Tag Archives: etymology of words

Words

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.”
― T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets.

It’s been some time since I wrote on words, although any of you who have stuck with me know that I love words.

Every year, the Oxford Living Dictionary, among others, determines one word for the year. Their word for 2018 is Toxic.

We are told – “The adjective toxic is defined as ‘poisonous’ and first appeared in English in the mid-seventeenth century from the medieval Latin toxicus, meaning ‘poisoned’ or ‘imbued with poison’”. Read the whole article for more interesting facts about toxic and its uses.

Words

Some 1400 words were added to the dictionary in 2018. And so for your delectation and delight, here are some of them.;

  •  A nothingburger –  a person or thing of no importance, value, or substance, especially something which, contrary to expectations, turns out to be insignificant or unremarkable.
  • Glamping – It’s not just camping. It’s glamorous camping — and it usually means spending a night in the great outdoors with beds, electricity, and even indoor plumbing (so you’re not really outdoors at all)
  • Bingeable –Merriam-Webster defines this adjective as “having multiple episodes or parts that can be watched in rapid succession,”.
  • Goat – It stands for “greatest of all time,” and you’ll usually hear the acronym as a descriptor for LeBron James, Serena Williams, or Tom Brady.
  • Denonym – a proper noun used to denote the natives or inhabitants of a particular country, state, city, etc.
  • Mansplain — to explain something to a woman in a condescending way that assumes she has no knowledge about the topic.
  • Deglobalization” is the process of making something less global and more regional in nature, focus, impact, etc.; esp. the reversal or decline of globalization, or its effects.
  • Hangry is defined as bad-tempered or irritable as a result of hunger.

Did you see  Business Insider’s January 5 article on the word of the year? – “The American Dialect Society named “tender-age shelter” the 2018 “Word of the Year.”  Read more here 

But probably my favourite word for the year is again Trumpism – the philosophy and politics espoused by Donald Trump.

So another rambling post from this ageing mind in a sunny but very windy Wellington, NZ.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Madman, Murderer and Words.

By now you will have recognised realised that I am besotted by words in the English language.  I like the way they look, the way they sound and their meanings.  I can spend whole days following the etymology of words.

Imagine my delight then some years ago to be presented with a copy of “The Professor and the Madman” the story of the compiling of the Oxford English Dictionary and the two men who were so intimately involved in it.

Book cover - Professor and madman

The Professor and the Madman masterfully researched and eloquently written, is an extraordinary tale of madness, genius, and the incredible obsessions of two remarkable men that led to the making of the “Oxford English Dictionary”–and literary history.” From the book description on Amazon.

Have you discovered this book yet?  It was written and researched by Simon Winchester and  published in 1999.

We are told that compiling the OED  was one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken.   As definitions and quotations were collected, Professor James Murray leading the overseeing committee discovered that Dr W C Minor had submitted more than 10,000 words and their quotations.  The committee insisted honoring him at which time the truth came to light.

That truth – Dr Minor, an American Civil War veteran, was  an inmate at Broadmoor, an asylum for the criminally insane.

Dr Minor had served in the Union army as an  assistant surgeon and held the rank of lieutenant. He spent about six months attending to civil war casualties at hospitals in New England before being sent to the front line in May 1864. It appears that following time in the battlefield his mental illness resurfaced.  Because of this he had to leave the army and was sent by his family to convalesce in London.  He settled in a particularly poor part of London (Lambeth) where he supported himself by painting watercolours and playing the flute.  But his mental illness was never under control and while living there he shot and killed a brewery worker who was on his way to work, thinking that the worker was out to seek revenge for an earlier incident while Minor was in the US Army.

Minor gave himself up to the police and was sentenced to be confined in the newly opened Broadmoor Asylum ‘Until Her Majesty’s Pleasure Be Known’

While detained in Broadmoor where he had two cells, a manservant, a large collection of books, and, incredibly, regular visits from Eliza Merrett, the widow of the man he had murdered, Minor heard of the   ‘Appeal for volunteer readers’ sent out by James Murray, in which Murray asked interested members of the reading public to scour published literature for quotations to illustrate the use of English words. Minor, described by the Broadmoor administrators as particularly learned set to work assembling lists of quotations and by the mid-1880s was sending hundreds, and later thousands, of quotations on slips of paper  to Murray and his team at the “famous scriptorium at 79 Banbury Road, Oxford.”

The letters were  signed ‘W. C. Minor, Crowthorne, Berkshire’, and until he called upon Minor,  Murray had no idea that his most assiduous correspondent was an American murderer and an inmate at one of Britain’s most secure and infamous lunatic asylums.

The two men became firm friends united by the complexity of the English language.  Despite this friendship and the benefits of his involvement in the dictionary Minor’s illness became more acute and in 1902, he amputated his own penis in the belief it might curb his troublesome sexual appetite. Following this and prompted by Murray, the  Home Secretary, Winston Churchill, allowed Minor’s release and deportation in 1910.

Minor was farewelled by Murray and his wife and sailed back to New York where on arrival there, he was immediately committed to  St Elizabeth’s Hospital in Washington, DC. He deteriorated steadily, was moved to the Retreat for the Elderly Insane in Hartford, Connecticut and in 1920 died of a respiratory infection

We know very little of his life after returning to the United States but his legacy as a volunteer reader can be found among the pages of the twenty-volume Oxford English Dictionary. Professor James Murray said of him at the time that “so enormous have been Dr. Minor’s contributions … that we could easily illustrate the last four centuries from his quotations alone” (The Professor and the madman p160).

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