O is for the Oxford English Dictionary…and So Am I

The only person I know who owns a full set of the Oxford English Dictionary is Ara Taylor, a writer who handles Course Reserves at the Whatcom Community College Library.

When, in 1977, her parents asked her what she wanted for graduation, she said—because of her exposure to the dictionary in an etymology class at the University of Wisconsin—”The OED!”

She got it alright, but instead of the 20-volume set, she received the compact two-volume version, with print so microscopic that a magnifying glass was included. Thirty-two years later she was able to buy what she really wanted: the full set for $25 (!) at a library book sale.

Ammon Shea ordered his volumes because he planned to read the entire 21,730 pages. He describes what happened the day his books came.

My Oxford English Dictionary arrives at 9:27 one Monday morning brought by a deliveryman who is much cheerier than I would have expected anyone carrying 150 pounds of books up a flight of stairs to be.” —Ammon Shea, Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 pages

From Shea’s descriptions of the books on page one, I knew that he’d be a whimsical, imaginative reader/writer: “They are all dust-jacketed in dark blue, with a regal and chitinous gloss, resembling the covering of some beautiful and wordy beetle.” What a leap of imagination it takes to liken book covers to the hard shells of insects, or, to quote one of the more poetic lines of the OED directly,”carapaces of crustacea.”

Shea has been reading dictionaries since he was ten years old, and in 2007 he began the ultimate eye-straining, headache-producing, and happiest task of his life. Here’s the last paragraph of Reading the OED:

“I had hoped that within its pages I would find everything I had ever looked for in a novel: joy and sorrow, laughter and frustration, and the excitement and contentment that is unique to great storytelling. The OED exceeded all of these hopes and expectations. It is the greatest story I’ve every read.”

I expected a book based on reading a 20-volume collection of words to be heftier than 223 pages, especially since Ammon said “If you are interested in vocabulary that is both spectacularly useful and beautifully useless, read on, and enjoy the efforts of a man who is in love with words. I have read the OED so that you don’t have to.

I’m glad for the brevity of his volume because it’s unlikely that I’ll learn even the meanings of the words Shea has included. I’ve become acquainted with Jehu, n. A reckless driver; Tardiloquent, adj. Talking slowly; Inspirado, n. A person who thinks himself inspired. Iatrogenic, adj. Pertaining to symptoms caused unintentionally by a doctor; Elozable, adj. Readily influenced by flattery.

Shea’s book is organized alphabetically, with amiable explanatory text introducing and/or interspersed in each section. He can’t resist calling the Introduction an Exordium

OED definition: The beginning of anything; esp. the introductory part of a discourse, treatise, etc.; ‘the proemial part of a composition’ (Johnson).

 and the Bibliography, an Excursus

OED Definition: Latin word is used by editors of the classics to signify: A detailed discussion (usually in the form of an appendix at the end of the book, or of a division of it) of some point which it is desired to treat more fully than can be done in a note.

I love the OED, which is why my wife gave me an online subscription for Christmas, but I’ve never thought of it as a “story.” He’s convinced me. Listen to what these other writers have said:

  • “No really serious writer should be without an OED...Nothing else comes close.”—David Foster Wallace
  • “I’m told that when Auden died, they found his OED all but clawed to pieces. That is the way a poet and his dictionary should go out.”—Frances Steegmuller
  • “All the raw material a writer needs for a lifetime of work.”—Annie Proulx

Walter Isaccson’s idea comes closest to my feeling: “The OED is not only a wonderful tool for a writer, it’s also an inspiration and joy. I feel invigorated whenever I plunge into it.”

In an effort to learn more about Shea, the author whose book I plunged into and from which I found inspiration and joy, I went to the website listed on the book jacket: http://www.AmmonShea.com. Keying in that address with or without capitals resulted in access to Ammon Shea, Insurance advisor, an unlikely career transfer for a writer who has supported himself as a furniture mover in New York, a gondolier in San Diego, and a street musician in Paris. Can that really be him?

One thing for sure: I’ll read more books by Ammon Shea.

P.S. I saw a complete set of the 1989 OED at a Half Price Bookstore. I’m tempted. I wish it weren’t twenty times what Ara Taylor paid for hers

 

 

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David Bukszpan on N

See the picture of the waggish character to your left? He’s David Bukszpan, the author of Is That A Word? subtitled From AA to ZZZ, the Weird and Wonderful Language of Scrabble®, published by Chronicle Books in 2012.

I lifted the photo from Ohio State’s Department of English. Wouldn’t it be fun to make up definitions for his name — and doesn’t he look like a fun person to get to know? The Department’s website lists him as an MFA Student in Creative Writing. He also has office hours, so he must be doing some teaching.  Although this is his first book, he already has an impressive resume. He’s written for the New York Times, the Daily Beast, and websites for Harpers, The Paris Review, and the Economist’s Intelligent life.

He has some fascinating chapters and sidebars, like this one: The Ten Most Important (i.e. highest scoring Two-Letter Words). Here they are, so you’re ready for your next game: Zat: pizza; Qi: the central life force in traditional Chinese culture; Jo: a sweetheart; Ox: a large mammal [hey, we knew that one, at least!]; Xi: a Greek letter; Xu: a monetary unit of Vietnam; Ka: the eternal soul in ancient Egyptian spirituality; and Ki: the life force in traditional Chinese culture.

And now, I’m going to get around to N and I’m going to let Mr. Bukszpan write this blog for me by quoting one of his sections. First, he defines the words, and then he writes a sentence with them. Here we go:

  • Neap: a tide halfway between high and low tides
  • Netop: a buddy
  • Neatnik: a compulsively neat person
  • Naif: a naive person
  • Nett: to net
  • Nekton: any free swimming aquatic animals (in contrast with plankton)
  • Ness: a headland
  • Linn: a waterfall (also lin) [I don’t understand why an “L” is in the list….]
  • Nth: describing an unspecified number of a series
  • Nada: nothing

His sentence is: “At neap, my netop--a neatnik who’s a naif–tried to nett nekton from the ness by the linn for the nth time. Gain: nada.”

For a hilarious, though too long, book trailer about his book, watch this video!

If you have a basic interest in words, even if you’re not a Scrabble® I recommend Is That a Word?  The style is breezy, the illustrations amusing, and along the way, the reader learns the art of  “Unscrambling Scrabblish.”

 

 

M: From Makatu to Memory

I searched the ten-page M-section of Foyle’s Philavery: A Treasury of Unusual Words (See my blog on Philavery here) to find a blog-suitable word.

Blog-suitable means that a word must glimmer, a concept I borrowed from my wife Amory’s experience at a worship service. The leader placed stones, stamped with words like tenderness, humor, guidance, and embrace, on an altar. She asked the participants to choose a word that glimmered, a word that seemed to contain a message for them.

We have both adopted glimmer as an indicator for word choices in writing. Amory says that some words shout, others whisper, some hide, others beckon.

I like a word that changes my expression, generating a tiny, but irrepressible smile. I like a word discovered late at night, one I can take to bed with me, and awake to in the morning with anticipation of what I might find out about it. I like a word that beckons.

As evening drew to a conclusion, I copied down sixteen words and their definitions from Mr. Foyle’s collection.

Makutu, n., coming from New Zealand and Polynesia, refers to a magic spell—just what I needed to advance my writing. Marc, n., besides being a possible Scrabble word, is the residue of left-over skins and stems from pressed grapes that can be used to make brandy—grape skin, an ingredient for alcohol, who knew?! Mendaciloquent, adj., refers to telling lies, speaking falsehoods—with multiple applications in the current political climate.

Then there was Murcous, adj., lacking a thumb with a story behind it. Murcous comes from the Latin murcus, meaning truncated or mutilated, and used to describe those who eliminated a thumb in order to avoid military service. Mneme, n. (the ability to retain a memory of past experiences…and to transmit them to future generations) got to me because of its weird pronunciation: the “m” is silent and the word, pronounced ‘nee-mee,’ sounds like ‘creamy.’

Any of these words could support an archeological dig into their lexicography, but in the morning I decided on a more common word, a simple word–a word not even on Foyle’s list, a word that did not glimmer, a worthy word, but not blog-worthy by my definition.

In his journal written in 1827, Sir Walter Scott described a person: “No dash or glimmer or shine about him, but great simplicity of manners and behavior.” I think his definition can apply to words too.

The word I will explore (but not here!)  is memory, a simple word having manners and good behavior. Memory is one of the 2017 Kumquat Challenge words. Every year since 2007, the Library at Whatcom Community College has sponsored a poetry-writing contest for Poetry Month. Tami Garrard, Sally Sheedy, Ara Taylor, and I, members of the library’s marketing committee, chose ten words and invited the campus community to use them in a poem. We produced a thin volume of 25 poems. Ara Taylor has again invited submissions from those connected to the college. For guidelines check here.

Looking back at the very first Kumquat Challenge, I was amused to find that one of the ten words was….glimmer. Despite the fact that I needed an M-Word for this column, glimmer was the word that beckoned.

L is for Lambert…without a capital

One night when my wife and I were propped up in bed, playing Words with Friends™, the online version of Scrabble™, I found that the seven letters in my hand, ALRTMEB, spelled my married surname: Lambert.

I’ve always thought proper names were not allowed in Scrabble, although I have stumbled on a few like joe and barb and drew, but lambert?! Check out this OED definition: Lambert: a unit of luminance equal to one lumen per square centimeter (equivalent to approximately 3180 candelas per square.

Ok, but what’s a lumen and what’s a candela? The origin of lumen is Latin, meaning light: an opening, and a candela (what a lovely sounding word!) is a unit of luminous intensity.

To further illustrate the definition of lambert, the OED, as usual, includes quotations. In 1915, P.G. Nutting wrote in Electrical World, “I prefer to speak of a brightness of so many ‘lamberts.'”

Well, you get the picture. Having produced seven Lamberts from my very own womb, I like to think of a “brightness of so many lamberts.” Never mind that Nutting was not referencing my children.

The lambert was named after Johann Heinrich Lambert (1728-1777), a Swiss German scientist, the son of a tailor, and largely self-educated in astronomy, physics, and philosophy. In addition to working on the measurement of light, he developed theories on parallel lines and on π (pi). Along with Immanuel Kant, with whom he corresponded, he was among to first to recognize that spiral nebulae are disk-shaped galaxies like the Milky Way.

And now, I have an admission to make. I would have no acquaintance with the eighteenth-century genius J.H. Lambert and the derivation and meaning of my surname if I weren’t a cheater.*  That’s right. My wife and I play Words with Friends™ on our phones. Right next to our phones, our laptops which are tuned to WEG—Win Every Game—which allows players to type in their letters and receive word choices to use. We both have the same handicap. We look up almost all the weird new words we encounter and then we use what’s left of our brains to make strategic word placements.

WEG part of my self-education. For example, besides lambert, the letters ALRTMEB, can make ambler, lamber, armlet, marble, blamer, ramble, labret, and tramel. Ambler, armlet, marble, blame, and ramble are familiar, but I had to look up labret (a labret is a lip ornament made of a small piece of shell, bone or stone), lamber (yellow amber), and tramel (a long narrow fishing net.)

I don’t anticipate using any of those words in conversation unless someone (hopefully none of my children) sports a lamber labret. Tramel might be more likely, although I never heard my former husband, who fished for a time, use the term.

P.S. Some years ago, we found out that John Lambert, the children’s great-grandfather, ran away from home and changed his name. Shortly before he died, he revealed that his real surname was Lambries. His family of origin was/is in Wisconsin. One of my sons, his wife, and their four children have changed their name to Lambries. They are still bright lights.

* Disclaimer: If I play Scrabble™ or Words with Friends™ with anyone besides Amory, I don’t use WEG. Ever.

