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  • Paul Anthony Jones


(n.) nineteenth-century-like style or characteristics

two edwardian or victorian style gentlemen in top hats

A decemnovenarian a nineteenth-century gentleman, or a man who adopts nineteenth-century characteristics, while to decemnovenarianize is to behave like a decemnovenarian. Nineteenth-century-like behaviour, meanwhile, is decemnovenarianism.

As some of you clever, clever people pointed out on Twitter, etymologically all those words are based on decemnovem, a Latin word for the number 19; it in turn is formed from the Latin for ten, decem, plus the Latin for nine, novem. (And yes, those are the same roots as those of November and December, which were once the ninth and tenth months of the year.)

Appropriately enough, the word decemnovenarian was coined in the nineteenth century, by an English mathematician and logician named Augustus De Morgan. As well as formulating and giving his name to De Morgan’s Laws (a pair of fundamental rules in the study of logic) De Morgan was a spiritualist investigator who alongside his wife, Sophia, dedicated many of his final years to the study of the supernatural.

In 1863, Sophia published a groundbreaking account of their decade-long investigations entitled From Matter To Spirit, for which De Morgan—writing under the pseudonym “A. B.”—wrote the preface:

We, respectable decemnovenarians as we are, have been so nourished on theories, hypotheses, and other things to be desired to make us wise, that most of us cannot live with an unexplained fact in our heads. If we knew that omniscience would reveal the secret in a quarter of an hour, we should in one minute have contrived something on which to last through the other fourteen. The commonest of all questions is, “How do you account for...?” and woe to him who, not having an answer of his own, shall refuse to accept that of the querist.

From there, the word decemnovenarianism appeared in print for the first time the following year in an 1864 article by the women’s suffrage campaigner Frances Power Cobbe; the verb decemnovenarianize followed that in 1890.

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