Tuesday, January 1, 2013

My Dictionaries Part 1

They Have A Word For It: A Lighthearted Lexicon Of Untranslatable Words by Howard Rheingold

This is one of my least favorite of the dictionaries. Not because it's poorly written or compiled but mainly due to the fact that I'm not a fan of foreign words or phrases interjected into spoken English. They sound pompous, ridiculous and out of place in common conversation especially since the speaker is usually the only person who understands its meaning. Its usage in written form is another matter since perusing the dictionary while reading is hardly a social trespass. As such, here's one example from the book:

rêve à deux (French): A Mutual dream or shared hallucination. [noun]

Dunces, Gourmands & Petticoats: 1,300 Words Whose Meanings Have Changed Through the Ages by Adrian Room

I'd probably buy any book with the word dunce in it even if it's not that good. This is one such book. It's an interesting dichotomy just the same as many words in the English language have not only changed their meaning through the years but some mean the exact opposite of what they were previously defined as. Gourmand isn't one of them but since it's unfamiliar to most I'll include it here:

gourmand (person devoted to excessive eating and drinking)

The disparaging use of 'gourmand', almost meaning 'glutton', has existed in English since the fifteenth century. In the eighteenth century, however, the word acquired a more favourable sense, closer to 'gourmet' (although not under the influence of it since this latter word was not used in English until a century later). This usage can be seen, for example, in a fairly trivial poem of 1839 by Winthrop M. Praed:

You know that I was held by all
The greatest epicure in Hall,
And that the voice of Granta's sons
Styled me the Gourmand of St. John's.

Charlotte Brontë, too, used the word favourably, with an appropriately feminine ending, in Villette (1853): 'Fifine was a frank gourmande; any body could win her heart through her palate'. This meaning appears to have been ousted, or even replaced, by 'gourmet', however, when it caught on in the nineteenth century, and 'gourmand' today has only its undesirable sense.

Yankee Dictionary by Charles F. Haywood

I'm intolerant towards accents and regional dialect, especially the New England/New York ones, but this book is so well-written and interesting that it's probably my favorite explication dictionary. The reason for that is probably the age of the publication (1963) and the extensive research, which likely go hand-in-hand. As our society has loosened up further it's become fraught with street language and slang which not only sounds less intelligent but has become such.

Here's a few samples from the book:

Vamp It Up

The vamp is the upper part of a shoe, and this expression is used in the shoe-making towns to mean strengthen, patch, or provide with a new part. The modern colloquialism "beef it up" has the same meaning. "Vamp it up" is not to be confused with the verb "to vamp" common in the Roaring Twenties, frequently applied to seductive behavior by the female of the species. The more recent verb is derived from the fancy that a too enterprising woman resembles the aggressive vampire bat in pursuit of its victim.

Poor Man's Manure

An early spring snowfall of an inch or two that melts gradually when the sun comes out, giving all its moisture to the top soil. This is thought to be more beneficial to the land than an ordinary rain, which may run off quickly, eroding the field and leaving only part of its moisture for the ground. this notion that spring snow is a boon to the man who cannot afford extra loads of "dressing" is an example of Yankee optimism.

The Grandiloquent Dictionary: A Guide to Astounding Your Friends with Exotic, Curious, and Recherché Words by Russell Rocke

I'll admit to not having read this book in over 5 years since it was packed away in a box that I didn't realize I even had. That said, just a brief glance turns up some excellent words. Here they are:

scungilaginous (skun·ji·lajə·nəs) Of the semifluid gelatinous consistency of male genitalia. Probably from the Italian word scugilli, meaning conch

truckle (trukəl) To show servility or subservience: Do not truckle like a milksop

nulliparous (nu·lipər·əs) Of a female who has never given birth to a child

The Grand Panjandrum: And 1,999 Other Rare, Useful, and Delightful Words and Expressions by J.N. Hook

A panjandrum is "the name of a pompous, pretentious official with considerable power, which heshe is likely to use unwisely." The full definition as given by Hook is:

panjandrum  n  Samuel Foote, an eighteenth-century English writer, created some nonsense about Picninnies, Joblillies, Garyulies, "and the Grand Panjandrum himself, with the little round button on top." The other characters have almost vanished from human memory, but panjandrum survives as the name of a pompous, pretentious official with considerable power, which heshe is likely to use unwisely.

My last post was dedicated to this book and features a dozen more examples from it.

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