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There are 387 words that the Merriam-Webster Official Players Dictionary lists aas proper nouns and therefore used in Scrabble or Words with Friends. You can see the list of acceptable proper names here

K is for Kansa, Konza, Kanza, and Kaw

Way back on day #7 in G is for George, I mentioned my great grandfather whose parents permitted him to enlist in the Kansas Light Artillery in1963 when he turned sixteen. I’ve made two trips to Kansas to visit the towns where he and my ancestors lived, to search out their headstones in cemeteries, and to absorb a landscape that was in the bones of my forbearers, but foreign to me. There are stories to be learned and told, and background to bring into my being.

In Topeka, I saw the bronze Kanza warrior atop the state capital dome. In books, I found anecdotes about the Kansa in Ghost Towns of Kansas and Faded Dreams: more Ghost Towns of Kansas by Daniel Fitzgerald. The word Kansa kept coming up.

Spellcheck immediately produced squiggly red underlining and suggested that I might want Kinas, kanga, Kansan, Kansas, or Kwanza. Kinas and Kanga, words unknown to me, could turn on my rabbit hole research switch, but I really do mean Kansa. The OED knows that. When you insert Kansa into the search box, you’re immediately taken you to a definition: “A Siouan Indian people formerly of Kansas and now in Oklahoma; also known as KAW. n. a member of this people; the name of their language. If you look up Kansas, however, it takes you to Kansa. Way to go OED!

Kaw came from the Sioux word aca, meaning Southwind. These native Americans were known as “people of the Southwind.” French traders and other Europeans called them Kanza or Kansa. Kansa became the dominant tribe, and the tribe from which the state gained its name.

No diaries or letters are extant from my great-grandfather. I do not know if he served with any people of the Southwind. I do know, from records in the national archives that seventy Kaw men enlisted in the Kansas Calvary and twenty-one of them died.

Here’s a more positive story about the most famous Kansa tribe member of all: Charles Curtis (1860-1936). Charles was three when his mother, one quarter Kansa Indian, died, but he spent his early youth with the Kaw Indian tribe. In 1868 Cheyenne warriors attacked the Kaw Reservation. One of the Kaw tribe, an interpreter named Jojim took off on horseback to ask for help from the governor. Charles, eight years old, rode with him: 60 miles! Curtis grew up, became a jockey (no wonder! what an experience), was admitted to the bar in 1881, and practiced law in Topeka was elected to the House of Representatives, then the Senate. He became Republican whip and majority whip. He became the 31st vice-president of the United States in1928, serving with Herbert Hoover.

Now I know a smidgen of Kansa history—and have no way to tie it to my grandfather, the impetus for this post.It’s not quite enough to say that my great grandfather lived in Topeka, that he too was Republican, and that he ran for local political office, but lost.

I never know where a single word will take me—sometimes a little off the track. The last fluent speaker of Kansa died in 1983. The last full-blooded Kaw died in 2000, but the tribe, based in Oklahoma continues, and their impact on Kansas remains.

 

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*PHOTO CREDIT for Kanza Indian Warrior Topeka: CHRIS MURPHY

Background information on the Kansa Tribe

J is for Josepha Byrne

On the second day of the A-Z Challenge, I planned to write about Mrs. Byrne’s Dictionary of Unusual Obscure and Preposterous Words, a favorite book I acquired in the seventies, but I couldn’t find it. So, I opted to do J for Josefa (Mrs. Byrne’s first name) on Day 12—surely enough time to find my copy. I described the book to my wife, who excels at lost item detection.

“It’s a hardback,” I told her, emphasizing “that it had “a yellow cover, black typescript running across it. Published by University Books.” Several days passed. No luck.

Maybe my local library system had it. Not listed. I checked World Cat (“Find items in libraries near you”) which catalogs two billion items. I typed in the full name of the book and the nearest library came up: “Qatar University, Dohar, Qatar, 7300 miles away.” Hmm, a little too distant for an Inter-Library Loan (ILL) request, even for our local library manager Brian Hulsey, a 2017 ALA-designated “Emerging Leader.”

I limited the search to the first three words of the title, “Mrs. Byrne’s Dictionary.” A 1995 edition retitled The Word Lover’s Dictionary: unusual, obscure and preposterous words, flashed on the screen and was available at six libraries in the region. The nearest: Toppinish, WA, 190 miles; the furthest, Brigham Young University, 790 miles.

Then I found a 2012 edition, The Indispensable Dictionary of Unusual Words by Josefa Heifetz Byrne, published by Skyhorse in New York (the same publisher of The Making of the President 2016 which I referenced in another blog, “Understanding the Other”). I ordered it. Before it came in the mail, my wife found the original copy. Since I had sent Amory on a quest for a book with a yellow cover, it was especially good that she was able to find it. (P.S. She’s had many years experience finding things I’ve lost.)

The cover was missing, the spine label damaged and half-detached. I wandered through its familiar pages, especially noting the three dozen words and definitions I’d written on the back cover, among them

  • logolept: n. a word maniac
  • subboreal: adj. cold but not freezing
  • tarassis: n. male hysteria
  • myomancy: n. fortune telling by watching mice
  • pangram: n. a sentence containing every letter of the alphabet: “Q.V. Schwatzkp, Jr., bungled my fix.” n. pangrammatist
  • rhytiphobia: n. fear of getting wrinkles

I don’t recall ever using any of these words in sentences. It’s too late to talk about rhytiphobia and there are no males in my life who are hysterical. My feet often feel subboreal, but why should I complain—my oldest son, to whom I bequeathed thitendencycy, bought us both foot warming blankets. I wonder if there are any words ending in “mancy” that describe my fear of talking like a logolept. I don’t often use unusual words or write in pangrams, though I do love unusual words and learning the derivations of any word. They each have a story.

I’m heartened that Mrs. Byrne’s Dictionary has a 21st Century life, but speaking of life, I wonder if she is still alive. I looked in multiple sources, but I couldn’t find any current information. The back cover bio of the 2012 edition says she “was a lexicographer…[and] was the author of several music books.” Does the past tense indicate that she’s no longer with us or no longer a lexicographer? If it’s the latter, retirement from the field could be celebrated.  Samuel Johnson defines a lexicographer as “a harmless drudge that busies himself in tracing the origin and detailing the signification of words.” On the other hand, a lexicographer, the historian Macaulay says, “may well be content if his productions are received by the world with cold esteem.”

Josefa is no longer Mrs. Byrne. She married Robert Byrne in 1958. They had one child, Russell, and divorced in 1976, which accounts for the omission of the phrase “Mrs. Byrne’s Dictionary” in subsequent editions. Robert Byrne’s “Editor’s Introduction” is included and is exactly the same in the 2012 version, ending with these fine words: “The author and editor apologize for the ammunition this book provides to bad writers.”

Thanks, Mrs. Byrne, I’ve enjoyed forty years of thinking about words because of you.

Interbastation is not a Dirty Word

While skimming through Foyle’s Flavery a few days ago, I found interbastation, tucked in between inspissate (to thicken; to condense) and intercalate (to insert a day or month into the calendar to harmonize it with the solar year).

First impression: Ohmigosh, interbastation sounds like an arcane sexual practice.

Surprise. According to Christopher Foyle, the definition is “patchwork quilting.” The Oxford English Dictionary’s meaning is more abbreviated:”quilting,” it says, and notes that the word’s etymological origin is the French verb interbast-er, “to sew between (cotton, etc.) so as to keep in place; to quilt. The OED always categorizes its entries: interbastion is Obs. rare. 

I didn’t doubt its obscurity, but… was there a chance contemporary quilters might know the word? So, I signed on to Facebook: “I came across a weird word that has to do with quilting. Have any of you, my quilting friends, Toni, Yvonne, Judi, or Nann, heard of “interbastation?”

When you put something out on Facebook, others besides those tagged, respond. Edie said, “It sounds obscene.” Pam wrote, “I’m a quilter and I’ve never heard it…might make more people interested in the hobby. [Smiley face]. Lynne said, “It appears to be a synonym for quilting. Google it.”

Google or Wikipedia are starting points for most people. Interbastation as a search term yielded references to Wikipedia and the Free Dictionary, both of which redirected to “Quilting” with no mention of “interbastation.”

Wordnik gave the definition as “patchwork” and says that ‘interbastation’ has been looked up 455 times, chosen as a favorite once, added to 2 lists, and is not a valid Scrabble word. The online Free Dictionary also offered a list of typos, although I think they are alternative spellings. I decided that jnterbastation, knterbsation, underbastation, and ijterbastion held limited interest and were making spellcheck work overtime. Spell check has already suggested the replacement of interbastation with inner bastion.

More comments came in from my tagged friends. Judi said, “Well, you stumped me. I’ll have to check with some people who know more.” Toni wondered, “Where did you run into this word?” and Yvonne said “I might have to try to bring it back in style. ‘Watch me!’ she continued. “I’ll create a quilt pattern and name it interbastation, and tell everyone that they must hashtag it interbastation.” Nann who blogs about quilts at With Strings Attached, said “That’s a new one to me,” then reported later that “the preeminent quilt historian Barbara Brackman has never heard of interbastation.”

That answer did it for me; if Brackman didn’t know, who would? She has a long list of published books including Quilts from the Civil War, Barbara Brackman’s Civil War Sampler, Facts and Fabrications–– Unraveling the History of Quilts and Slavery. I became acquainted with her work when I was doing research at the Kansas Historical Society library in February.

The discovery that made me smile was the mug ($20.99!) above, a fine ceramic memorial for retired words, which prompts me now to return to my own brand of interbastation: stitching words of different colors, textures, and styles into a finished patchwork pattern.

 

 

H: from Hell-hounds to Hobbits

“…Hell-hounds, dopple-gangers, boggleboes…” from M.A. Denham Tracts (1895)

I extracted hell-hounds from yesterday’s quote above because I didn’t have an H-word. So, heck, why not? I’d find out about an unfamiliar author, his unfamiliar book and an H-word I might use some day.

I had no idea that I’d end up with the speculative idea that M. A. Denham’s book was the source for J. R. R. Tolkien’s word hobbit.

Hell-hounds has two meanings: “a demon in the form of a dog,” as Shelley used it in Prometheus Unbound: “But hard, the hell-hounds clamor.” In 1991, the Washington Post referred to Mike Tyson in this way: “He’s had hell-hounds on his trail since birth.”

The other meaning, “a bad or evil person,” is illustrated nicely in a 1926 fragment in American Mercury: “All the fears and hatred that the evangelical hell-hounds had been instilling in the faithful for so long.”

So why did hell-hounds end up in Denham Tracts? And, who was M. A. Denham?

Michael Aislabie Denham, born at the beginning of the 19th century, was a merchant in Piercebridge, Durham. Along with coins and Roman antiquaries, Denham collected folk tales of Northern England, the Isle of Man, and Scotland. He died in 1859 “before,” the Oxford Dictionary of English Folklore says, “the new movement [interest in folklore] had become fashionable.” He issued his rhymes, proverbs, prophecies, slogans, etc. in a series of newspapers, circulars, booklets, and other limited circulation publications. A portion of these were assembled into one 1895 publication, years after his death.

In the introduction to Denham Tracts, S.N. Denham is described in stiff, complimentary prose:

 In domestic life Mr. Denham was a kind and amiable man. Though somewhat formal in manner, which his intercourse with the world did not wear off, he was blameless and inoffensive, ever candid and upright in his dealing. His ruling passion influenced him to the last; for the Catalogue of his Tracts, already alluded to, is dated August 1859, when he was subject to much suffering, and his correspondence was maintained to within a few days of his decease.

Now back to hell-hounds and hobbits.

In December of 2013, the blog at dictionary.com addressed the question “Where does the word hobbit come from?” by announcing a “fascinating and slightly spooky detail:”

There are no references to hobbits before Tolkien’s publication, except for one. In 1895, the folklorist Michael Aislabie Denham published a long list of supernatural creatures: “…nixies, Jinny-birnt-tails, dudmen, hell-hounds, dopple-gangers boogleboes, bogies, redmen, portunes, grants, hobbits…”

Tolkien created his own etymology of hobbit, related to the Old English word holbytia, a hole dweller. Tolkien had a longtime interest in words; his first job after World War I was at the Oxford English Dictionary. He researched the etymological history of Germanic words that began with W.

