Ammon Shea recently spent a year of his life reading the OED from start to finish. Over the next few months he will be posting weekly blogs about the insights, gems, and thoughts on language that came from this experience. His book, Reading the OED, will be published by Perigee in July. In the post below Ammon, an expert dictionary reader, describes his time in the trenches.
There are a great many ways in which one can amuse oneself, and fritter away a large portion of time, by playing around with the OED online. Charlotte Brewer has provided excellent instructions here on how to go about looking for a specific author, quotation, or bit of useful information. It can be addictive, once you realize just how much of the dictionary you can pull up with just a few clicks and some typing.
If, for instance, you ever find yourself wondering how many times the OED cites words from Joyce’s Ulysses, simply amble over to the advanced search page, type in Joyce under ‘quotation author’ and Ulysses under ‘quotation work’ and you are presented with a list of 1,375 words from that particular book. Suddenly here before you is an enormous chunk of Ulysses, chopped up in a mad blender and repositioned in a vaguely alphabetical fashion, readable in a fashion that I find only slightly more confusing than the original.
I spent a good portion of last night, and most of this morning, looking over words from Nathan Bailey’s dictionaries that are included in the OED. There is very little useful about this – most of them are words that I’ll forget, and if I do somehow remember them they tend to not fall into the category of ‘things which are handy to know’.
But I’ve always felt a strong allegiance towards Bailey, perhaps because he has been largely ignored and forgotten outside of lexicographic circles, and perhaps because his 1721 work An Universal Etymological Dictionary was one of the first dictionaries that I read. I try to read him whenever I get the chance, reminding myself of something I saw in a book of Greek myths as a child; that the ancient gods died when people stopped praying to them.
I don’t expect that he’ll ever mount a comeback, in the way that Robert Cawdrey did last year when his dictionary of 1604 was re-released with an introduction by John Simpson. And he is most likely read more often in the pages of the OED than in the pages of his own books.
This is not an attempt to revive the reputation of Bailey, or an exhortation to read his dictionaries. Bailey’s books are riddled with errors (as were pretty much all dictionaries of the time), sometimes risibly so, yet they are enjoyable in spite of, or sometimes because of, this. So if you have an extra afternoon or two lying around, and nothing to do with them (and a subscription to the online OED), go type in ‘Bailey’ under the box for first cited author. Here is a list of just some of the words you’ll meet:
- Abligurition – A prodigal spending in Belly-Cheere
Aquabibe – A water drinker
Atechny – Ignorance of art, unskilfulness.
Besputter – To spirt or flirt spittle upon
Calceated – Shod, or fitted with shoos (sic)
Condolatory – Expressive of or intending condolence
Connoissance – A solid and critical Judgment in any Art or Science
Crapulence – Sickness or indisposition resulting from excess in drinking or eating
Devitable – Easy to be shunned or avoided
Elumbated – Made lame in his Loins
Exauspication – An unlucky beginning of a thing
Famelicose – Often or very hungry
Maculose – Full of Spots or Stains
Malesuete – That has contracted an ill Habit or Custom
Matrisate – To imitate the Mother.
Mendicable – That may be begged
Mulierose – Too much addicted to the Love of Women
Mumpish – Angry, and silent withal
Perturbatrix – [a disturber, a troublesome person] in the female sex
Testiculous – That hath great Cods