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Inspirado, back in the day

Posted by Jan Freeman, keep until April July 21, 2008 11:37 PM

I learned the word inspirado only a few weeks ago, when Ben Zimmer, writing The Word column while I was on vacation, mentioned it in connection with Jack Black and his new "Kung Fu Panda" word, skadoosh:

Fans of Jack Black's oeuvre are already familiar with his inventive wordplay. When he first gained attention as one half of the satirical rock duo Tenacious D, he was prone to such neologisms as "inspirado," a zingier version of "inspiration."

ammon%20shea.jpgBut last night, I picked up Ammon Shea’s new book, “Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages,” a ramble through the entire Oxford English Dictionary that includes a selection of Shea's favorite words. And there it was, between Insordescent and Interdespise:

Inspirado (n.) A person who thinks himself inspired.

That’s Shea’s definition, not the OED’s, so of course I went to the source, where I found:

A person who imagines himself, or professes, to be inspired.
1664 H. MORE Myst. Iniq., Apol. 545 The Sectarian Rabbles that phansy themselves such Inspiradoes. Ibid. 562 The boasting Inspiradoes of our Nation.

henry-more.jpgThat is (the bibliography revealed), both citations come from Henry More’s "Modest Inquiry into the Mystery of Iniquity, The First Part, Containing a Careful and Impartial Delineation of the True Idea of Antichristianism," published in London in 1664.

Did anyone use the word in the centuries between H. More and J. Black? Presumably we'll find out when the OED editors get around to revising the I's.

Black, of course, gave his re-coinage of inspirado a different sense. Professor More, a Protestant philosopher, was writing in order to reconcile faith with reason, and his “inspiradoes” were probably demonstrating the "enthusiasm" he and his 17th-century soulmates disdained. But I’ll leave that part of the story for a commenter who knows more about the subject than Wikipedia and I do.

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Rules and realities of English usage from Boston Globe Ideas columnist Jan Freeman.
Jan Freeman, a former Boston Globe editor, has been writing the weekly column “The Word” since 1997. E-mail her at

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