Yorkshire Times
A Voice of the Free Press
Paul Spalding-Mulcock
Features Writer
1:04 AM 1st July 2023

Word Of The Week : Esemplastic

Esemplastic (adj.)

Neologisms can be handy, even if one’s vocabulary is extensive. If you happen to be an English Romantic poet struggling to convey what W.H. Gardner would subsequently describe as, ‘the esemplastic power of the poetic imagination’, coining a new word might be just the ticket!

In 1817, Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote in his Biographia Literaria - ‘Unusual and new-coined words are, doubtless, an evil; but vagueness, confusion, and imperfect conveyance of our thoughts, are a far greater.’

In that same work, Coleridge assembled esemplastic by blending the Greek phrase es hen, meaning ‘into one’, with plastic. For Coleridge, his freshly coined qualitative adjective, ‘Esemplastic’ connoted the poet's imaginative ability to communicate a variety of images, sensations, emotions and experiences in the unifying framework of a poem. Coleridge has form for the minting of new words, also giving us the verb ‘intensify’ whilst penning his famous work.

Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay
Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay
Pedantic etymologists might point out that esemplastic has its true roots in Schelling's philosophical term leinsbildung, or the interweaving of opposites. Being neither a scholar, or an etymologist, I prefer to keep it simple and think of it as the creative melding of figurative forces in a writer’s osmotic, untrammelled imagination, producing a unified, co-dependent sum bigger than its parts.

Coleridge may have preferred his English to be unsullied by invented words, but all that laudanum may just have blinded him to the fact that all words were once new, and language itself is constantly evolving!