Getty Images
Getty Images

12 One-Word Famous Last Words

Getty Images
Getty Images

It is nice to think that one’s final moments will involve passing on a vital message, expressing love, or delighting family and friends with a witty quip. Indeed, some people manage to convey a great deal of meaning through just one word. In the case of the 12 famous people below, each one went to their grave after gifting us with a very pithy exit line.


“Useless!” – John Wilkes Booth (1838–65)

After assassinating President Lincoln on the night of April 14 at Ford’s Theatre in Washington D. C., John Wilkes Booth fled on horseback, despite suffering a broken leg which he sustained when jumping from the presidential box to the stage. By April 26, Booth had made it to Virginia and was holed up in a barn when, in the middle of the night, agents turned up to arrest him. Since Booth refused to leave the barn, the New York Cavalry set a fire and Booth was forced out, which is when he was shot by Sergeant Boston Corbett. Booth was immediately paralyzed, and so was laid upon the porch, where he slowly died. In his last moments he requested that his hands be raised up so he could look at them, and he uttered his final, miserable word.


“Beautiful.” – Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–61)

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (pictured above) was a Romantic poet whose best works were those inspired by her love for her husband, the poet Robert Browning. Elizabeth had always suffered from poor health, and a number of personal tragedies had caused her to live as a recluse. However, in 1844, her poetry caught the attention of Robert Browning and they began exchanging letters. Over the course of 574 letters in 20 months, the pair fell in love and eloped to marry. They settled in Florence, where Elizabeth produced some of her best poetry, gaining significant critical success. By 1861 Elizabeth’s already-fragile health was failing, and she was said to have died in her husband’s arms. Her final words were in response to the question "How are you feeling?"


“Pontier.” – Paul Cézanne (1839–1906)

Paul Cézanne is now regarded as one of the foremost artists of the French Post-Impressionist movement, and yet like many artists, he was largely unrecognized in his lifetime. Toward the end of his life Cézanne returned to his roots in Aix-en-Provence, continuing to paint and starting to gain some modest recognition for his talents. However, such was his melancholy nature that he still harbored resentment over some negative reactions to his works earlier in his life. In 1906, while painting outside, Cézanne was caught in a rainstorm and developed pneumonia, which became fatal. His final word was repeated over and over: It was the name of Auguste-Henri Pontier, director of the Musée Granet, which in 1896 had refused an offer of 100 canvases by the artist, a slight which still clearly haunted Cézanne in his final moments.


Getty Images

“Water.” – Ulysses S. Grant (1822–85)

Eighteenth U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant served from 1869–77. Prior to his presidency Grant had commanded Union forces to victory over the Confederate forces during the Civil War and as such was seen as a hero. His presidency, however, was not a great success. After his retirement from the White House Grant unwisely invested in a financial company, which went bankrupt, leaving him with large debts. Diagnosed with throat cancer, Grant began writing a memoir in an effort to provide for his family. Grant dictated the words to a stenographer, and as his health deteriorated and his voice failed, the stenographer was forced to sit ever closer to Grant’s bed to catch his whispered words. The last page of the memoir was completed just days before Grant’s death and it went on to be a great commercial success.


“Stopped.” – Joseph Henry Green (1791–1863)

Dr. Joseph Henry Green was an eminent surgeon and anatomist who became great friends with the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. On his death, Coleridge left Green as his literary executor, tasked with dispersing Coleridge’s literary estate for the benefit of his friends and family. However, Green was a doctor to the last, and as he lay dying, he pointed at his heart and said "congestion," before taking hold of his own wrist and feeling for his pulse, his last words indicating that his heart had ceased to beat.


“144.” – Thomas Fantet de Lagny (1660–1734)

Thomas Fantet de Lagny was a French mathematician who is best known for his contribution to computational mathematics—calculating π to 120 places. As de Lagny lay dying, his friends gathered round him. At one point, de Lagny had not moved for some time, and his companions feared he may have already died. Knowing de Lagny’s passion for mathematics, one friend decided to test his theory and asked de Lagny what the square of 12 was. With his last breath de Lagny shot back the answer.


