Thursday, 8 May 2008


I’ve taken a lot of teasing here about my lack of navigational skills and I freely admit to being directionally challenged, though I will stubbornly claim having a rough sense of direction. It’s just that if you’ve grown up in a place that looks like this or lived here, trying to find your way around this is a bit more challenging. In Oklahoma City you can know east and west by looking at the sun; in Salt Lake City the big mountains are to the east, the smaller ones to the west. Where I live now is relatively flat and the sun is an exceedingly unreliable attendant (though it’s looking pretty good this morning for a change).

Then there is the nice sort of lost, the kind where you lose your awareness of self in an activity. If you love words, it’s easy to get lost in a dictionary. Did you ever go to look up a word and then see 5 or 6 others that looked really interesting? I would think "Oh, I always wondered what that word meant,” or, “Whoever knew there was such a collection of letters in the English language?” I could sometimes almost forget what word brought me to the page. If the disadvantage of a paper dictionary is that you have to make a close guess about how to spell a word, the disadvantage of an online dictionary is that you only see the word you request. (But does everyone know about Shift-F7 that provides an instant thesaurus in Word? I’m sure you do, but I’m still bringing Bill up to speed with these little tricks, you know. I could almost forgive the downside of the computerized dictionary, I love the thesaurus so.)

I will now get to the point of this post, which is to suggest that you investigate The Superior Person’s Book of Words by Peter Bowler. I believe it was a Christmas gift to Bill from one of the Horrors (his term of endearment for his progeny). I’ll give you an example – and I may share an occasional favourite in future when I run out of ideas for other rambling posts:

PLETHORA n. Too many of a good or bad thing (cf. surfeit, too much of a good thing). The number of objects constituting a plethora varies. To the house-proud matron, a single cockroach in her kitchen is a plethora, since cockroaches are, to her, anathema (q.v.). Indeed, a house-proud matron is, by definition, someone with a plethora of anathemas.

ANATHEMA n. A person or thing abominated by, and hence anathema to, someone. Less often used now in its proper sense of a formal curse pronounced by an ecclesiastical authority in the process of excommunication or denunciation. Like plethora (q.v.) recommended for use by lispers, in whose speech the deliberate use of the sound th can, properly managed, create a satisfying disorientation in the mind of the listener. Anathematic: a pathological gathper. (I had to say this out loud before I got it).

I hadn’t investigated this book until recently but I have to say I think the Horror chose well, don’t you?

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