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The E-Sylum: Volume 23, Number 1, January 5, 2020, Article 15

THE FIRST KNOWN USE OF THE WORD 'NUMISMATICS'?

Gawain O'Connor writes:

My wife gave me as Christmas reading: The Word Detective, Searching for the Meaning of It All at the Oxford English Dictionary, A Memoir by John Simpson. Although this book is now a few years old, I don't think anyone has yet commented on its passage about the transition to the online world:

"Scholars – or just ordinary members of the public – could mail us with even newer and better evidence that they had managed to squeeze out of their memories or their databases. And they did. No sooner had we announced to the world that the earliest record of the word numismatics dated from 1803 than we were informed that it also had occurred in 1790 – as we hadn't thought to check in Adolf Ristell's Characters and Anecdotes of the Court of Sweden of that year. But this didn't annoy us – it was what was supposed to happen."

Delineatio rei numismaticæ cover For grins I used the Google Books Ngram Viewer to chart the history of the word as seen in the books digitized and indexed by Google. I expected to find a number of earlier examples. For 'numismatics' the results start about 1798, so no counterexample there. But dropping the "s" for the singular form pushes the first occurrence back much farther, which is what I expected. Looking at the actual books I found that the first legitimate instance it found was Delineatio rei numismaticæ from 1744. That's not exactly 'numismatic' or 'numismatics' either, so there are many ways of defining the question and interpreting the answer. But numismatics was a topic in print far earlier than 1744. I believe the first book on the topic was De Asse et Partibus (1514) by Guillaume Budé. But when exactly was the first use of the term 'numismatic' in any of its forms? -Editor

ngram chart numismatics

Even George Kolbe was stumped on this. He writes:

A fun topic. I have never thought about the etymology. Given its Latin roots, I am guessing the earliest use of the term goes way back.

Gawain adds:

I knew someone would have an earlier example - I guessed perhaps someone on your list would have been the one to give the example to the OED. I forgot to mention that the book was about the earliest use in the English language - not surprised there would be earlier Latin.

Agreed - an interesting topic. What do readers think? How could we best define the question? What answers await? -Editor

Charles Davis ad01


Wayne Homren, Editor

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