Bentham was a legal reformer, a proponent of medical utility, the developer of the Panopticon model of prison surveillance, and an all-around odd duck. He was the kind of indefatigable ideas guy who corners you at parties to tell you all about his extensive research into political economy and the shortcomings of English jurisprudence. While he collected around him a bevy of devoted acolytes (including John Stuart Mill and Edwin Chadwick (“the father of British sanitation”)), he never married and, despite his advocacy of women’s equality and the importance of sexual pleasure, he does not seem to have had great success on the dating scene.
Here he is:
He had no such luck (Or at least he wouldn’t until the year 2999 when, according to the TV show Futurama, the technology was invented to store and preserve the living heads of important historical figures, including Thomas Jefferson, William Shakespeare, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Richard Nixon, and Lucy Liu.)
One of Bentham’s lesser-known proclivities was making up words. My author notes that a lot of these have entered the modern lexicon—including maximize, minimize, rationale, demoralize, dynamic, international, unilateral, exhaustive, cross-examination, sexual desire, and false consciousness.
But there are many others that did not make the cut, for example metamorphotic, disceptatorial, morphoscopic, undisfulfilled, infirmation, subintellect, thelematic, antembletic, scribblatory, imperation, and incognoscibility.
I’m finding these dead-end words kind of fascinating. Take scribblatory. The OED lists it as a nonce-word, meaning “tending to cause scribbling.” The only usage example they provide is from Bentham’s own Rationale of Judicial Evidence, his analysis and critique of the English laws of evidence, in which he derides “the dilatory, scribblatory … mode of the courts of equity.”
And that’s it. A perfectly cromulent word that, as far as my research can discern, was used once and never again. Or, as the entry read when I tried to look up the word on UrbanDictionary.com, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
(I do note, however, that the domain name scribblatory.com has been registered within the last year (perhaps by some enterprising Benthamite?) although there is no website as yet.)
And then there’s undisfulfilled, which means “not unfulfilled,” apparently to be used when “fulfilled” is too definitive. This word doesn’t even rise to the level of a full citation in the OED, except as one of the seemingly endless list of compounds built on the un- prefix (right between undisfigured and undisgraced). Again, Bentham’s coinage of the word is the only example of the word in use.
Undisfullfilled, though, has shown up in one more-or-less real world application: someone in Sligo County, Ireland has adopted it as his username on a dating site. Mr. Undisfulfilled doesn’t seem to have gotten far in his quest for amorous fulfillment—apart from his age, gender, and location, his profile is blank. The entry under his name lists his “dateability index” at a crushing 0%, which puts him pretty much exactly on a par with poor old Bentham.
He isn’t saying. But there he sits, preserved in his virtual glass case, an enigmatic silhouette gazing serenely, or at least silently, over the backwaters of the internet. I like to think he is not unfulfilled, and that maybe he will in time acquire a snappy straw hat.