"Since there is Nothing in human Life but Brimborions, that is magnificent Nothings, pompous Bubbles, Sounding Brass tinkling cymballs, phantastic Non entities airy Gossamours, idle dreams delirious Visions &c &c &c." A playful but self-deprecating Adams muses to his longtime friend and correspondent, Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse. Adams then consults several dictionaries for the meaning of the word: "Brimborion. s.m. colifichet, Babiole, Chose de néant ou de peu de valeur ... Baubles, trifles, play things gew gaws, Bagatelles, Babioles, Nuga Crepundia."
Adams then asks Waterhouse: "Could any or all the Languages of the World have furnished another Word so proper as Brimborion, to express my Dukedom of Braintree? [and] Could Major Ben. Russel have found a more apt expression for the Reputation and Influence of John Adams." Benjamin Russell and William Warden first published the Massachusetts Centinel beginning in 1784. In 1785 Russell became the sole publisher and changed the name to the Columbian Centinel. The sarcastic reference to "Dukedom" was based on Adams's much laughed-at suggestion that a more majestic reference be used to address the person who holds the office of President of the United States, than merely "Mr. President."
In 1778 Waterhouse moved to Leyden to study medicine. He had lived with Adams and his two sons in Holland when Adams was then American ambassador. Benjamin Russel was the founder and publisher of the Centinel, the leading Federalist party organ in New England. Two of the dictionaries from which Adams quotes (from the Académie Française and one by Richelet) still survive in Adams's library now housed at the Boston Public Library.
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