Dictionary.com concluded that there was no evidence to assume that Tolkien had read Denham’s list, but wondered was it “Synchronicity, coincidence, or serendipity?” What do you think?

Note: Denham Tracts are available on the Internet Archive and in book form. https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=Denham+tractsand. Warning, the digital version is clunky and difficult to read.

 

 

G is for George, G is for Glossary

G is for George––not Washington or Bush or one of England’s Kings, but George Reuben Anderson. He’s not anyone you know unless there is a Civil War doppelganger* in your family.

G.R. (1847-1938), my great-grandfather, joined the Kansas Light Artillery in 1863 when he was sixteen. I possess one anecdote, three photographs, and the hunch that I have something to learn and something to share from the life of this dogged patriot and father of eight children.

Jennifer Wilkes, the author of an unpublished civil war novel, told me: “You might check into the language of the day. I had to learn the words soldiers used so my dialogue sounded authentic.” My project is a bio-memoir. I do not expect the inclusion of imagined conversations between George and his fellow soldiers. I do expect an expanded knowledge of mid-nineteenth parlance to convey context and color because I am following Jennifer’s suggestion.

The Civil War Trust, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving Civil War battlegrounds and informing the public about the Civil War’s “vital role…in determining the course of our nation’s history,” offers a civil war glossary on their site from which all of the direct quote definitions below are excerpted.

As a writer with little contact with military terms, even the definition of the common word artillery provided dimension because I didn’t know that artillery essentially referred to cannons:

Artillery: “Cannon or other large caliber firearms; a branch of the army armed with cannon.”  A c-word made me wonder how my grandfather’s unit transported their equipment, perhaps with a… Caisson: a two-wheeled cart that carried two ammunition chests, tools, and a spare wheel for artillery pieces. The caisson could be attached to a limber, which would allow both to be pulled by a team of horses.”

But what’s a limber?  Limber: “A two-wheeled cart that carried one ammunition chest [oh, there’s the difference!] for an artillery piece. The artillery piece could be attached to the limber, which would allow both to be pulled by a team of horses.”

Kansas Light Artillery soldiers usually toted a Parrott which was “a rifled artillery piece…ranged from 10-pounders to 300 pounders.” Some soldiers carried no guns. Consider these two words: Quaker Guns were described as “large logs painted to look like cannons; used to fool the enemy into thinking a position was stronger than it really was.” My gosh, what ingenuity! I wonder if they were effective. I wonder if my grandfather’s unit ever employed trickery of this sort.

My grandfather was a Republican––not to associate clever trickery with the G.O.P. The Grand Old Party was an entirely different organization and much more aligned with my political beliefs that the party as it has evolved today.

 Republican Party: “A political party created in the 1850s to prevent the spread of slavery to the territories. Eventually, Republicans came to oppose the entire existence of slavery. Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican president. Very few Southerners were Republicans.”

On the other hand, the Democrats in Civil War times, opposed a heavy-handed federal government.

Democratic Party: “The major political party in America most sympathetic to states rights and willing to tolerate the spread of slavery to the territories. Democrats opposed a strong Federal government. Most Southern men were Democrats before the war.”

There was another party as well, as you will remember for high school history classes, the Whig Party: a political party generally against slavery and its expansion into the territories. The Whig party had basically been swallowed up by the Democrat and Republican parties by the beginning of the Civil War.

When I came upon the word Total War  on the list,  I was startled, unaware that the Civil War changed the way fighting was done:

Total War: “A new way of conducting war appeared during the Civil War. Instead of focusing only on military targets, armies conducting total war destroyed homes and crops to demoralize and undermine the civilian base of the enemy’s war effort. (Sherman in Georgia or Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley, for example.” Nor did I know that students of war studied the strategies of Napoleon:

Napoleonic Tactics: “The tactics used by Napoleon Bonaparte that were studied by military men and cadets at West Point before the Civil War. His tactics were brilliant for the technology of warfare at the time he was fighting. However, by the Civil War, weapons had longer ranges and were more accurate than they had been on Napoleon’s Day.”

Speaking of study, West Point, the military academy in New York, was a school for “more than 1,000 officers in both the Union and Confederate armies––including Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant.”

Moving on to more unusual words: did you know that a housewife was “a small sewing kit soldiers used to repair their garments?” or that gabions were “cylindrical wicker baskets which were filled with rocks and dirt, often used to build fortifications or temporary fortified positions”? Did you know that the term Peculiar Institution was another term for slavery in the South?

Since I started with an Aword, I’ll end with a Z-word,

Zouave: “A zouave regiment was characterized by its soldiers’ bright, colorful uniforms which usually included baggy trousers, a vest and a fez in different combinations of red, white and blue. American zouave units were found in both Union and Confederate armies. They were modeled after French African troops who are known for their bravery and marksmanship.”

*About that asterisk attached to doppelganger at the very beginning: I looked up the word in the OED  to make sure I was using it correctly. I was.

Doppelganger: “the apparition of a living person; a double; a wraith.” I couldn’t resist reproducing one of the usage examples: “Hell-hounds, dopple-gangers, boggleboes” from M. A. Denham in Denham Tracts (1895)

Mr. Denham gave me an idea for H.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

* To make sure I was using the word correctly, I looked up doppelganger (I was: doppelganger, no: the apparition of a living person; a double; a wraith) in the OED and couldn’t resist reproducing the fun examples of its usage:

1851   M. A. Denham in Denham Tracts (1895) II. 79   Hell-hounds, dopple-gangers, boggleboes.

1879   C. L. Dodgson Euclid & Mod. Rivals i. ii,   Are their Doppelgänger available?

1907   N. Munro Daft Days xxviii. 238   Miss Macintosh is surely your doppelganger.

1940   M. Lowry Let. 7 May (1967) 30   It may well be that you will observe my little doppelgänger poltergeist soul hoisting a drink in a bar in them parts.

1952   C. Day Lewis tr. Virgil Aeneid x. 228   Not knowing that what so thrilled him was only a doppelgänger.

I’m learning about the Civil War today and as I picture…….Often where a writer is writing (the usual

 

Abatis: (pronounced ab-uh-teeab-uh-tisuh-bat-ee, or uh-bat-is)  A line of trees, chopped down and placed with their branches facing the enemy, used to strengthen fortifications.  See image »

Artillery: Cannon or other large caliber firearms; a branch of the army armed with cannon.

Bivouac:  (pronounced BIH-voo-ack) Temporary soldier encampment in which soldiers were provided no shelter other than what could be assembled quickly, such as branches; sleeping in the open.  See image »

“Bonnie Blue Flag”:  Extremely popular Confederate song named after the first flag of the Confederacy, which had one white star on a blue background.  The lyrics listed each state in the order in which they seceded from the Union.

Breach:  A large gap or “hole” in a fortification’s walls or embankments caused by artillery or mines, exposing the inside of the fortification to assault.  See image »

Brevet: (pronounced brehv-it) An honorary promotion in rank, usually for merit. Officers did not usually function at or receive pay for their brevet rank.

Brogan:  A leather shoe, similar to an ankle-high boot, issued to soldiers during the Civil War.  Brogans were also popular amongst civilians during the time period. See image»
Bummer:  A term used to describe marauding or foraging soldiers.  Although armies on both sides often had rules against foraging or stealing from private residences, some soldiers often found ways to do so.

Caisson: (pronounced kay-suhn) – A two-wheeled cart that carried two ammunition chests, tools, and a spare wheel for artillery pieces. The caisson could be attached to a limber, which would allow both to be pulled by a team of horses.  See image»

Cavalry: A branch of the military mounted on horseback. Cavalry units in the Civil War could move quickly from place to place or go on scouting expeditions on horseback, but usually fought on foot. Their main job was to gather information about enemy movements.  Until the spring of 1863, the Confederate cavalry force was far superior to its Federal counterpart.  See image»

Colors: A flag identifying a regiment or army. The “Color Bearer” was the soldier who carried the flag in battle, which was considered a great honor.

Copperhead:  Term for a Northerner who opposed the war effort.

Corps: (pronounced kohr or korz) A very large group of soldiers led by (Union) a major general or (Confederate) a lieutenant general and designated by Roman numerals (such as XI Corps). Confederate corps were often called by the name of their commanding general (as in Jackson’s Corps). 1 company = 50 to 100 men, 10 companies = 1 regiment, about 4 regiments = 1 brigade, 2 to 5 brigades = 1 division, 2 or more divisions = 1 corps, 1 or more corps = 1 army.

Democratic Party: The major political party in America most sympathetic to states rights and willing to tolerate the spread of slavery to the territories. Democrats opposed a strong Federal government. Most Southern men were Democrats before the War.

Earthwork: A field fortification (such as a trench or a mound) made of earth. Earthworks were used to protect troops during battles or sieges, to protect artillery batteries, and to slow an advancing enemy.

Emancipation: Freedom from slavery.  See Emancipation Proclamation »

Enfilade: (pronounced en-fuh-leyd) To fire along the length of an enemy’s battle line.

Entrenchments: Long cuts (trenches) dug out of the earth with the dirt piled up into a mound in front; used for defense.  See image»

Fascine:  (pronounced fah-seen)  A tightly bound bundle of straight sticks used to reinforce earthworks, trenches or lunettes. Fascines could also be used to make revetments, field magazines, fill material and blinds.  See image»

Flank:  Used as a noun, a “flank” is the end (or side) of a military position, also called a “wing”.  An unprotected flank is “in the air”, while a protected flank is a “refused flank”.  Used as a verb, “to flank” is to move around and gain the side of an enemy position, avoiding a frontal assault.

Flying Battery: A system where several horse-drawn cannons would ride along the battle front, stop and set up the guns, fire, limber up, and ride to another position.  This practice gave the impression that many guns were in use when only a few were actually being used.

Foraging: A term used for “living off the land,” as well as plundering committed by soldiers.

Gabions: (pronounced gey-bee-en) Cylindrical wicker baskets which were filled with rocks and dirt, often used to build field fortifications or temporary fortified positions.  See image »

Garrison: A group of soldiers stationed at a military post.
Graybacks“: A slang term for lice, or occasionally an offensive “Yankee” slang term for Confederate soldiers.

Greenbacks:  Paper currency which began to circulate in the North after February 1862 with the passage of the Legal Tender Act.  The bills were called “greenbacks” because of their color.
Green Troops: Phrase used to describe soldiers who were either new to the military or had never fought in a battle before.

Haversack:  Small canvas bag, about one foot square, used to carry a soldier’s food.  Typically, these bags were painted with black tar to make them waterproof.  See image»

Housewife:  Small sewing kit soldiers used to repair their garments.  See image»

Instant:  Used in letters and reports, “instant” referred to a particular day in the same month.  For example, Robert E. Lee’s Report Concerning the Attack at Harpers Ferry, written on October 19, 1859, states that Lee arrived on the “night of the 17th instant”.  The “17th instant” would be October 17th.

Juggernaut: (pronounced juhg-er-nawt) An overwhelming, advancing force that crushes or seems to crush everything in its path.

Kepi: (pronounced KEH-peeh) cap worn by Civil War soldiers; more prevalent among Union Soldiers. See Image.

Limber:  A two-wheeled cart that carried one ammunition chest for an artillery piece. The artillery piece could be attached to the limber, which would allow both to be pulled by a team of horses.  Also verb: The practice of attaching a piece of artillery to the limber that holds its ammunition.  See image »

Litter: A stretcher which was carried by two people and used to transport wounded soldiers.

Long Roll: A long, continuous drum call which commanded a regiment to assemble.

“Lost Cause”:  Cultural movement in which Southern states attempted to cope – mentally and emotionally – with devastating defeat and Northern military occupation after the Civil War.  The movement idealized life in the antebellum South, loudly protested against Reconstruction policies, and exalted Confederate figures such as “Stonewall” Jackson and Robert E. Lee.

