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A Dictionary of Unusual and Preposterous Words

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle revels in the arcane lexicography of Mrs Byrne’s Dictionary of Unusual, Obscure and Preposterous Words

The word deboswellize means ‘to deprecate someone in a biography’. It’s derived from James Boswell, the celebrated biographer of Samuel Johnson. Anaxiphilia means ‘the act of falling in love with someone entirely inappropriate, by someone who should know better’. More emotive, and dripping with unspoken and tragic hopelessness, is the word anacampserote, which refers to ‘something which can bring back a lost love.’

None of these three words is likely to be on the tongues (or in the minds) of the average reader, and they were new to me until I recently encountered them, in Mrs. Byrne’s Dictionary of Unusual Obscure and Preposterous Words: Gathered from Numerous and Diverse Authoritative Sources, which may just be the most endlessly fascinating and entertaining lexicon I’ve yet encountered. (I’ll except the Oxford English Dictionary here, and possibly Johnson’s dictionary, on the grounds that they are beyond question in the fascination stakes for the sheer vastness of their achievement.) Read the rest of this entry

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Seven Things You May Not Know About Punctuation

In this special guest post, Caroline Taggart offers some little-known facts about punctuation marks, to mark the publication of her new book, The Accidental Apostrophe: … And Other Misadventures in Punctuation

Did you know

1. The Victorians were crazy about hyphens?

Jane Austen’s nephew Edward Austen Leigh, composing a biography of his aunt in the 1860s, had occasion to mention the joys of spring in the country, including early primroses, anemones and the first bird’s-nest. That hyphen makes it absolutely clear that he means the first nest (of the season) belonging to a bird, rather than a nest belonging to the first bird. A bit over-precise by today’s standards, you might think.

2. Charles Dickens could work six semi-colons into a single sentence?

It’s right at the beginning of Great Expectations, and it’s a masterpiece: Read the rest of this entry

Five Great Words for Specific Days of the Year

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle reads The Cabinet of Linguistic Curiosities by Paul Anthony Jones

I love books of language trivia, and learning new words is always a pleasure. One of the finest Twitter accounts to offer a ‘word of the day’ is @HaggardHawks, run by Paul Anthony Jones, author of several fascinating books on language and a real logognost (one who knows words – actually, I just Googled to see if that word exists and apparently it doesn’t, but it should: we have the word ‘bibliognost’ for one who knows books). His new book, The Cabinet of Linguistic Curiosities: A Yearbook of Forgotten Words, is a treasure-trove of rare words – arranged so that each page considers a different word and explores its connection to a day of the year. Here are five of my favourites – though there were many more I could have chosen.

Quaaltagh (1 January). The first person you meet on New Year’s Day. This word found its way into English from Manx, the Celtic language of the Isle of Man, and is pronounced ‘quoll-tukh’. The word originally Read the rest of this entry