Tsiology and the OED

The term “tsiology” was introduced in the book title Tsiology; A Discourse on Tea in 1826.  For over one hundred years, the word remained obscure until 1933 when it was included in the Oxford English Dictionary.

According to the OED , “tsiology” was derived from the obsolete root word “tsia” meaning tea.  The lexicon did not include a phonetic transcription but noted that “tsia” was pronounced like the words “tcha” and “chia.”[1] The dictionary further observed that “chia” was “an early form of the word TEA”[2] and moreover that “chia” was once introduced into the English language but no longer survived in general use.  Obsolescence of all three terms “tsia,” “tcha,” and “chia” further confused the matter.

James Murray

James Murray and the other editors of the OED dubbed “tsiology” an ad hoc or nonce word.[3] As a nonce word, “tsiology” was a figure of speech created to meet a need that was not expected to recur, and so it was used just “for the nonce” as the leading title of A Discourse on Tea.  Strictly speaking, “tsiology” was a hapax legomenon, a unique word that occurs only once in a single work.[4] More accurate still, “tsiology” was a neologism, a term minted to extend the meaning of the existing word – “ology” – by combining it with the unique prefix “tsi,” the contraction of  “tsia.”  “Hence,” as the Dictionary intoned, “Tsiology, a scientific dissertation on tea.”[5]




[1]Tcha” and “chia” were two other discarded words also defined as tea. The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford University Press, 1971), vol. II, p. 3425.

[2] OED (1971), vol. I, p. 394.

[3] OED (1971), vol. II, p. 3425.  The phrase nonce word was introduced as an attributive by James Augustus Henry Murray (Scottish, 1837-1915) when he oversaw the creation of the New English Dictionary, what would later become the OED.

[4] The appearance of “tsiology” on the two title pages of the book notwithstanding.

[5] OED (1971), vol. II, p. 3425.

26. May 2011 by Steven D. Owyoung
Categories: History | Comments Off on Tsiology and the OED