Lunette: (pronounced loo-net)  A fortification shaped roughly like a half-moon. It presented two or three sides to the enemy but the rear was open to friendly lines.

Mortar:  An unrifled artillery gun which was designed to launch shells over walls and enemy fortifications.  The most famous Civil War mortar is the “Dictator” — a mortar which was mounted on a railroad car and used during the siege of Petersburg.  With its 13 inch bore it was capable of launching two hundred pound shells.  See image »

Napoleonic Tactics: The tactics used by Napoleon Bonaparte that were studied by military men and cadets at West Point before the Civil War. His tactics were brilliant for the technology of warfare at the time he was fighting. However, by the Civil War, weapons had longer ranges and were more accurate than they had been in Napoleon’s day.

Nom-de-guerre: (pronounced nahm-duh-gair) Literally, in French this means “war name”. A nom-de-guerre is a nickname earned in battle, such as “Stonewall” Jackson or “Fighting Joe” Hooker.

North: Also called the Union or the United States the North was the part of the country that remained loyal to the Federal government during the Civil War. Northern states were: Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin. West Virginia became a Northern state in 1863 and California and Oregon were also officially Northern but they had little direct involvement in the War.

Ordnance:  The term used for military supplies, such as weaponry and ammunition.

Parole: A pledge by a prisoner of war or a defeated soldier not to bear arms. When prisoners were returned to their own side during the War (in exchange for men their side had captured) the parole was no longer in effect and they were allowed to pick up their weapons and fight. When the South lost the War and the Confederate armies gave their parole they promised never to bear weapons against the Union again.

Parrott gun:  A rifled artillery piece with a reinforcing band at the rear, or breech.  Parrott guns were used by both the Army and the Navy, and ranged from 10-pounders to 300-pounders.  They were named after their designer, Robert Parker Parrott. See image »

“Peculiar Institution”: Another term for slavery in the South.

Picket: Soldiers posted on guard ahead of a main force. Pickets included about 40 or 50 men each. Several pickets would form a rough line in front of the main army’s camp. In case of enemy attack, the pickets usually would have time to warn the rest of the force.

Popular Sovereignty: (pronounced sov-rin-tee) This doctrine was prominent during the debate over slavery in the territories. Popular sovereignty said that the people of each territory should be able to decide for themselves if slavery should be allowed in their territory when it became a state.

Powder Monkey“: A sailor (sometimes a child) who carried explosives from the ship’s magazine to the ship’s guns.  See image »

Private: The lowest rank in the army

“Quaker Guns”:  Large logs painted to look like cannons; used to fool the enemy into thinking a position was stronger than it really was.  See image »

Quartermaster: The officer who was responsible for supplying clothing, supplies and food for the troops.

Rebel Yell: A high-pitched cry that Confederate soldiers would shout when attacking. First heard at First Manassas (First Bull Run) Union troops found the eerie noise unnerving.

Regiment: The basic unit of the Civil War soldiers, usually made up of 1,000 to 1,500 men. Regiments were usually designated by state and number (as in 20th Maine). 1 company = 50 to 100 men, 10 companies = 1 regiment, about 4 regiments = 1 brigade, 2 to 5 brigades = 1 division, 2 or more divisions = 1 corps, 1 or more corps = 1 army. See image »

Republican Party: A political party created in the 1850s to prevent the spread of slavery to the territories. Eventually Republicans came to oppose the entire existence of slavery. Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican president. Very few Southerners were Republicans.

Revetment:  A structure built to hold either natural or man-made embankments in position.  Revetments could be made of items such as sandbags, fascines, gabions, brick, stone, and so on. See image »

Rifle Pit: Similar to what soldiers call a “foxhole” today. Rifle pits were trenches with earth mounded up at the end as protection from enemy fire. A soldier lay in the trench and fired from a prone position.

Rout: A crushing defeat where, often, the losers run from the field

Salient: (pronounced SAY-lee-uhnt) A part of a defensive line of works or a fortification that juts out from the main line towards the enemy.  Salients can be very vulnerable to because they may be attacked from multiple sides.

Scurvy: (pronounced SKUR-vee) A disease caused by lack of ascorbic acid (found in fresh fruits and vegetables). Its symptoms include spongy gums, loose teeth, and bleeding into the skin and mucous membranes.

Secession: (pronounced si-sesh-uhn ) Withdrawal from the Federal government of the United States. Southern states, feeling persecuted by the North, seceded by voting to separate from the Union. Southerners felt this was perfectly legal but Unionists saw it as rebellion.  See the Secession Acts of the 13 Confederate States »

Siege: (pronounced seej) Blocking the supply lines and escape routes of a city to force it to surrender. A siege usually meant one army trapped in a city, slowly running out of food and fresh water, with the opposing army camped outside.  Famous sieges were held at PetersburgVicksburg, and Port Hudson.

South: Also called the Confederacy, the Confederate States of America, or (by Northerners) the Rebel states, the South incorporated the states that seceded from the United States of America to form their own nation. Southern states were: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.

Spike:  To make an artillery piece unusable so that it could not be used by the enemy if captured.

Standard: A flag or banner carried into battle on a pole.

Total War: A new way of conducting war appeared during the Civil War. Instead of focusing only on military targets, armies conducting total war destroyed homes and crops to demoralize and undermine the civilian base of the enemy’s war effort. (Sherman in Georgia or Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley, for example.)

Traverse:  A mound of earth used to protect gun positions from explosion or to defilade the inside of a field work or fortification. See image »

Typhoid:  Bacterial disease causing fever, diarrhea, headache, enlargement of the spleen, and extreme physical exhaustion and collapse.

U.S. Christian Commission: An organization established in 1861 for the relief of Union soldiers; the Christian Commission provided food, Bibles, and free writing materials to the soldiers to encourage them in good moral behavior.  See image »

U.S.C.T.:  United States Colored Troops. Federal Army regiments composed of African-American soldiers.  The U.S.C.T.’s were established by General Order Number 143, issued May 22, 1863, and included infantry, cavalry and artillery regiments.   While the soldiers themselves were African American, officers were white.  Until 1864 African American soldiers received less pay than their white counterparts.  The most famous USCT regiment is the 54th Massachusetts, composed of free Northern men.  The 33rd USCT regiment, however, has the distinction of being the first federally authorized regiment.  Composed of freed slaves, it was originally called the 1st South Carolina Volunteer Infantry. See image »

U.S. Sanitary Commission: A government agency created on June 18, 1861, whose purpose was to coordinate female volunteers who were supporting the Federal army.  These women collected over $25 million in donations from “Sanitary Fairs” and other fundraisers.  The volunteers also made uniforms and bandages, worked as cooks, and nursed the sick and wounded.  Leadership, however, was largely male. See image »

Volunteer: Someone who does something because they want to, not because they need to. Most Civil War soldiers, especially in the beginning of the War, were volunteers. Men joined the armies on both sides because they wanted to fight for their cause.

West Point: The United States Military Academy at West Point, New York was the military school for more than 1,000 officers in both the Union and Confederate armies—including Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant.

Whig Party: A political party generally against slavery and its expansion into the territories. The Whig party had basically been swallowed up by the Democrat and Republican parties by the time of the Civil War.

Yankee: A Northerner; someone loyal to the Federal government of the United States. Also, Union, Federal, or Northern.

Zouave: (pronounced zoo-ahv or zwahv) A zouave regiment was characterized by its soldiers’ bright, colorful uniforms which usually included baggy trousers, a vest, and a fez in different combinations of red, white, and blue. American zouave units were found in both Union and Confederate armies. They were modeled after French African troops who were known for their bravery and marksmanship.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

F is for Foyle’s Philavery

 

F is for Foyle’s and the alliterative sounding word Philavery which completes the book’s title. You won’t find “philavery” in the Oxford English, Webster’s Collegiate, or any other dictionary that I know of because the mother-in-law of Christopher Foyle, the author, made it up during a game of Scrabble. She constructed the word from the Greek verb phileein, ‘to love,’ and the Latin noun verbum, ‘a word.’

I had no idea what Philavery was, so here’s the definition in his book: “an idiosyncratic collection of uncommon and pleasing words.”

 

Foyle began collecting uncommon or unfamiliar words when he heard Norman Schwarzkopf, the US commander in the 1990 Gulf War, refer to information he deemed of no value as “bovine scatology.” Foyle knew the word bovine, which refers to cows, but needed a dictionary to understand scatology which, naturally, made it into his 2007 compendium.

  1. (in medicine, palaeontology, etc.) the study of excrement or dung
  2. a morbid interest in excrement or excretory functions
  3. obscene language or literature, especially that concerned with excrement or excretory function

 

For the third category, the OED, always my standard, simply (and amusingly) uses the words “filthy language.” It’s a bit ironic that a linguistically proper person like me would focus my last blog on the f-word and now this column begins with excrement. Time to move on!

 

To discover “uncommon and pleasing words,” Foyle takes six newspapers a day. He’s a Brit, so five of them are what he calls “British broadsheets.” The sixth is the International Herald Tribune. He also reads The Spectator and The Economist, plus publications representative of his diverse interests: archeology, history, travel, aviation, genealogy, parapsychology, genealogy, and ancient civilization.

 

Since today’s alphabet letter is F, I’m listing some of Foyle’s F-words (J), which I find uncommon and pleasing.

  • feak: a curling lock of hair, especially one that is dangling
  • fogle: a silk handkerchief
  • frendent: gnashing the teeth
  • frippet: a frivolous or flighty young woman, who is inclined to show off
  • furphy: a false report or improbable story; a rumour

 

If you’ve been to London, the name Foyle might trigger recognition. Christopher Foyle worked as a teenager in the Charing Cross Road bookstore managed by his father Richard and started by his grandfather William Foyle in 1903. Christopher stepped away from the family business to travel and establish a cargo airline. Meanwhile, his Aunt Christina took over the business, then turned it over to Christopher six days before she died. in 1999 Read the store’s fascinating history here.

http://www.foyles.co.uk/about-foyles

 

Foyle concludes the introduction to his book like this: “It is satisfying to be following in the footsteps of earlier generations of Foyles, but it has one drawback––easy access to so many books has swelled the piles of books, and subsequent philavery-bound cuttings around my house and office to almost unmanageable proportions! I hope you will find the journey around the words listed here as fascinating, intriguing and inspiring as I have.”

 

My thanks go to my long-time friend Wendy McHenry, herself a former bookstore owner and a philaverer, for sending it to me.

 

 

 

 

E is for Elucidation of Gxddbov Xxkxzt Pg Ifmk

 

In “D is for Dectective,” I left OED former editor John Simpson’s discussion of the f-word dangling. He titled Chapter Nine of The Word Detective: Searching for the Meaning of It All at the Oxford English Dictionary, “Gxddbov Xxkxzt Pg Ifmk.”

 

I read it right away.

 

Then I went to the online version’s current listing. It is identified as “coarse slang,” first used in sixteen century Middle English, “Be his feirris he wald haue fukkit.” Subsequent variations include fukkand, fucke, ffuck, f-k and today’s easily recognizable four-letter expletive.

 

Simpson asserts that the best way to see how editorial policies are employed in practice is to study a specific word, so I stretched to find an “e” word—elucidation—to continue to launch the discussion. His efforts are all about elucidation as the OED defines it: the action or process of elucidating, throwing light upon, making plain or intelligible.

 

Yeah, I know, judging from overheard conversations at the college library where I was last employed, people just want to use it, not learn about editorial policies and etymological history. If you are interested, read on.

 

The first edition of the OED omitted the f-word. The editors didn’t even work on it. “If the editors had worked on fuck,” Simpson writes, “it would have been published in 1898 which was when the entry immediately preceding was published (fucivarous: eating, or subsisting on seaweed.)” Dictionary readers could stomach details of seaweed eating, but the cultural climate was unfriendly to candid language. Says Simpson

 

“The closing years of Queen Victoria’s reign in Britain were not known for their liberal and enlightened attitude towards sex, and the inclusion of fuck would have probably involved the editors and the publishers in a short walk to a long stretch in prison.”

