Wednesday, March 06, 2013


A listener left a message expressing his surprise that the word plastic shows up in the writings of James Fenimore Cooper. ”Just how old is the word?” he asked.

I did a quick search of Cooper’s works and found the word used in the following passages. Evidently, it was one of his favorite words.
·     “The eyes of the father followed the plastic and ingenious movements of the son with open delight, and he never failed to smile in reply to the other’s contagious but low laughter.” [The Last of the Mohicans]  
·     “. . . for his plastic character had readily taken the impression of those things that from their propinquity alone pressed hardest on it.” [Home As Found]
·     “Then came the efforts to give her some ideas of religion, and the deep and lamentable mistakes which, imperfectly explained, and worse understood subtleties, left on her plastic mind.” [Mercedes of Castile]
·     “At my age, all the feelings were fresh and plastic, and grief took strong hold of my heart.”[Afloat and Ashore]

The word comes from the ancient Greek πλαστικός (plastikos). Originally, it meant capable of shaping clay, wax, and other art materials. Applied to non-material realities, it came to mean creative, impressionable, pliable, fluid, or flexible.

In our day, it has taken on a negative meaning: artificial, unnatural, superficial, or insincere.

Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

Nook edition

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