Getty Images

“Yes.” – Martin Luther (1483–1546)

Martin Luther was a German theologian who kick-started the Protestant reformation when he nailed his list of complaints about the Catholic Church’s abuses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle Church. Throughout his life he was a controversial figure, challenging the accepted practices of the church and translating the Bible into German so that ordinary people might read it themselves. Although in his lifetime his ideas gained support across Germany and into Europe, he was still seen as a radical (indeed he was excommunicated by Pope Leo in 1521). On his deathbed, he was asked if he continued to stand by his doctrines, to which Luther gave an emphatic reply.


“Mozart!” – Gustav Mahler (1860–1911)

Austrian composer and conductor Gustav Mahler lived a tragic life—he lost a brother to suicide, his daughter died aged four, and his wife became an alcoholic and had an affair. Despite these terrible blows, Mahler continued to make music, but his genius was not truly recognized until many years after his death. Mahler, who was already suffering from a bad heart, fell ill with blood poisoning while conducting for the New York Philharmonic, and returned to Vienna, traveling on a stretcher and drifting in and out of consciousness. Mahler died leaving his final symphony unfinished, with the name of one of his idols on his lips.


“Happy.” – Raphael (1483–1520)

One of the great High Renaissance artists, Raphael’s influence is far-ranging. Some of Raphael’s most famous works are his series of Madonnas, influenced by the work of Leonardo da Vinci, and his many frescoes in the Vatican. Unlike many artists in this list, Raphael gained much respect and recognition in his lifetime, so perhaps it is not surprising that when he died suddenly at the age of 37, his final word expressed joy.


“Hello!” – Rupert Brooke (1887–1915)

Rupert Brooke, who was once part of the famed Bloomsbury set, is best known for his powerful war poetry, written after he had fought in Belgium in the early days of World War I. Brooke’s poems gained some positive attention and he was offered the opportunity to return to Britain and serve away from the battlefield, but he refused. In April 1915 Brooke sailed with his unit to Greece in preparation for the invasion of Gallipoli, but unfortunately he contracted serious blood poisoning from an insect bite. Brooke was transferred to a hospital ship off Skyros and his final words, said on April 23, 1915, were in greeting to a visitor.


Project Gutenberg via Wikimedia // Public domain

“Bertie.” – Queen Victoria (1819–1901)

Queen Victoria came to the British throne just after her 18th birthday, on the death of her uncle, King William IV, who had no legitimate children. She oversaw a huge empire, encompassing large parts of Africa, India, and Australia, ruling over one quarter of the world’s population. Victoria had a very happy marriage to Prince Albert and together they had nine children, however, she long refused to cede any power to her heir, Prince Edward (who was known as Bertie). In her last moments she was surrounded by her family, including her grandson the German Kaiser, but it was to her son, the future King Edward VII, that she addressed her last word.


“Dictionary.” – Joseph Wright (1855–1930)

English linguist Joseph Wright had a humble beginning. Coming from a poor family, he was forced to work from a very young age. Wright took his first job age six, leading a donkey laden with tools from the smithy to the quarry and back again. Wright worked throughout his childhood, but also managed to secure a free education, and with his sharp intellect, eventually became a professor at Oxford University. Wright’s passion was languages, and so for many years he toiled to create the English Dialect Dictionary, preserving the many regional strands of the English language. The work was finally published starting in 1896. His thoughts were seemingly of his great work up until the very end. 

Adapted from Famous Last Words: An Anthology, edited by Claire Cock-Starkey and published by Bodleian Library on July 15, 2016.

