (from a diary entry), “faerie” (from a 1951 letter),”gambado” (from a 1924 diary entry), “historicism” (from The Discarded Image), “moly” (from Christian Reflections), and “Providentialism” (from OHEL).

Beyond these, there are some intriguing usages that are worth pointing out:

  • airish, a rare word meaning, “Of or belonging to the air; aerial, airlike,” C. S. Lewis, The Discarded Image (1964) iii. 33: “As if the aether grew more airish or the air more aetherial at their meeting-place.”
  • aeger, British slang referring to “a student or pupil: excused from attendance at lectures, classes, etc., on account of illness,” C. S. Lewis Diary entry, 26 Feb 1925: “Ziman, who should have followed him, was aeger.”
  • arborification, an infrequent word meaning, “a tree-like or branching formation,” C.S. Lewis Allegory of Love vii. 304: “The shield of Arthur is borrowed from the shield of Atlantis,..Fradubio’s arborification from Astulph’s.”
  • aureate, a figurative and somewhat idiosyncratic word referring to “brilliant or splendid as gold, especially in literary or rhetorical skill; especially designating or characteristic of a highly ornamental literary style or diction,” C. S. Lewis Allegory of Love vi. 252: “This peculiar brightness…is the final cause of the whole aureate style.”
  • boyism, referring to the “characteristic nature of a boy; boyishness, childishness,” C.S. Lewis, Allegory of Love i. vi. 98: “Bernardus..can be elevated when his subject raises him, though never for many lines together before some ruinous conceit of ‘boyism’ breaks in.”
  • conchie, war slang that Lewis picked up for a “conscientious objector,” from a 1923 letter.
  • escapist, which in a figurative sense means “one who seeks distraction from reality or from routine activities,” and Lewis is given the first attribution in Pilgrim’s Regress vi. iii. 125 “‘And you have never heard Mr. Halfways either.’ ‘Never. And I never will. Do you take me for an escapist?’”
  • heart-root, the “source of a person’s most profound emotions”: C. S. Lewis in Oxford Magazine, 10 May 665/2 So bottomless is your pain, your strength so weak, It plucks at my heart-roots.”
  • interplanetary, “existing between planets or pertaining to travel between planets,” C.S. Lewis, Perelandra vi. 91: “In obscure works of ‘scientification’, in little Interplanetary Societies and Rocketry Clubs.”
  • mazer, a “bowl, drinking cup, or goblet, usually without a foot, made from a burr or knot of a maple tree and frequently mounted with silver or silver-gilt bands at the lip and base. Also: a similar vessel made of metal or other material. Now archaic and historical,” C. S. Lewis, Prince Caspian xv. 185: “In great wooden cups and bowls and mazers, wreathed with ivy, came the wines.”
  • monopod, a “creature having only one foot,” including some mythical races, C.S. Lewis, Poems (1964) 43 “Ran till the sunrise shone upon the bouncing Monopods at their heels” (but see also The Voyage of the Dawn Treader).
  • Mother Kirk, an originally and chiefly Scottish word for “Mother Church,” attested first in Scottish Parliament, C. S. Lewis Pilgrim’s Regress viii. 194: “Even where Mother Kirk is nominally the ruler men can grow old without knowing how to read the Rules. Her empire is always crumbling.”
  • orenda, an Iroquoian word for “a spirit or power thought to exist in all things,” C. S. Lewis, Miracles xi. 100: pantheism “may even be the most primitive of all religions, and the orenda of a savage tribe has been interpreted by some to be an ‘all-pervasive spirit’.”
  • pash, “Soft, formless, wet matter; pulp; a pulpy mass, a mush,” C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength xvi. 434: “It..plunged..into the room, trumpeting.., heavily and soon wetly trampling in a pash of blood and bones.”
  • wardrobe, a “large cupboard or cabinet for storing clothes or other linen; (now esp.) a tall cupboard or closet, typically located in a bedroom, and often fitted with a rail from which clothing may be suspended on hangers,” C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe i. 11: “They looked into a room that was quite empty except for one big wardrobe; the sort that has a looking-glass in the door.”

Most of the coolest entries, like “churchwardenly,” “meta-history, “planetolatry,” and “world-renouncing” are from Allegory of Love or The Discarded Image–the academic books at the beginning and end of Lewis’ career. Not a few others, like “bourgeois,” “clubbableness,” “Modern English,” “morbidezza,” “poshness,” and “out of court,” are from Studies in Words–not a terribly surprising place for word source material.

While I would be intrigued to think about the “foreign” words Lewis used from aboriginal communities and other world religions, but I found myself drawn to the places where Lewis’ unique word-usage is connected to the Inklings. Characteristically, I was pleased to find out that Lewis is referenced in the OED for “Bandersnatch“–Lewis Carroll’s particular production of fancy. Lewis is famous for saying:

No one ever influenced Tolkien—you might as well try to influence a bandersnatch.

It is the kind of great quote by a friend that might lead to a book (hint, see here). But Lewis is also referenced in this entry, as Lewis included the word in his academic writing:

Always, at the critical moment, a strange knight, a swift ship, a bandersnatch or a boojum, breaks in” (C.S. Lewis, Allegory of Love, vii. 301).

Lewis’ approach to academic writing was always a bit adventurous–like a Bandersnatch?

