Some facts are so erroneous and so frequently repeated by the lazy minded that they have become tiresome. Charles Dickens invented the word ‘boredom.’ Wrong. Boring. The first recorded instance of the word ‘boredom’ is in Dickens’ novel Bleak House (1852.) Wrong. Boring.
I have heard this verbal tribute to Dickens’ genius uttered so many times that I am not only bored but I am irritated. Whilst studying for a PhD, I read passages from many of the early Victorian journals such as Fraser’s Magazine for Town and Country, and have always been certain that I had come across the word before Dickens’ usage. The word formation reminded me of the kind of concoction that Thomas Carlyle brewed regularly. It also has something of an eighteenth century author’s taste for allegorical construction.
Anyway, after watching a repeat of the British tv series QI and hearing Stephen Fry repeating this ersatz fact, I became irritated anew and decided to take a brief look into the truth of it.
I cannot say at this moment who really did coin the word (I’ve got better things to be doing with my time) but I can prove that it was in use long before Charles Dickens introduced it to Victorian literature.
Here’s just a few of the examples of the many uses I have found:
‘I suppose this determination not to break up, was nothing less than a stern resolve not to encounter the boredom of a long speech from Mr. H tomorrow’ Southern Argus. June 19th, 1838. Page 2. 2nd column. From a report on a speech by Daniel Webster.
‘Boredom’ in the above quote (14 years before Dickens usage) is used without novelty, surprise, or any suggested need for explanation, and therefore had clearly been in use for sometime.
Here’s another example:
‘Women, women, aspire not to boredom by the title of strong-minded.’ Hillsdale Whig Standard. November 9th. 1847 Page 2. 3rd down 3rd column.
And here’s a quote that proves Dickens was not even the first to introduce the word ‘boredom’ to a literary text (this doesn’t mean that Poe was either):
‘We could inflict no punishment so severe, and we would inflict it, but for the boredom which we should cause our readers in so doing.’ – Edgar Allan Poe ‘The Literary Life of Thingum Bob,’ Southern literary messenger [Volume 10, Issue 12, Dec 1844; pp. 719-727]
There’s many more quotes but I have better things to do. Please don’t cite Dickens anymore. Lazy etymology and lazy thinking passed on as novel facts produce nothing more than a droning sound.
The true origin of the word ‘boredom’ and its first introduction to a literary text is yet to be discovered. I suspect the eighteenth century.
DISCLAIMER: I do not find strong women boring.