Monday, 1 April 2013

I want a Lexicograsaurus

If you ever wanted a non-biology based allegory for the process of natural selection, I reckon there are two good candidates. The first would be fairy stories. As I wrote in this blogpost in 2008:

'With the exception of those that were popularised by Joseph Jacobs - and which now survive as pantomimes - most British fairy stories fell out of use through neglect. Instead of being told and retold and adapted and changed, they were preserved and archived by 18th century folklorists who collected and stored them away for posterity. It's good that they were not lost ... but the desire to 'preserve' them has left them as dry and dusty as pinned moths in a display case. To all intents and purposes they are dead, which is why our kids don't know any of them. How sad is it that young Cornish kids all know Andersen's Little Mermaid but don't know about the Mermaid of Zennor? Isn't it tragic that kids know all about Pocahontas but have never heard of The Wise Men of Gotham?'

British fairy stories haven't evolved in the way that European tales have. Little Red Riding Hood has gone through many changes and so it endures. 95% of traditional British stories are pretty much dead.

The other great allegory is the English language itself. I love that it is fluid and plastic and constantly changing. It evolves. Words die and new ones arise; the fittest survive and the dinosaurs become extinct. That doesn't mean we can't love them and be fascinated by them though.

We have a Thesaurus for synonyms and antonyms. Wouldn't it be fun to have something like a Lexicograsaurus to store all the extinct ones?

Here are a few that I love and which, like the stegosaurus and the pteranodon, I wish we still had around.

Aquabob: An icicle.
Beef-witted: Having an inactive brain, thought to be from eating too much beef.
Bibliobibuli: People who read too much; constantly drunk on books, as other men are drunk on whisky or religion.
Bookwright: A writer of books; an author; a term of slight contempt.
Bumwhush: Ruin and obscurity.
California widow: A married woman whose husband is away from her for any extended period.
Curglaff: The shock felt in bathing when one first plunges into the cold water.
Drumble: To move lazily or sluggishly.
Englishable: That which may be rendered into English.
Fubbery: Deceit, cheating.
Groak: To silently watch someone while they are eating, hoping to be invited to join them.
Ilspile: A hedgehog. Other words include Cirogrille, used by medieval writers; echinus, the Latin; furze-pig; hotchi withcu, in Gypsy; hurcheon; irchepil; irchon; tiggy.
Jirble: To pour out (a liquid) with an unsteady hand.
Lunting: Walking while smoking a pipe.
Murlimews: The blessings and crossings that priests make with the holy water.
Nurk: The worst pig in the litter.
Peenge: To complain in a whiny voice.
Pussyvan: A flurry, temper.
Quignogs: Ridiculous notions.
Resistentialism: The seemingly spiteful behaviour shown by inanimate objects.
Sardoodledom: A type of play with a contrived and often melodramatic plot. It also describes plays that are well-written, but have trivial or morally objectionable plots.
Skybosh: A practical joke or tomfoolery.
Snoutfair: A person with a handsome countenance.
Soda-squirt: One who works at a soda fountain in New Mexico.
Special-Bastard: A child born to a couple that aren't married who then marry.
Spermologer: A picker-up of trivia, of current news, a gossip monger, what we would today call a columnist.
Swabble: To make a noise like sloshing water.
Tyromancy: Divining by the coagulation of cheese.
With squirrel: Pregnant.
Wonder-wench: A sweetheart.
Zafty: A person very easily imposed upon.

and the wonderful ...

Queerplungers: Cheats who throw themselves into the water in order that they may be taken up by their accomplices, who carry them to one of the houses appointed by the Humane Society for the recovery of drowned persons, where they are rewarded by the society with a guinea each, and the supposed drowned person, pretending he was driven to that extremity by great necessity, is also frequently sent away with a contribution in his pocket.

Inspired by words found by Carmel Lobello in The Word Museum: The Most Remarkable English Words Ever Forgotten by Jeffrey Kacirk and on The Scribbler's brilliant Obsolete Words blog.

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps there should be a secret society for people who wish to preserve these gems. Members could take every available opportunity to utter such words, thus restoring them to active life.

    Me, I'm looking forward to saying "It's no use peenging! Not only are you beef-witted, but you're also a drumbler! You couldn't even get a job as a soda-squirt!"