By Steve Watkins
My dad was always asking us “How’s that suit your cosperosty?” whenever he wanted to know what we thought of something, and lately it’s been deviling me, wondering where he came up with the expression. My brother and I were raised hearing it, so it wasn’t particularly weird back then, but for some reason I’ve started saying it myself lately, and my daughters and Janet seem to think I’ve turned daft.
So not long ago, I decided it was time to get some answers and asked several of my learned friends if they’d ever heard the word “cosperosty” when they were growing up. I get together with these guys once a week to shoot the shit and compare ailments, but a fat lot of good they turned out to be. Nobody copped to having heard the word–not that they gave my question the time and attention it deserved. They were too busy debating the etymology of “Cornhole,” which meant one thing when we were kids, but has morphed into something else altogether these days in the form of the popular beanbag game.
So I did my own research, and after hours in some of the dimmer corners of the internet discovered that “cosperosty” wasn’t just some Dad-ism, but rather it was Dad’s bastardization of “copperosity,” which was itself a bastardization of “corporosity,” which was in turn a bastardization of “corporeality,” which means “one’s body,” and hence “one’s health.”
The most famous use, as I discovered, is in James Joyce’s Ulysses–“Your corporosity sagatiating OK?”–a line he lifted and “corrected” from Joel Chandler Harris’s Uncle Remus stories where it was “copperosity” and “segashuate.” According to the internet, Joyce heard someone quoting from The Tar Baby and Other Tales of Uncle Remus, couldn’t get it out of his head, and stuck what he’d heard into a passage of dialogue in the notorious “Oxen of the Sun” episode, notorious because it’s the most ridiculously difficult section in one of the world’s most ridiculously difficult—and, let’s just go ahead and put it out there: unreadable–books (though if you’ve ever tried Finnegans Wake, you’ll know that Joyce was just warming up with Ulysses). Where Joel Chandler Harris got it is anybody’s guess, but the expression appears to date back to what was once a typical Texas greeting, of all things: “How’s your copperosity sagatiatin’ this morning?” Sagatiate, of course, meaning “to get along,” or “to thrive.”
So it turns out “How’s that suit your cosperosty?” has a long and storied history, sort of, as a way of asking somebody how the hell they’re doing, or to inquire about how something suits them, or something along those lines. I may be going daft, as Janet and the girls suspect, but at least once I tell them all this they won’t be able to use “cosperosty” as proof any more.
Steve Watkins, editor and co-founder of Pie & Chai, is the author of 12 books, a retired professor emeritus of American literature, a recovering yoga teacher, and the father of four remarkable daughters. He is also a tree steward with the urban reforestation organization Tree Fredericksburg and founder of Rappahannock Area Beaver Believers, a wildlife advocacy group, which you’re welcome to join on Facebook if it suits your cosperosty. His author website is stevewatkinsbooks.com.