A winning word

WANT to know what real bliss is to a dedicated word nerd?

It’s a brand new dictionary, to be pored over, and even pawed over, for the linguistic treasures within. Trouble is, dictionaries – even those frustratingly abridged editions – are horribly expensive.

There are several on the shelves chez Godson (the beloved is as big a word nerd as I am). There’s his battered Oxford, which has accompanied him across continents and through numerous newsrooms, my Oxford Illustrated and – a more recent acquisition – my abridged Collins.

I’ve always thought of Collins as a bit of a bland upstart. Getting one didn’t alter my opinion.

I’d always been an Oxford girl but that had to change when I joined the Daily Dispatch, whose rules dictate that Collins is the “house” guide to English. What I didn’t know – until I took ownership this week of a brand, spanking new edition – is that I’m really a Chambers girl at heart.

The beautiful book – all 1,904 pages of it – is a quirky delight. First published in 1872, Chambers’ original aim was to appeal to everyone. As the UK Independent says in its review of this one:  “Its 12th edition still has no truck with word snobbery, and boasts more entries and definitions than any other single volume English dictionary.”

And indeed it does – 620,000 words, as opposed to the Concise Oxford’s 240,000.

No starchiness here, either. The academically correct definitions and derivations are often accompanied by a wry description, as in the case of (chocolate) éclair, which it describes as “long in shape but short in duration”.

A special “red section” singles out such delights as “words that never were”, “extinct words”, “words that merit rescue”, and “insults”, as well as crossword code-breakers, indispensable two-letter word solutions, top-scoring Q and Z words for Scrabble lovers, etc.

Weighing in at around 2.5kg and costing some R500, I’d have really had to think twice about buying it, but – lucky me – I didn’t have to. It cost me just one word – mellifluous.

Well, one word and a tweet.

You see, among the “Twitterers” I follow is @FoxedQuarterly – tweeted by the dedicated bibliophiles who run independent London bookstore Slightly Foxed, started several decades ago by novelist Graham Greene’s nephew.

Send us your favourite word and its meaning, they tweeted in early December, and you could win a Chambers Dictionary.

So I did. The first one that popped into my head, in fact: “Mellifluous – flowing with sweetness and honey.”

The Foxed Quarterly folk answered immediately: “Very nice,” they said. “Here’s another: “goluptious” (delicious, voluptuous).

“That’s mellifluously goluptious, I’d say, wouldn’t you,” I tweeted back.

The flurry of competing tweets that followed put me in the doldrums. They were so odd that mellifluous – always a favourite of mine for its feeling on the tongue and its delicious descriptiveness – began to feel decidedly ordinary.

There was, for example, “tuftaffety” – taffeta with tufted pile, apparently. And “hornswoggle” – to trick and deceive.

When “callipygous” was tweeted, I knew all was lost. Who, after all, could resist a word that means “having beautiful buttocks”?

As I’d guessed, the Foxed Quarterly folk couldn’t. Happily, though, there were two copies of Chambers to be won, and the other one was mine.

Happily, too, my London-based daughter stoically lugged the weighty beast along with her when she came to visit me in South Africa this week.

What a mellifluous start to my new year! – Stevie Godson

(A version of this column first appeared in the Daily Dispatch 

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This entry was posted by stevieg on Saturday, January 7th, 2012 at 9:32 am and is filed under General . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

6 Comments

  1. Van Brown says:

    This was quite fun. I often just make up my own words. A friend recently pointed out that I had misspelled “Wreckquiem”. I pointed out that he should not take it out of the context, and that a true wreckquiem often contains a medley of hymns that start out with “Oh God…” followed by a series of rebukes strong enough to acid-etch the windshield. I also admonished him to consider his own car. That if the fenders didn’t have dents in them, he would not have a fair appreciation of the word, or for the particular style of music. Best to you,

    • stevieg says:

      I rather like “wreckquiem” – and at least the rebukes should keep the congregation awake! (Not quite with you on the fender dents, though …)
      There’s a section in my new Chambers for words that merit rescue that you might like – I’m partial to “dandiprat” (an insignificant person) and “enrheum” (to give a cold to.)
      Best to you, too.

  2. Sounds like something I would love to have! I have an 1851 edition of a huge dictionary including scientific and technical words. And it was a bargain at a used book stall – $10.00. It is rather bulky – 7″ x 10-1/2″ and 4″ thick. There are some pretty interesting words in it, some I’ve never heard before. But the bad news is that, when I got it home, I discovered it was Volume II! And the dealer didn’t know where to find Volume I among the many books in his garage. So I may never possess A to I. 🙁 Happy word-hunting.

    • stevieg says:

      Oh, you would Diane. I feel so lucky – couldn’t believe I’d really won it. I love those old dictionaries like the one you found (I guess you’ll have to keep searching for A to I, though!)

  3. Love Nerds! I am just a simple Christian poet, but I wish I was a Christian nerd poet. Be blelssed.
    Estelle P. Shrum
    http://www.Heistheword.com
    Author of: He Is The Word

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