'Embiggen,' a Made-Up Word from The Simpsons, Has Officially Landed in the Dictionary

From d’oh! to dorkus malorkus, the English language owes a lot to The Simpsons, particularly when it comes to made-up neologisms. As io9 reports, the animated series’ latest contribution to everyday chatter was made official earlier this week, when Merriam-Webster announced that the Springfield-originated verb embiggen is one of 850 new words that have just been added to their online dictionary.

Though the word has transcended its animated town origins, being regularly used by online outlets (“click to embiggen this map”) and superhero Kamala Khan in the Ms. Marvel comic book series, its original popular usage dates back more than 20 years, to a seventh-season episode of The Simpsons titled “Lisa the Iconoclast.” In it, the students of Springfield Elementary School are treated to Young Jebediah Springfield, an educational film that depicts the early days of the founder of their great town. His secret? “A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man.”

Though the rarity of the word led even Edna Krabappel to question its authenticity (fellow teacher Ms. Hoover assures her that “it’s a perfectly cromulent word,” a reference to yet another piece of The Simpsons lexicon), writer Dan Greaney actually coined the phrase even before the episode.

Amazingly, it turns out that Jebediah Springfield may have been very hip to the times when he used the phrase after all; the word was also used by author C.A. Ward in his Notes and Queries: A Medium of Intercommunication for Literary Men, General Readers, Etc., which was published in 1884.

[h/t: io9]

18 Words to Welcome Spring

The worst of the winter weather is now (hopefully) behind us, and the days are getting longer and warmer. So unless we have some winnol-weather or lamb-storms on the way, it seems spring is finally coming. With that in mind, here are 18 words you might find useful in the weeks and months to come.


Derived from lagneia, a Greek word meaning "lust," vernalagnia is a more formal name for what’s otherwise known as "spring fever"—a brighter and often more romantic mood brought on by the return of fine weather in the spring. One 1958 medical dictionary described vernalagnia as the “awakening of sexual desire in the spring.” (Spring fever can also mean, as one 19th century dictionary of American English put it, “the listless feeling caused by the first sudden increase of temperature in spring.”)


Borrowed into English in the late 1800s, the word reverdie has a long history in its native French dating back as far as the 14th century at least: Derived from a verb, reverdir, meaning “to become green again,” a reverdie is a song, poem or dance performed in celebration of the return of the spring.


Since the 19th century, the chirruping of birds during the spring mating season is known as valentining. If you want to be even more specific, though …


… the verb chelidonize is a proper word for the chirping of swallows as they fly overhead. It derives from the Greek word for swallow, chelidon—which is also the origin of …


… the 17th century adjective Chelidonian. As well as being used to describe anything the deep red color of a swallow’s throat, Chelidonian winds are warm spring winds, so called because they tended to start blowing around the same time that swallows and martins began to return in the spring.


A word for the re-emerging of plants above the ground in spring, the 17th century adjective erumpent describes anything that bursts forth. The very first appearance of a plant above the ground, incidentally, is called the breard.


On the subject of spring weather, lamb-storms are spring thunderstorms, so-called because they break around the same time that lambs are born. An after-winter, meanwhile, is a period of bad weather when spring should be due, while Winnol-weather is a period of stormy or wintry weather around the feast day of St Winwaloe on March 3.


According to an 18th century dictionary of botanical terms, Frondescentia is “leafing season,” or “the time of the year when plants first unfold their leaves.” Likewise, a plant that is frondescent is just beginning to bud or produce leaves; frondescence is the process of budding or producing leaves; and when a plant frondesces, then it grows or puts forth leaves or buds. All four of these come from the Latin word for “leaf,” frons.


Router is an old Yorkshire dialect word meaning “to rush around noisily,” or, as the English Dialect Dictionary puts it, “to make a search amidst a confusion of things.” Derived from that, a routering-bout is a thorough spring-cleaning of a house.


Coined in the 18th century, floriage is blossom, or the collective flowers of a plant or tree. Likewise, a floriation is a decoration made of flowers (or figuratively a musical flourish), while efflorescence is the development or production of blossoming flowers.