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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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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

The Book of Forgotten Authors: Forgotten Writers Who Are Worth Reading

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle reads Christopher Fowler’s enthralling account of the writers who time forgot

I’ve always been fond of the curious coincidence that in the 1960s there was a writer of novels about boxing who wrote under the name Frank Bruno. Or that Robert Shaw, who turned in a booming performance as Henry VIII in Fred Zinnemann’s superlative film of Robert Bolt’s play A Man for All Seasons, was a successful novelist as well as a fine actor. The literary associations of such names have now largely been lost, but it’s great fun to recover them and re-examine the work of the authors in question.

So I was thrilled to receive a copy of Christopher Fowler’s new book, The Book of Forgotten Authors, which bears a glorious pink cover dotted with silhouettes of now-unfamiliar literary figures, and salvages 99 names from the mists of writerly obscurity and puts them back under the spotlight. And some of the revelations on offer here are truly fascinating. Read the rest of this entry