 

Editors considered including the word in its 1933 supplement, but, as in Queen Victoria’s day, they would have been arrested for “gross indecency.” In 1960, Penguin, the British publishers of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover, beat legal action that would have prevented them from publishing an “obscene book.” In 1964, the Penguin English Dictionary included the verb fuck, thereby freeing others to publish what they felt compelled to publish and sidestep incarceration.

 

Both audacity and caution prevailed at the OED. The 1972 OED Supplement used the more delicate word “copulation” instead of “sexual intercourse,” as well as, Simpson reports, a few “colorful” examples. For the OED3, published in 1989, the editors mounted an ambitious search for the earliest usage. The result: the word fuck, though concealed in code, was included in a religious context.

 

“Gxddbov Xxkxzt Pg Ifmk” comes from this sentence from 1500 AD: “Non sunt in oeli, quia gxddbovxxkxzt pg ifmk.” The first part is Latin: “They [the monks] are not in heaven because…” The rest, Simpson says, was a cypher. for “fuccant uuiuys of heli,” “they are are enjoying sexual intercourse.”

Simpson says, “It seems likely—from the fact that the whole epressio was endrypted—that it wasn’t the word itself that had to be hidden from public view, but rather the insalubrious acticities of the monks.”

 

That’s about all I want to say about I never use.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

—————————————————————————————————————-

What do you do with a chapter heading titled “Gxddbov Xxkxzt Pg Ifmk.” You read it, of course, and shouldn’t

Finally in 1972, enlightened OED editors cautiously let fuck enter the pages of the OED Supplement.

 

David Crystal (Making a Point: The Persnickety Story of English Punctuation) calls the chief editor “Sherlock Simpson.” The OED, usually spare and absent of descriptors, defines a detective like this: “One whose occupation it is to discover matters artfully concealed.” Simpson is indeed artful, not to mention systematic.

 

The words of the OED quotations make me smile, reaching into the past as they do, the unfamiliar words (antiquary), capitalization (Theoreme), different spellings (publish) and

 

 

1667   Philos. Trans. (Royal Soc.) 2 568   There being no further Elucidation of the said Theoreme since publisht.

1772   T. Pennant Tours Scotl. (1774) 293   We may expect further elucidations from a skillful antiquary.

1813   H. Davy Agric. Chem. (1814) viii. 344,   I trust I shall be able to offer you satisfactory elucidations on the subject.

1841   T. Carlyle On Heroes iii. 174   The latest generations of men will find new meanings in Shakspeare, new elucidations of their own human being.

 

D is for Detective

 

D is for Detective, as in The Word Detective (2016), by John Simpson. I’d save this book for the “W” entry, but it’s due at the library and another word-hungry reader wants it.

 

The book’s subtitle is “Searching for the Meaning of it all at the Oxford English Dictionary.” How many of us have been at a dictionary? The author, who worked on the OED for forty years, is referring to the physical headquarters at Oxford University, at one point described as “gloomy corridors…the office mirrored the sort of work we were doing.”

 

In 1976, John Simpson, a graduate student finishing up a master’s in Medieval Studies, became a cub lexicographer, ultimately assuming the role of chief editor and overseeing the 1989 update and online version. The OED was first suggested in 1857, editorial work began in 1879, and a final 10-volume edition was published in 1928. Simpson articulates his love for the job in the first chapter.

 

“There have been many accounts of the dictionary’s history, but very few (if any) have managed to capture the excitement of the job––the fact that each day you are uncovering small but significant facts that have been almost entirely forgotten often for centuries and you have the opportunity to bring them back to the surface. The thrill of discovery, like the elation of a well-rounded definition, is almost like creating a poem. (p.42)”

 

His first task was to update the entry for “queen,” which began as the Anglo-Saxon word cwen. His process for providing new historical information and usage was to collect index cards in the basement of the building, gather additional information from books in the department’s reference library on the first floor, and write definitions in his office on the ground floor.

Hundreds of employees worked on the update. The process of hiring them is different than I imagined.

“…Lexicographers veer as far away as they can from people who claim to love words. What is the point of loving words and at the same time expecting to analyze and classify them?” In the process of hiring people, Simpson asserts, “So how do we weed out these word lovers?” By giving them an exam, or, he says, “you just look around the room and see ho is left-handed and you appoint them. It’s a scandalous approach for a professional, but it’s backed up by real data.”

 

I love the OED, acquainting myself with the 20-volume print edition at the Whatcom Community College Library, the University of Southern Maine’s online version, and learning the book’s crazy history from Simon Winchester’s The Meaning of Everything: the Story of the Oxford English Dictionary. I missed electronic acesss when I completed my MFA degree, but my wife bought me a year’s subscription last Christmas and also showed me a review of The Word Detective in Christian Century, my current favorite OED book.

 

Simpson’s favorite book about the OED is Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages by Ammon Shea, published in 2008. Simpson says Shea’s book “starts to bring the dictionary to life in a way that almost all other books about dictionaries fail to do.” I’ve placed a hold at the library for that title and Shea’s Bad English: A history of Linguistic Aggravation.

 

If you pick up a copy of Simpson’s book, you might go to Chapter 9 entitled “Gxddbov Xxkxzt Pg Ifmk,”

 

Eleven pages of the 34 pages in “Gxddbov Xxkxzt Pg Ifmk,” is about the f-word, but I didn’t get a subscription to the OED or Simpson’s book so that I could focus on the OED’s category of “coarse slang.” Or did I? J Check out tomorrow’s blog, E for Elucidation

 

—————————————————————————————————————-

What do you do with a chapter heading titled “Gxddbov Xxkxzt Pg Ifmk.” You read it, of course, and shouldn’t be startled that the meaning references “coarse slang” first used in sixteen century Middle English, “Be his feirris he wald haue fukkit.” Subsequent variations include fukkand, fucke, ffuck, f-k and today’s easily recognizable four-letter expletive.

 

Simpson writes, “The closing years of Queen Victoria’s reign in Britain were not known for their liberal and enlightened attitude towards sex, and the inclusion of fuck would have probably involved the editors and the publishers in a short walk to a long stretch in prison.” Finally in 1972, enlightened OED editors cautiously let fuck enter the pages of the OED Supplement.

 

“Gxddbov Xxkxzt Pg Ifmk” comes from this sentence from 1500 AD: “Non sunt in oeli, quia gxddbovxxkxzt pg ifmk.” The first part is Latin: They [the monks] are not in heaven because… but the rest, Simpson says, is a cypher for “fuccant uuiuys of heli,” “they are are enjoying sexual intercourse.” Those monks!

 

David Crystal (Making a Point: The Persnickety Story of English Punctuation) calls the chief editor “Sherlock Simpson.” The OED, usually spare and absent of descriptors, defines a detective like this: “One whose occupation it is to discover matters artfully concealed.” Simpson is indeed artful, not to mention systematic.

Note: Simpson reffered to Ammon’s book as “blog” like, a description empowering me to do what Ammon did. Here’s what JS said: “I’ve read something about the characters of the letters of the alphabet before, in my favourite book about the OED: Reading the OED: One Man, One Yeear, 21,720 Pages––Ammon Shea’s blog-like account of reading through the dictionary from A to Z, published in 2008 What is important for me about this book is that it actually responds to the ontent, not to how the text was stitched together. So we hear someone else’s view about what it feels like to read the letter A, and how the letter A differs in its character, for example from the letter G. At the same time we are introduced to the gnaging parallel narrative of Ammon’s life whist he was reading each letter: where he lived, what he was doing, why he struggled with some parts of the text. It actually starts to bring the dictionary to life in a way that almost all other books about dictionaries fail to do.

 

 

 

 

but excluded from the OED until 1972.

 

 

 

eleven of its thirty-four pages are devoted to the process of finally including a word, used in the language since the sixteenth century, in the 1972 Supplement to the OED with the “coarse language” tag used in the language since the sixteenth century“course language

 

 

Etymology: < Irish céilidhe, Scottish Gaelic cēilidh, < Old Irish céile companion. http://www.transparent.com/learn-irish/phrases.html

Más é do thoil é. Please.

Tá brón orm. I’m sorry.

Ní hea. No.

Gabh mo leithscéal. Excuse me.

 

 

C is for Ceilidhe and Claggarnach

 

In the mid-sixties, I made a new friend at a youth hostel in London who, like me, wanted to hitchhike, but not alone. We joined together and hopped rides north to Edinburgh and Inverness. Nice people, easy rides, no mishaps. When my friend had to return to college in France, I had a confident thumb and two weeks to go wherever I wanted which were the Isle of Skye in the Inner Hebrides, places whose very names were enchanting. A succession of people picked me up. The last driver, a friendly salesman, let me out of his little Morris Minor at the hostel’s doorstep in Portree, and said,

“There’s a celidh down the street. You should go.” He pronounced it kay-lee.

I had no idea what a celidh was, but as a gamey twenty-something-year-old, I found out: a sort of Gaelic hootenanny with traditional music––fiddles, flutes, tin whistles, bodran drums––dancing, storytelling, and hospitality that swept me in.

I was in Scotland, but cedlidhes (the Irish add an e) happen in the Emerald Isle too. Originally, they were held in rural areas to facilitate courting. They’re even held in the United States. The Irish Ceilidhe Club of Rhode Island was founded in 1956 and still holds monthly dances. The web site is current only through Fall 2016, but check it out. http://www.irishclubri.org/index.html.

I’ve remembered the word (if not always the spelling!) for almost fifty years––a symbol of Celtic and Gaelic culture and a catalyst for returning to the UK, particularly Ireland.

 

The “C” that you see to the left is from one of my wife’s 180 alphabet books. Ogham: An Irish Alphabet, written by Criostoir Mag Fhearaigh, illustrated by Tim Stampton, published in 1998 and purchased for five Euros at Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop in Galway, Ireland on our first trip to Ireland in 2002.

Ogham is curious: 20 letters developed around about the 4th century, mostly horizontal and vertical lines carved on stones and wood stakes (375 examples survive), and read from the bottom up. Scholars argue about whether orgham is connected to the Latin or to runic and Etruscan alphabets. The name is most likely derived from Ogmios, the Celtic God of speech and oral learning.

The derivative Irish language, a cousin to Welsh in the Celtic group, continues in Ireland. The grammar is complex, the alphabet consists of 18 letters, and English speakers are baffled by the assignment of sounds. B+H, for examples sounds like V. H+G sounds like the Y in yellow. Go to this website to see how Yes, No, and Please sound in Irish. “Is ea,” “Ni hea,” and “Mas e do tholl e,” respectively.

“Claggarnach” is the perfect word to describe what I am hearing outside my window: the sound of heavy rain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

B is for…I’ll let you know in a minute.

 

First instinct: Mrs. Bryne’s Dictionary of Unusual, Obscure and Preposterous Words, an amusing volume that catalyzed my interest in weird words and built on the habit that another Mrs. B. established in me. Mrs. Bertheau, my 8th grade teacher insisted that every student’s book report contain five words new to us, along with a minty fresh sentence of our own making.

 

I am a dogged dictionary diver when it comes to definitions, but the practice of using the unusual words I’ve found in a sentence? Not so much.

 

What would friends think if I included Mrs. Bryne’s word zumbooruk––a small cannon fired from the back of a camel––in casual conversation? Unless I turn to writing fiction, that “Z” word is not likely to enter my working vocabulary and zumbooruk is too long for Scrabble. However, those of us who love words can excuse their lack of utility and be satisfied with the swish of pleasure that accompanies the sound of consonant and vowels in crazy combinations.

