The phrase “inkhorn term” came into English in the 16th century. Thomas Wilson wrote in 1553, in his “Arte of Rhetorique” (written in Early Modern English): “Among all other lessons this should first be learned, that wee never affect any straunge ynkehorne termes, but to speake as is commonly received….”. It was a criticism of words coined by scholarly writers but which were unknown or uncommon in ordinary speech. The word “inkhorn” derives from the then standard name for the ink container, originally made from a real horn. Later, when this term had itself become obsolete, “inkhorn term” was sometimes called an “inkpot term”.

Many inkhorn terms were conceived just to quickly vanish again. Some examples of words which never made it into language usage are - “anacephalize”: to recapitulate; “adnichilate”: reduce to nothing, annihilate; “exolete”: disused, obsolete; “illecebrous”: alluring, enticing; “obtestate”: to bear witness.

Many word inventions and adaptations proved unsuccessful, but many others are still used today. This literary Renaissance period enriched English with many hundreds of new terms, e.g. ingenious, capacity, mundane, celebrate, extol, dexterity, illustrate, superiority, fertile, contemplate, invigilate, pastoral, confidence, relinquish, frivolous, verbosity, emphasis, encyclopaedia, enthusiasm, excursion, exist, necessitate, obstruction, pancreas, parenthesis, pathetic, pneumonia, relaxation, relevant, scheme, skeleton, soda, species, system etc..

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