Another Inklings term in the OED is “Beatrician,” invented by Charles Williams to speak of “a moment of revelation and communicated conversion by means of a girl” (Figure of Beatrice 123). Lewis goes further into “The Beatrician experience” in Arthurian Torso, his commentary on Williams’ incomplete poetic Arthuriad. “Hobbit” is a J.R.R. Tolkien invention, as we all know. The collective noun “hobbitry,” however, is attributed to Lewis, who first uses it in his essay and lecture, “On Stories“:

The Hobbit escapes the danger of degenerating into mere plot and excitement by a very curious shift of tone. As the humour and homeliness of the early chapters, the sheer ‘Hobbitry’, dies away we pass insensibly into the world of epic.

While it is quite likely that Lewis is anticipating a usage we see in The Lord of the Rings (“Hobbitry-in-arms“), and Tolkien is the originator, you could see how Lewis or one of the other Inklings may have brought this word to light in early public readings at The Eagle and Child. “Eucatastrophe” and “subcreation” (in a technical sense) are rightly attributed in the OED to Tolkien; they appear in public first in the volume Lewis edited, Essays Presented to Charles Williams. It’s sometimes difficult to parse out the lines between Tolkien’s ideas and Lewis’ words; after all, the OED credits Lewis with inventing the word “Tolkienian” in 1954–though spelling it “Tolkinian.”

Unfortunately, none of the Inklings have “mythopoeia” or “mythopoesis” attributed to them (though Lord of the Rings is used as a recent example of the genre). Lewis, however, did try to pen the word “mythonomy” in a 1939 letter:

We now need a new word for ‘the science of the nature of myths’… Would ‘mythonomy’ do?

While this very rare and pretty word for “the analysis of myths” had existed in a technical sense since Luke Burke’s 1876 book, Principles of Mythonomy, Lewis’ (re)invention of the term shows why he is a good candidate for so many OED entries. He is a lover of words himself, a student of them and an amateur philologist who worked as a professional wordsmith.

But he also had a playful streak in him–not only in recovering old words from the past–such as “pajock” in The Horse and His Boy or “roseal” in his poetry–but in coining new ones. In a letter by R.B. MacCallum, he shares that Lewis and his friends were shocked at the “dreadful hybrid” neologism, “Electionology,” so they invented “psephology” for him–which is now a technical term. We are told that Lewis is the originator of “subtopianize,” “rhetoricization,” “planetolatry,” “pornogram,” and “poetolatry,” but his use of “poethood” for Pound and Eliot in Preface to Paradise Lost might also have been an attempt at inventing just the right word.

Most of the words Lewis made up have occurred in the past, such as his technical use of recently invented words like “significacio” or “technocracy,” or even his poetic use of “transmortal“–a word that should become popular in our trans-philic age. But Lewis is sometimes attributed as having used words in a new way, such as a qualitative use of “Northernness” (from a 1930s essay on William Morris). Though I can’t believe he is the original voice on this one, Lewis is attributed with the first usage of “sacramentalism” to refer to the “theory that the natural world is a reflection or imitation of an ideal, supernatural, or immaterial world.” What Lewis had–and what he shared with Tolkien and the Inklings–was an inventiveness that makes him one of the word-masters of the modern age.

About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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26 Responses to C.S. Lewis, Sexology, and the OED

  1. robstroud says:

    An excellent essay that will require many re-readings to mentally digest.

    Coincidentally, I was just drawing pictures with my youngest grandchild yesterday. When I attempted to have him draw two legs for his stick people, he persisted in drawing monopods. My wife drew the Lewis connection, since I was so focused on “getting things right.”

    It turns out Asher was just manifesting his inherent boyism.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Rob! I had fun with it, picking away at it for a week or so.
      Monopods revolt! “Asher” is his name? I’m teaching “My Name is Asher Lev” in a couple of weeks. That book is to me the closest thing to a perfect novel.


  2. It’s intriguing the extent to which the Inklings (and especially Lewis) influenced the English language. I suppose, in a way, it’s a fact of the OED being a project on their own doorstep, as it were; but that’s not to deny the creativity involved in coining new words and usages. I suspect some of it was also fairly subtle; I see the plural of ‘dwarf’ these days is often spelt ‘dwarves’, which was wholly a Tolkien linguistic innovation. It’s all interesting stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. successbmine says:

    Really enjoyed reading this Brenton. It was a fun read as well as educational.


  4. hatrack4 says:

    Dr. Dickieson, this was fascinating. I had read of Lewis’ word usage, and invention, but this puts it together nicely. I enjoy learning new things. Thank you.


  5. A mazer is a bowl usually made of cherry wood and used for wassailing. I think it’s mentioned in one of the traditional wassailing songs.


  6. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Wow, this is interesting! I remember the – sometimes quite heated – discussions concerning the second edition of the OED, but, sadly, not the details. I love the details of the early history, in K.M. Elisabeth Murray’s Caught in the Web of Words: James Murray and the Oxford English Dictionary (1977).

    There’s a jolly film with Jeremy Marshall, sometime President of the Oxford Lewis Soc and co-author of The Ring of Words: Tolkien and the Oxford English Dictionary – and it looks like a lot of other interesting things on that channel:


  7. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    And – yes – I find Tapp’s Sexology (and six more of his books) scanned in the Internet Archive!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: An Obituary of C.S. Lewis’ Life as an Oxford Don, by John Wain (The 65th Anniversary of Lewis’ Death) | A Pilgrim in Narnia

  9. Pingback: An Obituary of C.S. Lewis’ Life as an Oxford Don, by John Wain (The 57th Anniversary of Lewis’ Death) | A Pilgrim in Narnia

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