 

Which is why I’m delaying B for Bryne until J-day: J for Josefa, Mrs. Bryne’s first name. My wife suggested B for Beelzebub because of it was the wildest, most esoteric B word she could think of. So that’s it: end the ellipsis above with Beelzebub.

 

Several dictionaries, including the Oxford English, suggest a half dozen variant spellings and iterations including “Beelzebub,Belsabubbe (Middle English—now that’s a fun one!), and my favorite, the Hebrew baʿal-z’būb  which translates as Fly Lord or Lord of the Flies, an actual deity worshiped by the Philistines and believed to be the creator and controller of flies. Check out this etching. Some translations indicate his name as “Baal the Prince” and––I can’t believe this––“lord of heaven.”

 

In the New Testament “Baal-zebul” is a synonym for Satan or the Devil, and only referenced once in Luke 11:15. Jesus, when accused, denies that he is casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub.

 

Beelzebub pops up in other literature: as an image for fallen angels in Milton and in Langman’s Piers Plowman (“A bastarde y-bore Of Belsabubbes kynne.” Ancient lingo, but obviously unflattering.

 

Mrs. Byrne doesn’t reference Beelzebub, nor does he appear in any of our other word books. He’s no where to be seen or heard in The Word Detective, The Word Museum or I Always Look up the Word “E-gre-gious.”

 

This is the last time I’m likely to use Beelzebub in a sentence, but Thanks Amory. I have enjoyed the consonants and vowels, the stories and referenfes to He Who Shall Not be Named Again.

 

Beelzebub, n.

Pronunciation:  /biːˈɛlzɪbʌb/

Forms:  Also ME Belsebub, ME–15 BelsabubBelsabubbe, OE–18 Belzebub.

Frequency (in current use):

Etymology: < Latin Beëlzebūb, used in the Vulgate to render both the Greek βεελζεβούβ of the received text of the New Testament (for which early MSS. have βεελζεβούλ), and the Hebrew baʿal-z’būb ‘fly-lord,’ mentioned in 2 Kings i. 2, as ‘the god of Ekron,’ which Aquila had also reproduced in Greek as βεελζεβούβ, though the LXX rendered it βάαλ μυΐαν. The relation between the Hebrew and Greek words is not settled. The earlier English translations, and the Douay, followed the Vulgate in identifying them in form, but the Geneva Bible of 1560, followed by the ‘Authorized’ of 1611, represent the Old Testament word more exactly as Baal-zebub. From the New Testament designation of Beelzebub as ‘prince of demons,’ the word became at an early period one of the popular names of the Devil. Milton used it as the name of one of the fallen angels.(Show Less)

 

/biːˈɛlzɪbʌb/

Forms:  Also ME Belsebub, ME–15 BelsabubBelsabubbe, OE–18 Belzebub.

Frequency (in current use):

Etymology: < Latin Beëlzebūb, used in the Vulgate to render both the Greek βεελζεβούβ… (Show More)

Thesaurus »

 

  The Devil; a devil; also transf.

                  c950   Lindisf. Gosp. Matt. xii. 24   In Belzebub ðone aldormenn diobla.

                  c975   Rushw. G. Matt. xii. 24   Belzebub þæt is aldor deofla.

                  c1000   West Saxon Gospels: Matt. (Corpus Cambr.) xii. 24   Þurh Belzebub deofla ealdre.

                  c1175   Lamb. Hom. 55   Loke weo us wið him misdon þurh beelzebubes swikedom.

1377   Langland Piers Plowman B. ii. 130   A bastarde y-bore Of Belsabubbes kynne.

1546   J. Heywood Dialogue Prouerbes Eng. Tongue ii. iv. sig. Giiiv,   Ye be a baby of Belsabubs bowre.

                  a1616   Shakespeare Twelfth Night (1623) v. i. 282   He holds Belzebub at the staues end as well as a man in his case may do.

1759   W. Law Coll. Lett. Import. Subj. 193   To crucify the Christ of God, as a beelzebub and blasphemer.

1815   W. Kirby & W. Spence Introd. Entomol. I. v. 153   This fly is truly a Beelzebub; and perhaps..was the prototype of the Philistine idol worshipped under that name and in the form of a fly.

1849   Macaulay Hist. Eng. I. xiii,   His old troopers, the Satans and Beelzebubs who had shared his crimes (i.e. of Claverhouse).

 

Harper’s Bible Dictionary by Madeleine S. Miller and J. Lane Miller in consultation with eminent authorities. The Third Edition published in 1955 by Harper & Brothers

Beelzebub. See Baal-zebub.  “lord of flies” also Beelzebub, a Philistine God worshipped at Ekron, believed to creator and controller and creator of flies. Jesus denied that he cast out devils by the power of Beelzebub in Luke 11:19 f.

 

 

Beelzebub Britannica also called Baalzebub, in the Bible, the prince of the devils. In the Old Testament, in the form Baalzebub, it is the name given to the god of the Philistine city of Ekron (II Kings 1:1–18). Neither name is found elsewhere in the Old Testament, and there is only one reference to it in other Jewish literature. See devil.

 

I’m sure you

 

 

 

G: George and a glossary

 

G is for George––not Washington or Bush or one of England’s Kings, but George Reuben Anderson. He’s not anyone you know unless there is a Civil War doppelganger* in your family. G.R. (1847-1938), my great grandfather, jointed the Kansas Light Artillery in 1863 when he was sixteen. I possess one anecdote, three photographs, and the hunch that I have something to learn and something to share from the life of this dogged patriot and father of eight children.

Jennifer Wilkes, the author of an unpublished civil war novel, told me: “I had to learn the words soldiers used.” My project is a bio-memoir. I do not expect to include imagined conversations between George and his fellow soldiers, but an expanded knowledge of mid-nineteenth parlance conveys context and color.

The Civil War Trust, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving Civil War battlegrounds and informing the public about the Civil War’s “vital role…in determining the course of our nation’s history,” offers a civil war glossary on their site from which all of the definitions below are excerpted. http://www.civilwar.org/education/history/glossary/glossary.html?gclid=Cj0KEQjwt6fHBRDtm9O8xPPHq4gBEiQAdxotvB36JqgYAShbRhxIkTKxs2lEdn1wav4-GVRb6rOzOm4aAhue8P8HAQ?referrer=https://www.google.com/

 

As a writer with little contact with military terms, even the definition of the common word artillery provided dimension because I didn’t know that artillery essentially referred to cannons:

Artillery: Cannon or other large caliber firearms; a branch of the army armed with cannon.

A “c” word made me wonder how my grandfather’s unit transported their equipment, perhaps with a

Caisson: a two-wheeled cart that carried two ammunition chests, tools, and a spare wheel for artillery pieces. The caisson could be attached to a limber, which would allow both to be pulled by a team of horses.

But what’s a limber?

Limber: A two-wheeled cart that carried one ammunition chest [oh, there’s the difference!] for an artillery piece. The artillery piece could be attached to the limber, which would allow both to be pulled by a team of horses.

Kansas Light Artillery soldiers usually likely toted a Parrott which was “a rifled artillery piece…ranged from 10-pounders to 300 pounders.” Some soldiers carried no guns. Consider this phrase:

“Quaker Guns.” Large logs painted to look like cannons; used to fool the enemy into thinking a position was stronger than it really was. My gosh, what ingenuity. I wonder if they were effective. I wonder if my grandfather’s unit ever employed trickery of this sort.

My grandfather was a Republican––not to associate clever trickery with the G.O.P. The Grand Old Party was an entirely different organization and much more aligned with my political beliefs that the party as ith as evolved today.

Republican Party: A political party created in the 1850s to prevent the spread of slavery to the terriotires. Eventually Republicans came to oppose the entire existence of slavery. Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican president. Very few Southerners were Republicans.

On the other hand, the Democrats in Civil War times, opposed a heavy-handed federal government.

Democratic Party: The major political party in America most sympathetic to states rights and willing to tolerate the spread of slavery to the territories. Demodrats opposed a strong Federal government. Most Southern men were Democrats before the war.

There was another party as well, as you will remember for high school history classes:

Whig Party: a political party generally against slavery and its expansion into the territories. The Whig party had basically been swallowed up by the Democrat and Republican parties by the time of the Civil War.

When I came upon the word Total War, I was startled, unaware that the Civil War changed the way fighting was done:

                  Total War: A new way of conducting war appeared during the Civil War. Instead of focusing only on military targets, armies conducting total war destroyed homes and rops to demoralize and undermine the diilian base of the enemy’s war effort. (Sherman in Georgia or Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley, for example.

Nor did I know that students of war studied the strategies of Napoleon:

Napoleonic Tactics: The tactics used by Napoleon Bonaparte that were studied by military men and cadets at West Point before the Civil War His tactics were brilliant for the technology of warfare at the time he was fighting. However by the Civil War, weapons had longer ranges and were more accurate than they had been on Napoleon’s Day.

Speaking of study, West Point, the military academy in New York was a school for “more than 1,000 officers in both the Union and Confederate armies––including Robert E. Lee and Ulysees S. Grant.

Moving on to more unusual words: did you know that a housewife was “a small sewing kit soldiers used to repair their garments?” or that gabions were “cylindrical wicker baskets which were filled with rocks and dirt, often used to build fortifications or temporary fortified positions”? Did you know that the term Peculiar Institution was another term for slavery in the South?

Since I started with an a word, I’ll end with a Z word,

Zouave: A zouave regiment was characterized by its soldiers’ bright, colorful uniforms which usually included baggy trousers, a vest and a fez in different combinations of red, white and blue. American zouave units were found in both Union and Confederate armies. They were modeled after French African troops who are known for their bravery and marksmanship.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

* To make sure I was using the word correctly, I looked up doppelganger (I was: doppelganger, no: the apparition of a living person; a double; a wraith) in the OED and couldn’t resist reproducing the fun examples of its usage:

1851   M. A. Denham in Denham Tracts (1895) II. 79   Hell-hounds, dopple-gangers, boggleboes.

1879   C. L. Dodgson Euclid & Mod. Rivals i. ii,   Are their Doppelgänger available?

1907   N. Munro Daft Days xxviii. 238   Miss Macintosh is surely your doppelganger.

1940   M. Lowry Let. 7 May (1967) 30   It may well be that you will observe my little doppelgänger poltergeist soul hoisting a drink in a bar in them parts.

1952   C. Day Lewis tr. Virgil Aeneid x. 228   Not knowing that what so thrilled him was only a doppelgänger.

I’m learning about the Civil War today and as I picture…….Often where a writer is writing (the usual

 

Abatis: (pronounced ab-uh-teeab-uh-tisuh-bat-ee, or uh-bat-is)  A line of trees, chopped down and placed with their branches facing the enemy, used to strengthen fortifications.  See image »

Artillery: Cannon or other large caliber firearms; a branch of the army armed with cannon.

Bivouac:  (pronounced BIH-voo-ack) Temporary soldier encampment in which soldiers were provided no shelter other than what could be assembled quickly, such as branches; sleeping in the open.  See image »

“Bonnie Blue Flag”:  Extremely popular Confederate song named after the first flag of the Confederacy, which had one white star on a blue background.  The lyrics listed each state in the order in which they seceded from the Union.

Breach:  A large gap or “hole” in a fortification’s walls or embankments caused by artillery or mines, exposing the inside of the fortification to assault.  See image »

Brevet: (pronounced brehv-it) An honorary promotion in rank, usually for merit. Officers did not usually function at or receive pay for their brevet rank.

Brogan:  A leather shoe, similar to an ankle-high boot, issued to soldiers during the Civil War.  Brogans were also popular amongst civilians during the time period. See image»
Bummer:  A term used to describe marauding or foraging soldiers.  Although armies on both sides often had rules against foraging or stealing from private residences, some soldiers often found ways to do so.

