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Why Copperosity.com?

My maternal grandfather, Herman Griggy, was an uncomplicated, easygoing guy who lived his 93 years vigorously, with a smile on his face and a helping hand for anyone who needed it. His false teeth clacked, he sounded like George Burns, and I can't catch a whiff of someone's stogy in a bar without thinking of him and smiling.

Grandpa and his gaggle of grandkids

He loved having all his grandkids around and used to tell us amazing stories about how, when he worked at the feed mill, he had a boxing match with some bully named Frank and how he was so strong from tossing feed bags around that he once lifted an elephant—a baby one, not much larger than a pony, really—with one hand.

As far as we were concerned, he was northeast Ohio's answer to Paul Bunyan.

Anyway, one of Grandpa's unique traits was his ability to come up with the right word for any occasion. This isn't to say that he had an unusually extensive grasp of English vocabulary, but if words failed him he was always ready to come to their rescue.

"Amatistically speaking, and in an offhand manner..." he'd sometimes begin one of his treatises on the world political situation.

"Hmmm," he'd say, poking his head under the hood where my dad was trying to debug an ignition timing problem. "That's very rodamontating."

"Eat your green beans," he'd tell me. "They're good for your copperosity."

So, if you're after the quick gratification, the short answer to "Why Copperosity.com?" is that copperosity is an unusual—perhaps fictional—word that reminds me of my granddad, and my selection of the Copperosity.com domain name is my tribute to him.


There's the long version, which evolved (and continues to evolve) as the result of some sort of deep-rooted obsessive-compulsive tendencies. Or maybe intellectual curiosity, if you're feeling particularly charitable toward me. This early theory of copperosity's origins was based upon the assumption that Grandpa's special words were made up and my discovery of the word "cupreous" in a dictionary. According to dictionary.com, the word cupreous means "[o]f, resembling, or containing copper; coppery."

Ah. I recognise that look in your eyes. It says,


Well, before he retired, Grandpa worked for the Ford Motor Company, in the foundry. I remember this, because he always claimed that it was looking at the molten metal that caused his cataracts and ruined his sight. I don't know whether or not that's accurate, from a strictly medical standpoint, but it brings to mind the image of those burly hard-hat-wearing guys you see in the pickup truck commercials, standing amongst the flying embers as the giant tub of molten metal is poured into casting molds. I also imagine that one of the metallurgic characteristics of the steel he was involved in casting was the measure of how much copper the alloy contained. Its... cupreosity.


How you can over-cogitate on things and that just because Merriam and Webster don't have a clue doesn't mean a word isn't (or wasn't) real to someone. As time has gone on, I've had correspondence with others whose fathers and grandfathers also used the word copperosity in the context of health, and this convinced me that it wasn't just something that Grandpa made up. But now I had


On my hands. I did what any red-blooded child of the 21st Century1 would do: I rolled up my sleeves and started thinking like a search engine.

Lo and behold, I stumbled across a passing reference to copperosity in a newspaper article in which Kent Biffle sets off on a tongue-in-cheek fit of pique over Nicholas Doran P. Maillard's 1842 book, The History of the Republic of Texas, From the Discovery of the Country to the Present Time; And the Cause of Her Separation from the Republic of Mexico.

It should suffice to say that Maillard's historical 'facts' are the source of some good old-fashioned Texas indignation, so I won't waste space or risk a copyright suit by rehashing the article here. What caught my eye was the copperosity reference. According to Maillard, via Biffle, a typical Texas greeting would be, "How does your copperosity sagaciate this morning?"2 Bingo! My first tangible reference to copperosity, in captivity.

Having got myself all riled up over this topic, I began


For references to the elusive copperosity, and it occurred to me that I might call upon the somewhat checkered temperament3 and expertise of the folks who hang out on the Internet newsgroups.

I ventured, with some trepidation, into the alt.usage.english newsgroup, posted my question about the origin of copperosity, and was pleased to receive a very helpful response from a gentleman named John Dean, who looked up copperosity in his Oxford English Dictionary (OED) CD-ROM for me (I've really got to get me one o' them things). The gist is that copperosity is attributed as a down-home form of corporosity, which means "bulkiness of body".

Although this contradicted the notion that copperosity has to do with the effect of copper on health, it reinforced the health-related usage of copperosity. I wondered about the difference in spelling, but I had recently learned about rhotic vs. non-rhotic English dialects. I reasoned that both copperosity and corporosity sound like copperosity, when spoken in a non-rhotic English dialect. Which brings us back 'round to that over-cogitating tendency of mine.

With my rash theories falling like flies, you'd think I'd learn.

Curious about the reference to James Joyce's Ulysses in the OED entry, I did


In a 1979 article, Dr. R. Bruce Bickley, Jr. notes that Joyce's "Your corporosity sagaciating OK?" alludes to a passage from Joel Chandler Harris' folk tale about Brer Rabbit and the tar-baby, included in The Tar-Baby and Other Rhymes of Uncle Remus, published in 1904:

While preserving the essential sounds and intonations of Uncle Remus' language, Joyce converts Harris' Southernisms at least part way back into their English root words: "copperosity" and "segashuate" are slang for corporeality and sagacious, transformed by Joyce and by folk etymology, respectively, into "corporosity" and "sagaciate." Thus Joyce re-Anglicizes Americanized English.4

I suppose that the whole rhotic/non-rhotic business can't be completely dismissed, but I don't know what sort of dialect the Dublin-born Joyce spoke. Even if I knew, the fact that the Uncle Remus tales pre-dated Ulysses makes pronunciation concerns largely moot.

Uncle Remus tales were popular around the turn of the century—19th to 20th, that is—and Bickley's comments suggest that Joel Chandler Harris liked copperosity well enough to have used it in several of his stories. I think it's very likely that they were the source from which my granddad, who was born in 1902, picked up the word copperosity. (If I can ever catch my mom at home to take a phone call, I'll ask her.)


