Augustus B. Woodward’s vocabulary of big words caused men to ‘gape openmouthed’


Augustus B. Woodward was a friend of Thomas Jefferson and one of the five-member council appointed by Congress to administer Detroit after the ruinous fire of 1805. The historian George B. Catlin calls Woodward “a man of many eccentricities.”Among them he was a “sesquipedalian.”

woodward“Words of six syllables suited his purpose much better than words of one syllable.” (Robert Conot, who describes Woodward as “cadaverous,” writes, “Men gaped openmouthed as he delivered himself in Latinized English.”)

An educational initiative in 1817 was, Catlin says, “a golden opportunity for Judge Woodward to bring to the surface the most polysyllabic words in his astonishing vocabulary and, like a turtle when it lays its eggs, having once started on this route he seemed unable to stop his raid on the dictionaries. In fact, he overran the dictionaries at several points and fabricated a few terms of his own, which nearly threw the community into convulsions.”

For the new Detroit, Woodward adapted L’Enfant’s plan for Washington, D.C., and laid out the city in interlocking hexagons. Woodward Avenue runs straight up the middle

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