Caisson: (pronounced kay-suhn) – A two-wheeled cart that carried two ammunition chests, tools, and a spare wheel for artillery pieces. The caisson could be attached to a limber, which would allow both to be pulled by a team of horses.  See image»

Cavalry: A branch of the military mounted on horseback. Cavalry units in the Civil War could move quickly from place to place or go on scouting expeditions on horseback, but usually fought on foot. Their main job was to gather information about enemy movements.  Until the spring of 1863, the Confederate cavalry force was far superior to its Federal counterpart.  See image»

Colors: A flag identifying a regiment or army. The “Color Bearer” was the soldier who carried the flag in battle, which was considered a great honor.

Copperhead:  Term for a Northerner who opposed the war effort.

Corps: (pronounced kohr or korz) A very large group of soldiers led by (Union) a major general or (Confederate) a lieutenant general and designated by Roman numerals (such as XI Corps). Confederate corps were often called by the name of their commanding general (as in Jackson’s Corps). 1 company = 50 to 100 men, 10 companies = 1 regiment, about 4 regiments = 1 brigade, 2 to 5 brigades = 1 division, 2 or more divisions = 1 corps, 1 or more corps = 1 army.

Democratic Party: The major political party in America most sympathetic to states rights and willing to tolerate the spread of slavery to the territories. Democrats opposed a strong Federal government. Most Southern men were Democrats before the War.

Earthwork: A field fortification (such as a trench or a mound) made of earth. Earthworks were used to protect troops during battles or sieges, to protect artillery batteries, and to slow an advancing enemy.

Emancipation: Freedom from slavery.  See Emancipation Proclamation »

Enfilade: (pronounced en-fuh-leyd) To fire along the length of an enemy’s battle line.

Entrenchments: Long cuts (trenches) dug out of the earth with the dirt piled up into a mound in front; used for defense.  See image»

Fascine:  (pronounced fah-seen)  A tightly bound bundle of straight sticks used to reinforce earthworks, trenches or lunettes. Fascines could also be used to make revetments, field magazines, fill material and blinds.  See image»

Flank:  Used as a noun, a “flank” is the end (or side) of a military position, also called a “wing”.  An unprotected flank is “in the air”, while a protected flank is a “refused flank”.  Used as a verb, “to flank” is to move around and gain the side of an enemy position, avoiding a frontal assault.

Flying Battery: A system where several horse-drawn cannons would ride along the battle front, stop and set up the guns, fire, limber up, and ride to another position.  This practice gave the impression that many guns were in use when only a few were actually being used.

Foraging: A term used for “living off the land,” as well as plundering committed by soldiers.

Gabions: (pronounced gey-bee-en) Cylindrical wicker baskets which were filled with rocks and dirt, often used to build field fortifications or temporary fortified positions.  See image »

Garrison: A group of soldiers stationed at a military post.
Graybacks“: A slang term for lice, or occasionally an offensive “Yankee” slang term for Confederate soldiers.

Greenbacks:  Paper currency which began to circulate in the North after February 1862 with the passage of the Legal Tender Act.  The bills were called “greenbacks” because of their color.
Green Troops: Phrase used to describe soldiers who were either new to the military or had never fought in a battle before.

Haversack:  Small canvas bag, about one foot square, used to carry a soldier’s food.  Typically, these bags were painted with black tar to make them waterproof.  See image»

Housewife:  Small sewing kit soldiers used to repair their garments.  See image»

Instant:  Used in letters and reports, “instant” referred to a particular day in the same month.  For example, Robert E. Lee’s Report Concerning the Attack at Harpers Ferry, written on October 19, 1859, states that Lee arrived on the “night of the 17th instant”.  The “17th instant” would be October 17th.

Juggernaut: (pronounced juhg-er-nawt) An overwhelming, advancing force that crushes or seems to crush everything in its path.

Kepi: (pronounced KEH-peeh) cap worn by Civil War soldiers; more prevalent among Union Soldiers. See Image.

Limber:  A two-wheeled cart that carried one ammunition chest for an artillery piece. The artillery piece could be attached to the limber, which would allow both to be pulled by a team of horses.  Also verb: The practice of attaching a piece of artillery to the limber that holds its ammunition.  See image »

Litter: A stretcher which was carried by two people and used to transport wounded soldiers.

Long Roll: A long, continuous drum call which commanded a regiment to assemble.

“Lost Cause”:  Cultural movement in which Southern states attempted to cope – mentally and emotionally – with devastating defeat and Northern military occupation after the Civil War.  The movement idealized life in the antebellum South, loudly protested against Reconstruction policies, and exalted Confederate figures such as “Stonewall” Jackson and Robert E. Lee.

Lunette: (pronounced loo-net)  A fortification shaped roughly like a half-moon. It presented two or three sides to the enemy but the rear was open to friendly lines.

Mortar:  An unrifled artillery gun which was designed to launch shells over walls and enemy fortifications.  The most famous Civil War mortar is the “Dictator” — a mortar which was mounted on a railroad car and used during the siege of Petersburg.  With its 13 inch bore it was capable of launching two hundred pound shells.  See image »

Napoleonic Tactics: The tactics used by Napoleon Bonaparte that were studied by military men and cadets at West Point before the Civil War. His tactics were brilliant for the technology of warfare at the time he was fighting. However, by the Civil War, weapons had longer ranges and were more accurate than they had been in Napoleon’s day.

Nom-de-guerre: (pronounced nahm-duh-gair) Literally, in French this means “war name”. A nom-de-guerre is a nickname earned in battle, such as “Stonewall” Jackson or “Fighting Joe” Hooker.

North: Also called the Union or the United States the North was the part of the country that remained loyal to the Federal government during the Civil War. Northern states were: Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin. West Virginia became a Northern state in 1863 and California and Oregon were also officially Northern but they had little direct involvement in the War.

Ordnance:  The term used for military supplies, such as weaponry and ammunition.

Parole: A pledge by a prisoner of war or a defeated soldier not to bear arms. When prisoners were returned to their own side during the War (in exchange for men their side had captured) the parole was no longer in effect and they were allowed to pick up their weapons and fight. When the South lost the War and the Confederate armies gave their parole they promised never to bear weapons against the Union again.

Parrott gun:  A rifled artillery piece with a reinforcing band at the rear, or breech.  Parrott guns were used by both the Army and the Navy, and ranged from 10-pounders to 300-pounders.  They were named after their designer, Robert Parker Parrott. See image »

“Peculiar Institution”: Another term for slavery in the South.

Picket: Soldiers posted on guard ahead of a main force. Pickets included about 40 or 50 men each. Several pickets would form a rough line in front of the main army’s camp. In case of enemy attack, the pickets usually would have time to warn the rest of the force.

Popular Sovereignty: (pronounced sov-rin-tee) This doctrine was prominent during the debate over slavery in the territories. Popular sovereignty said that the people of each territory should be able to decide for themselves if slavery should be allowed in their territory when it became a state.

Powder Monkey“: A sailor (sometimes a child) who carried explosives from the ship’s magazine to the ship’s guns.  See image »

Private: The lowest rank in the army

“Quaker Guns”:  Large logs painted to look like cannons; used to fool the enemy into thinking a position was stronger than it really was.  See image »

Quartermaster: The officer who was responsible for supplying clothing, supplies and food for the troops.

Rebel Yell: A high-pitched cry that Confederate soldiers would shout when attacking. First heard at First Manassas (First Bull Run) Union troops found the eerie noise unnerving.

Regiment: The basic unit of the Civil War soldiers, usually made up of 1,000 to 1,500 men. Regiments were usually designated by state and number (as in 20th Maine). 1 company = 50 to 100 men, 10 companies = 1 regiment, about 4 regiments = 1 brigade, 2 to 5 brigades = 1 division, 2 or more divisions = 1 corps, 1 or more corps = 1 army. See image »

Republican Party: A political party created in the 1850s to prevent the spread of slavery to the territories. Eventually Republicans came to oppose the entire existence of slavery. Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican president. Very few Southerners were Republicans.

Revetment:  A structure built to hold either natural or man-made embankments in position.  Revetments could be made of items such as sandbags, fascines, gabions, brick, stone, and so on. See image »

Rifle Pit: Similar to what soldiers call a “foxhole” today. Rifle pits were trenches with earth mounded up at the end as protection from enemy fire. A soldier lay in the trench and fired from a prone position.

Rout: A crushing defeat where, often, the losers run from the field

Salient: (pronounced SAY-lee-uhnt) A part of a defensive line of works or a fortification that juts out from the main line towards the enemy.  Salients can be very vulnerable to because they may be attacked from multiple sides.

Scurvy: (pronounced SKUR-vee) A disease caused by lack of ascorbic acid (found in fresh fruits and vegetables). Its symptoms include spongy gums, loose teeth, and bleeding into the skin and mucous membranes.

Secession: (pronounced si-sesh-uhn ) Withdrawal from the Federal government of the United States. Southern states, feeling persecuted by the North, seceded by voting to separate from the Union. Southerners felt this was perfectly legal but Unionists saw it as rebellion.  See the Secession Acts of the 13 Confederate States »

Siege: (pronounced seej) Blocking the supply lines and escape routes of a city to force it to surrender. A siege usually meant one army trapped in a city, slowly running out of food and fresh water, with the opposing army camped outside.  Famous sieges were held at PetersburgVicksburg, and Port Hudson.

South: Also called the Confederacy, the Confederate States of America, or (by Northerners) the Rebel states, the South incorporated the states that seceded from the United States of America to form their own nation. Southern states were: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.

Spike:  To make an artillery piece unusable so that it could not be used by the enemy if captured.

Standard: A flag or banner carried into battle on a pole.

Total War: A new way of conducting war appeared during the Civil War. Instead of focusing only on military targets, armies conducting total war destroyed homes and crops to demoralize and undermine the civilian base of the enemy’s war effort. (Sherman in Georgia or Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley, for example.)

Traverse:  A mound of earth used to protect gun positions from explosion or to defilade the inside of a field work or fortification. See image »

Typhoid:  Bacterial disease causing fever, diarrhea, headache, enlargement of the spleen, and extreme physical exhaustion and collapse.

U.S. Christian Commission: An organization established in 1861 for the relief of Union soldiers; the Christian Commission provided food, Bibles, and free writing materials to the soldiers to encourage them in good moral behavior.  See image »

U.S.C.T.:  United States Colored Troops. Federal Army regiments composed of African-American soldiers.  The U.S.C.T.’s were established by General Order Number 143, issued May 22, 1863, and included infantry, cavalry and artillery regiments.   While the soldiers themselves were African American, officers were white.  Until 1864 African American soldiers received less pay than their white counterparts.  The most famous USCT regiment is the 54th Massachusetts, composed of free Northern men.  The 33rd USCT regiment, however, has the distinction of being the first federally authorized regiment.  Composed of freed slaves, it was originally called the 1st South Carolina Volunteer Infantry. See image »

U.S. Sanitary Commission: A government agency created on June 18, 1861, whose purpose was to coordinate female volunteers who were supporting the Federal army.  These women collected over $25 million in donations from “Sanitary Fairs” and other fundraisers.  The volunteers also made uniforms and bandages, worked as cooks, and nursed the sick and wounded.  Leadership, however, was largely male. See image »

Volunteer: Someone who does something because they want to, not because they need to. Most Civil War soldiers, especially in the beginning of the War, were volunteers. Men joined the armies on both sides because they wanted to fight for their cause.

West Point: The United States Military Academy at West Point, New York was the military school for more than 1,000 officers in both the Union and Confederate armies—including Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant.

Whig Party: A political party generally against slavery and its expansion into the territories. The Whig party had basically been swallowed up by the Democrat and Republican parties by the time of the Civil War.

Yankee: A Northerner; someone loyal to the Federal government of the United States. Also, Union, Federal, or Northern.

