Words Coined or Popularized by Presidents

Presidents Day allows us to put politics aside for awhile and celebrate the personalities that held the highest office in the land. There is perhaps no greater reflection of those personalities than the words they are credited with introducing or making popular. Here are several words that were coined or popularized by past presidents.

Learn more about the story behind these words in this article on our blog: And Now, a Word from the Presidents...

Activities for this list:

definitions & notes only words
  1. sugarcoat
    cause to appear more pleasant or appealing
    With rebellion thus sugar-coated they have been drugging the public mind of their section for more than thirty years, and until at length they have brought many good men to a willingness to take up arms against the government.
    - Abraham Lincoln
    In an 1861 message to congress, Lincoln accused the southern army of the Civil War of sugarcoating their rebellion by claiming it was constitutional. At this time no one had heard the term sugarcoat before. The term was even objected to by the official government printer who was in charge of making a transcript of the speech. Over these objections, Lincoln predicted that “The time will never come in this country when the people won’t know exactly what ‘sugarcoated’ means.”
  2. belittle
    lessen the authority, dignity, or reputation of
    So far the Count de Buffon has carried this new theory of the tendency of nature to belittle her productions on this side of the Atlantic.
    - Thomas Jefferson
    ... there had been a verbal use of little, meaning “to lessen” or “to decrease.” What Jefferson did is take that verb and put the “be-“ from words like befoul and besmirch in front of it to introduce belittle, meaning “to make small,” and figuratively, to “scorn as worthless." The verb form of little has been lost, but Jefferson’s belittle lives on.
  3. mammoth
    so exceedingly large or extensive as to suggest a giant
    the Mammoth cheese is arrived here and is to be presented this day. it is 4 f 4½ I. diameter, 15. I. thick, and weighed in August 1230. ℔. They were offered 1000. D. in New York for the use of it 12. days as a shew. it is an ebullition of the passion of republicanism in a state where it has been under heavy persecution.
    -Thomas Jefferson
    The incident involves Jefferson and an immense block of cheese, a gift to Jefferson which was so huge that reporters had to find a word to to describe its sheer bulk. Mammoth comes from Russian mammot, an animal who rooted in the earth. The idea here is that this 4 ft. cheese disc displaced hefty portions of earth just like a rooting animal. It was, in a word, gigantic, or mammoth. Jefferson's reference to a "shew" means they wanted to put the cheese on display.
  4. Founding Father
    a member of the Constitutional Convention that drafted the United States Constitution in 1787
    It is good to meet and drink at the fountains of wisdom inherited from the founding fathers of the Republic.
    - Warren G. Harding
    Although the exact facts are unclear, Harding is credited with coining the phrase “ founding fathers” which one hears frequently, whether it be during election season or on television about Presidents Day sales.
  5. normalcy
    the state of being within the range of regular functioning
    America’s present need is not heroics but healing; not nostrums [remedies] but normalcy; not revolution but restoration.
    - Warren G. Harding
    Warren G. Harding introduced normalcy into popular use when he said it on the campaign trail, where normalcy is not the norm. “America’s present need is not heroics but healing; not nostrums [remedies] but normalcy; not revolution but restoration.”
  6. bloviate
    speak verbosely and windily
    Peter P. Low, Esq., will with open throat.. bloviate about the farmers being taxed upon the full value of their farms, while bankers are released from taxation.
    H.L. Mencken on Harding: "He writes the worst English that I have ever encountered. It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it. It drags itself out of the dark abysm of pish, and crawls insanely up to the topmost pinnacle of posh. It is rumble and bumble. It is balder and dash."
  7. quixotic
    not sensible about practical matters
    Ten years ago, I wrote a book called Troublesome Young Men, about this quixotic campaign that helped change the course of history.The Guardian (Feb 3, 2017)
    John Adams popularized a term, quixotic, that denotes a mission that is “naively idealistic” fanciful and “whimsical.” The word is derived from Cervantes’ hero Don Quixote de la Mancha who imagines himself a brave knight while tilting at windmills.
  8. first lady
    the wife of a chief executive
    She will never be forgotten because she was truly our First Lady for a half-century
    - Zachary Taylor about Dolley Madison
    It may be an apocryphal story, but President Zachary Taylor is credited with coining the term first lady in his eulogy of Dolley Madison, wife of James Madison, America’s fourth president.
  9. natter
    talk socially without exchanging too much information
    In the United States today, we have more than our share of the nattering nabobs of negativism. They have formed their own 4-H Club — the ‘hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history.'”-
    Vice President Spiro Agnew
    Although his Vice President actually used the phrase, "nattering nabobs of negativism" is a phrase that followed President Nixon well beyond his resignation.
  10. nabob
    a governor in India during the Mogul empire
    In the United States today, we have more than our share of the nattering nabobs of negativism. They have formed their own 4-H Club — the ‘hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history.'”
    - Vice President Spiro Agnew
  11. lunatic fringe
    a political unit with extreme and fanatical views
    “The lunatic fringe was fully in evidence, especially in the rooms devoted to the Cubists and the Futurists, or Near-Impressionists.
    -President Theodore Roosevelt
  12. administration
    the tenure of a president
    In reviewing the incidents of my administration, I am unconscious of intentional error.
    - George Washington
    Washington didn't invent this word, but he was the first to use it to refer to a President's term in office.
  13. neologism
    a newly invented word or phrase
    Necessity obliges us to neologize.
    - Thomas Jefferson
  14. muckraker
    one who spreads real or alleged scandal about another
    “In Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress you may recall the description of the Man with the Muck-rake, the man who could look no way but downward with the muck-rake in his hands; Who was offered a celestial crown for his muck-rake, but who would neither look up nor regard the crown he was offered, but continued to rake to himself the filth of the floor.
    - Theodore Roosevelt
  15. caption
    brief description accompanying an illustration
    You will see in the caption of the address that we have pruned the ordinary stile of the degrading appendages of Excellency.
    - James Madison
  16. moment
    a particular point in time
    The present temper of the states is friendly to the establishment of a lasting union; the moment should be improved; if suffered to pass away it may never return.
    - George Washington
    Washington was the first to use "moment" to mean a time to act, an opportunity.

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