The Grammarphobia Blog

Memento memorious

Q: Is “memorious” a word? I’ve heard it used a couple times on podcasts by educated speakers, but I can’t find it in my dictionary. Please give me any thoughts you have on it.

A: Yes, “memorious” is a word, but you won’t find it in a standard dictionary—or at least not in any of the 10 standard dictionaries we checked.

We did find an entry for it in the online collaborative reference Wiktionary, where it’s defined as “having an unusually good memory” or “easy to remember.”

More important, the Oxford English Dictionary has written examples for the use of the adjective “memorious” dating back to the early 1500s.

The OED defines it as “having a good memory” or “memorable; evocative of or rich in memories.” The dictionary describes a third meaning, “mindful of,” as obsolete.

Oxford’s earliest citation for the good-memory sense of the word is from The Lyfe of Saynt Radegunde, written by the English poet and Benedictine monk Henry Bradshaw sometime before his death in 1513:

“Of speciall frendes / honest and vertuous / Whiche lately requyred me full memorious / With synguler request / and humble instaunce / This lyfe to discrybe / with due circumstaunce.”

(We’ve gone to the original to expand on the OED citation.)

The memorable sense of the word first showed up in the late 19th century. The dictionary’s earliest citation is from The Human Inheritance, The New Hope, Motherhood and Other Poems (1882), by the Scottish writer William Sharp:

“So may have blown some wind of thought Memorious from a past forgot.”

Although we couldn’t find “memorious” in any standard dictionary, it’s alive and well online. A Google search got 48,000 hits, including references to Funes el Memorioso, a 1942  short story by the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges.

In the story, which is usually translated into English as “Funes the Memorious,” a teenage boy named Ireneo Funes develops an astonishing memory after a fall from a horse.

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