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Journeying through Language: Around the World in 80 Words

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle enjoys a world tour of the English language courtesy of Paul Anthony Jones’s new book

They say you should never judge a book by its cover, but ‘they’, of course are wrong. They’re especially wrong in the case of Paul Anthony Jones’s books of language trivia, which are becoming as much of an annual event – at least at IL Towers – as Jools’s Hootenanny or eating too much Christmas dinner. Last year’s book was a year’s guide to the English language – a yearbook of forgotten words, going through the calendar from 1st January to 31st December – and sported a beautifully designed cover that made it equally ideal for putting on show on the coffee table as hiding away as a private pleasure in the smallest room. And Jones’s new book, Around the World in 80 Words: A Journey Through the English Language (Elliott and Thompson), which is a geographical rather than chronological journey through the English language, sports an equally delightful blue-and-gold cover which matches perfectly the glittering facts to be found within. Read the rest of this entry

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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

Britain by the Book: The Curious Story of the Third Printing Press in Britain

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, we offer a brief excerpt from Dr Oliver Tearle’s new book, Britain by the Book: A Curious Tour of Our Literary Landscape

I’ve often thought that someone should write a book about interesting thirds. Firsts are interesting, of course, and the silver-medallists of history have their place, but the third of something is often fascinating in ways that can baffle and surprise.

Take Shakespeare’s First Folio, for instance – or rather, don’t take that, take his Third Folio instead. Copies of the Third Folio are worth more than a First Folio (which itself sells for a small fortune at auctions), because most of the Third Folios perished in the Great Fire of London. In the confessedly unlikely event that you should find an old Third Folio gathering dust in your attic, don’t throw it out thinking collectors are interested only in first editions.

Or consider the third university set up in England, which was in, of all places, Read the rest of this entry