Definition: There are two possible definitions – but the definition that we have settled on is: to not incite a stampede – a sensible person that knows how to act in a manner that does not incite reaction.
Origin: The only origin that we have been able to trace is its use by US President James Garfield in the latter half of the 19th century.
Why this word?
I came across this word when reading Dark Horse, Kenneth Ackerman’s well-written biography of US President James A. Garfield. In the book, the author quotes a passage in which Garfield describes his wife’s character as unstampedable. Chrissy and I had a long discussion about the meaning of the word. On first impression, it gives a sense of the resilience of First Lady Lucretia Garfield – a character that would survive a stampede – a woman of great strength. However, when we examined the original Garfield quote in full (from a book by Horatio Alger, published in the 19th century), we became less sure of our initial interpretation:
“She is unstampedable. There has not been one solitary instance in my public career when I suffered in the smallest degree for any remark she ever made. It would have been perfectly natural for a woman often to say something that could be misinterpreted; but, without any design, and with the intelligence and coolness of her character, she has never made the slightest mistake that I ever heard of.”
This seems to suggest that unstampedable, as understood by Garfield, does not mean a character that would curtail a stampede – but, rather, one that would not incite a stampede.
How to use this word in a sentence:
The image that one gets from the word unstampedable is one of strength – but, it seems, that the image is not correct. Thus, it is a tricky one to use. If you describe someone as being unstampedable, the person listening to you will get an image of strength – of a person standing up to a stampede.
It is, however, a fantastic word and deserves to be used. You will, however, have to first ‘set up’ the context. It should be used to describe a diplomatic character – someone who choses words in a manner that will not offend or draw criticism. Thus, the use of unstampedable acts as the cherry on top of the description – but will probably not serve well as the spongy, moist cupcake beneath.