It appears he did not. According to biographical sketches I've found on the Internet, he was born either 1845 or 1848. But remember Nicholas Doran P. Maillard's history of Texas, which describes "How does your copperosity sagaciate this morning?" as a typical Texas greeting? Assuming Kent Biffle reported its publishing date correctly–and I have no reason to think otherwise–then Texans' copperosities were sagaciating at least three years before Harris was born!

The world is watching (and it has e-mail access)

I have a tendency to think that the only people who ever visit Copperosity.com are family members, curious friends, and exquisitely bored acquaintances.

Au contraire, Virginia.

Soon after I put up this page about Grandpa and the inspiration for Copperosity.com, e-mail commenced trickling in from people who had their own recollections about copperosity and the people who had the special flair to use it. Excerpts from these are included here with the kind permission of their authors:

"How's your copperosity?"

That's a question I heard often in my small home town in central Texas when I was a "youngun".  It was a question inquiring about your health, specifically, "How is your body handling the copper in your system?"

I've tried to convince my wife and friends that there is a word "copperosity", and that it has meaning, but to no avail.  I cannot find it in any encyclopedia or on the internet, but I know it's there, used only by those of us "in the know".

Perhaps you've seen copper bracelets and copper jewelry advertised as a "health" benefit, or maybe you've seen someone wearing a twisted copper wire around their wrist as an amulet.  That's what "copperosity" is all about.  There must have been a time, long before we really knew about body chemistry and DNA, when copper was considered a good thing to get into your body.

So, rationalize away your grandfather's comments as whimsy if you will, but keep in the back of your mind somewhere the thought that he probably knew exactly what he was talking about.

8 February, 2002

Point taken, Dick!

My Grandfather also asked how your copperosity was in the morning, and if you were conjoshuating. Anyway he was Scot-Irish (Ulster Scot), and raised in Jefferson CO., Tennessee. He was born in 1888 at Pidgeon Forge, Shady Grove, Tennessee.

16 April, 2002

My dad who is now deceased always had a saying about Copperosity and I have told it to my children and to my grandchildren. They find it amusing. My dad was born in 1888 and died in 1972, and I don't know where he got his Copperosity. You're the first one that I have found that has used that word.

My dad was born November 1888 in Shady Grove, Tennessee and perhaps his dad and grandfather used it. Never did ask my dad where he came up with Copperosity, wish that I had. My grandfather's father and family came from England to Virginia, Tennessee, Oklahoma and then Kansas. I have been using that saying every since I first heard my dad use it when I was a small boy. I was born in 1924.

16 April, 2002

I just had the idea to try to get Copperosity.com as my domain name and found that you already had it.  Funny thing is that my motivation was pretty much the same as yours... and I can assure you that "Copperosity" is indeed a "sort-of" real word.

My grandfather, who is a crotchety 87 or 88 years now, grew up in Jackson, Ohio, down south near Ironton.  He spent his youth trapping fur to sell to the man from Sears Roebuck and supporting his mother and doing carpentry.  By the time I was a kid, he was a foreman for a large construction firm doing offices and the convention center and such in downtown Columbus.

He was my favorite person in the world, and he used the word Copperosity regularly.  Thing is, from him it was apparently a colloquialism for one's backside.  He always (jokingly!) told me he was going to tan my copperosity if I didn't do so-and-so.  It was a word only ever used in jest, and sometimes my Grandma would even say it to me as a way of making fun of my grandfather's country-boy sense of humor.

2 May, 2002

My father used to say things like, "how's your copperosity?" or "it's good for your copperosity!" We always thought it was a word they made up, or had some obscure slang meaning from the time of the late 1800s possibly up through the 1920s. Dad was born in 1914.

He "inherited" knowledge of this word from his Mom and Dad. My Dad recalled hearing his father remark rather formally (the family heritage is strictly English from way back, therefore fully starched in speech, manners, posture, etc.) to my Dad's mother, "Well dear, how's your copperosity?" when he arrived home from work.

So with your knowledge of the word it sounds like we're talking about similar timing for the source. Very interesting!

Jim Wellman
3 September, 2002

Jim, I'd have to think that if anyone knows about copperosity, it would be a guy named Wellman.

But wait... there's more!

It makes me feel just a bit less of an odd sock knowing that there are others out there who are interested enough in copperosity and its peculiar ilk to devote space to them.

Forthright's Phrontistery, International House of Logorrhea
No copperosity here, but it's still an interesting place to check out some other strange and unusual words. Oh, and you can relax; logorrhea isn't nearly as messy as some of you may be thinking, though the problem is endemic to Copperosity.com.
The Joke Assortment with Chewy Centres
Katherine Phelps' Humourous Word List and other giggles.

  1. I realise that I was born about 40 years too early to be considered a child of the 21st century, but it sounds jazzy so cut me some slack here.
  2. Biffle, Kent. "Brit's take on state of republic." The Dallas Morning News. 2 June, 2002.
  3. By which, I mean that newsgroup communications can be risky to one's ego. Responses in these forums are as likely to take the form of vitriolic rants against the poster's fathomless ignorance as not. In the case of alt.usage.english, imagine a football stadium packed to the walls with university English professors, literary critics, linguists, and other such high-forehead types. Now imagine many of them being genuinely brilliant and clever, and others desperately trying to present themselves as witty but only appearing petty and mean-spirited, in the attempt.
  4. Bickley Jr., R. Bruce. "TWO ALLUSIONS TO JOEL CHANDLER HARRIS IN ULYSSES: 'WUSSER SCARED' AND 'CORPOROSITY' REDUX." English Language Notes. Volume 17, Issue 1. September 1979: p42.