Zouave: (pronounced zoo-ahv or zwahv) A zouave regiment was characterized by its soldiers’ bright, colorful uniforms which usually included baggy trousers, a vest, and a fez in different combinations of red, white, and blue. American zouave units were found in both Union and Confederate armies. They were modeled after French African troops who were known for their bravery and marksmanship.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

F is for Foyle’s Philavery

 

F is for Foyle’s and the alliterative sounding word Philavery which completes the book’s title. You won’t find “philavery” in the Oxford English, Webster’s Collegiate, or any other dictionary that I know of because the mother-in-law of Christopher Foyle, the author, made it up during a game of Scrabble. She constructed the word from the Greek verb phileein, ‘to love,’ and the Latin noun verbum, ‘a word.’

I had no idea what Philavery was, so here’s the definition in his book: “an idiosyncratic collection of uncommon and pleasing words.”

 

Foyle began collecting uncommon or unfamiliar words when he heard Norman Schwarzkopf, the US commander in the 1990 Gulf War, refer to information he deemed of no value as “bovine scatology.” Foyle knew the word bovine, which refers to cows, but needed a dictionary to understand scatology which, naturally, made it into his 2007 compendium.

  1. (in medicine, palaeontology, etc.) the study of excrement or dung
  2. a morbid interest in excrement or excretory functions
  3. obscene language or literature, especially that concerned with excrement or excretory function

 

For the third category, the OED, always my standard, simply (and amusingly) uses the words “filthy language.” It’s a bit ironic that a linguistically proper person like me would focus my last blog on the f-word and now this column begins with excrement. Time to move on!

 

To discover “uncommon and pleasing words,” Foyle takes six newspapers a day. He’s a Brit, so five of them are what he calls “British broadsheets.” The sixth is the International Herald Tribune. He also reads The Spectator and The Economist, plus publications representative of his diverse interests: archeology, history, travel, aviation, genealogy, parapsychology, genealogy, and ancient civilization.

 

Since today’s alphabet letter is F, I’m listing some of Foyle’s F-words (J), which I find uncommon and pleasing.

  • feak: a curling lock of hair, especially one that is dangling
  • fogle: a silk handkerchief
  • frendent: gnashing the teeth
  • frippet: a frivolous or flighty young woman, who is inclined to show off
  • furphy: a false report or improbable story; a rumour

 

If you’ve been to London, the name Foyle might trigger recognition. Christopher Foyle worked as a teenager in the Charing Cross Road bookstore managed by his father Richard and started by his grandfather William Foyle in 1903. Christopher stepped away from the family business to travel and establish a cargo airline. Meanwhile, his Aunt Christina took over the business, then turned it over to Christopher six days before she died. in 1999 Read the store’s fascinating history here.

http://www.foyles.co.uk/about-foyles

 

Foyle concludes the introduction to his book like this: “It is satisfying to be following in the footsteps of earlier generations of Foyles, but it has one drawback––easy access to so many books has swelled the piles of books, and subsequent philavery-bound cuttings around my house and office to almost unmanageable proportions! I hope you will find the journey around the words listed here as fascinating, intriguing and inspiring as I have.”

 

My thanks go to my long-time friend Wendy McHenry, herself a former bookstore owner and a philaverer, for sending it to me.

 

 

 

 

E is for Elucidation of Gxddbov Xxkxzt Pg Ifmk

 

In “D is for Dectective,” I left OED former editor John Simpson’s discussion of the f-word dangling. He titled Chapter Nine of The Word Detective: Searching for the Meaning of It All at the Oxford English Dictionary, “Gxddbov Xxkxzt Pg Ifmk.”

 

I read it right away.

 

Then I went to the online version’s current listing. It is identified as “coarse slang,” first used in sixteen century Middle English, “Be his feirris he wald haue fukkit.” Subsequent variations include fukkand, fucke, ffuck, f-k and today’s easily recognizable four-letter expletive.

 

Simpson asserts that the best way to see how editorial policies are employed in practice is to study a specific word, so I stretched to find an “e” word—elucidation—to continue to launch the discussion. His efforts are all about elucidation as the OED defines it: the action or process of elucidating, throwing light upon, making plain or intelligible.

 

Yeah, I know, judging from overheard conversations at the college library where I was last employed, people just want to use it, not learn about editorial policies and etymological history. If you are interested, read on.

 

The first edition of the OED omitted the f-word. The editors didn’t even work on it. “If the editors had worked on fuck,” Simpson writes, “it would have been published in 1898 which was when the entry immediately preceding was published (fucivarous: eating, or subsisting on seaweed.)” Dictionary readers could stomach details of seaweed eating, but the cultural climate was unfriendly to candid language. Says Simpson

 

“The closing years of Queen Victoria’s reign in Britain were not known for their liberal and enlightened attitude towards sex, and the inclusion of fuck would have probably involved the editors and the publishers in a short walk to a long stretch in prison.”

 

Editors considered including the word in its 1933 supplement, but, as in Queen Victoria’s day, they would have been arrested for “gross indecency.” In 1960, Penguin, the British publishers of D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover, beat legal action that would have prevented them from publishing an “obscene book.” In 1964, the Penguin English Dictionary included the verb fuck, thereby freeing others to publish what they felt compelled to publish and sidestep incarceration.

 

Both audacity and caution prevailed at the OED. The 1972 OED Supplement used the more delicate word “copulation” instead of “sexual intercourse,” as well as, Simpson reports, a few “colorful” examples. For the OED3, published in 1989, the editors mounted an ambitious search for the earliest usage. The result: the word fuck, though concealed in code, was included in a religious context.

 

“Gxddbov Xxkxzt Pg Ifmk” comes from this sentence from 1500 AD: “Non sunt in oeli, quia gxddbovxxkxzt pg ifmk.” The first part is Latin: “They [the monks] are not in heaven because…” The rest, Simpson says, was a cypher. for “fuccant uuiuys of heli,” “they are are enjoying sexual intercourse.”

Simpson says, “It seems likely—from the fact that the whole epressio was endrypted—that it wasn’t the word itself that had to be hidden from public view, but rather the insalubrious acticities of the monks.”

 

That’s about all I want to say about I never use.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

—————————————————————————————————————-

What do you do with a chapter heading titled “Gxddbov Xxkxzt Pg Ifmk.” You read it, of course, and shouldn’t

Finally in 1972, enlightened OED editors cautiously let fuck enter the pages of the OED Supplement.

 

David Crystal (Making a Point: The Persnickety Story of English Punctuation) calls the chief editor “Sherlock Simpson.” The OED, usually spare and absent of descriptors, defines a detective like this: “One whose occupation it is to discover matters artfully concealed.” Simpson is indeed artful, not to mention systematic.

 

The words of the OED quotations make me smile, reaching into the past as they do, the unfamiliar words (antiquary), capitalization (Theoreme), different spellings (publish) and

 

 

1667   Philos. Trans. (Royal Soc.) 2 568   There being no further Elucidation of the said Theoreme since publisht.

1772   T. Pennant Tours Scotl. (1774) 293   We may expect further elucidations from a skillful antiquary.

1813   H. Davy Agric. Chem. (1814) viii. 344,   I trust I shall be able to offer you satisfactory elucidations on the subject.

1841   T. Carlyle On Heroes iii. 174   The latest generations of men will find new meanings in Shakspeare, new elucidations of their own human being.

 

D is for Detective

 

D is for Detective, as in The Word Detective (2016), by John Simpson. I’d save this book for the “W” entry, but it’s due at the library and another word-hungry reader wants it.

 

The book’s subtitle is “Searching for the Meaning of it all at the Oxford English Dictionary.” How many of us have been at a dictionary? The author, who worked on the OED for forty years, is referring to the physical headquarters at Oxford University, at one point described as “gloomy corridors…the office mirrored the sort of work we were doing.”

 

In 1976, John Simpson, a graduate student finishing up a master’s in Medieval Studies, became a cub lexicographer, ultimately assuming the role of chief editor and overseeing the 1989 update and online version. The OED was first suggested in 1857, editorial work began in 1879, and a final 10-volume edition was published in 1928. Simpson articulates his love for the job in the first chapter.

 

“There have been many accounts of the dictionary’s history, but very few (if any) have managed to capture the excitement of the job––the fact that each day you are uncovering small but significant facts that have been almost entirely forgotten often for centuries and you have the opportunity to bring them back to the surface. The thrill of discovery, like the elation of a well-rounded definition, is almost like creating a poem. (p.42)”

 

His first task was to update the entry for “queen,” which began as the Anglo-Saxon word cwen. His process for providing new historical information and usage was to collect index cards in the basement of the building, gather additional information from books in the department’s reference library on the first floor, and write definitions in his office on the ground floor.

Hundreds of employees worked on the update. The process of hiring them is different than I imagined.

“…Lexicographers veer as far away as they can from people who claim to love words. What is the point of loving words and at the same time expecting to analyze and classify them?” In the process of hiring people, Simpson asserts, “So how do we weed out these word lovers?” By giving them an exam, or, he says, “you just look around the room and see ho is left-handed and you appoint them. It’s a scandalous approach for a professional, but it’s backed up by real data.”

 

I love the OED, acquainting myself with the 20-volume print edition at the Whatcom Community College Library, the University of Southern Maine’s online version, and learning the book’s crazy history from Simon Winchester’s The Meaning of Everything: the Story of the Oxford English Dictionary. I missed electronic acesss when I completed my MFA degree, but my wife bought me a year’s subscription last Christmas and also showed me a review of The Word Detective in Christian Century, my current favorite OED book.

 

Simpson’s favorite book about the OED is Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages by Ammon Shea, published in 2008. Simpson says Shea’s book “starts to bring the dictionary to life in a way that almost all other books about dictionaries fail to do.” I’ve placed a hold at the library for that title and Shea’s Bad English: A history of Linguistic Aggravation.

 

If you pick up a copy of Simpson’s book, you might go to Chapter 9 entitled “Gxddbov Xxkxzt Pg Ifmk,”

 

Eleven pages of the 34 pages in “Gxddbov Xxkxzt Pg Ifmk,” is about the f-word, but I didn’t get a subscription to the OED or Simpson’s book so that I could focus on the OED’s category of “coarse slang.” Or did I? J Check out tomorrow’s blog, E for Elucidation

 

—————————————————————————————————————-

What do you do with a chapter heading titled “Gxddbov Xxkxzt Pg Ifmk.” You read it, of course, and shouldn’t be startled that the meaning references “coarse slang” first used in sixteen century Middle English, “Be his feirris he wald haue fukkit.” Subsequent variations include fukkand, fucke, ffuck, f-k and today’s easily recognizable four-letter expletive.

 

Simpson writes, “The closing years of Queen Victoria’s reign in Britain were not known for their liberal and enlightened attitude towards sex, and the inclusion of fuck would have probably involved the editors and the publishers in a short walk to a long stretch in prison.” Finally in 1972, enlightened OED editors cautiously let fuck enter the pages of the OED Supplement.

 

“Gxddbov Xxkxzt Pg Ifmk” comes from this sentence from 1500 AD: “Non sunt in oeli, quia gxddbovxxkxzt pg ifmk.” The first part is Latin: They [the monks] are not in heaven because… but the rest, Simpson says, is a cypher for “fuccant uuiuys of heli,” “they are are enjoying sexual intercourse.” Those monks!

 

David Crystal (Making a Point: The Persnickety Story of English Punctuation) calls the chief editor “Sherlock Simpson.” The OED, usually spare and absent of descriptors, defines a detective like this: “One whose occupation it is to discover matters artfully concealed.” Simpson is indeed artful, not to mention systematic.

Note: Simpson reffered to Ammon’s book as “blog” like, a description empowering me to do what Ammon did. Here’s what JS said: “I’ve read something about the characters of the letters of the alphabet before, in my favourite book about the OED: Reading the OED: One Man, One Yeear, 21,720 Pages––Ammon Shea’s blog-like account of reading through the dictionary from A to Z, published in 2008 What is important for me about this book is that it actually responds to the ontent, not to how the text was stitched together. So we hear someone else’s view about what it feels like to read the letter A, and how the letter A differs in its character, for example from the letter G. At the same time we are introduced to the gnaging parallel narrative of Ammon’s life whist he was reading each letter: where he lived, what he was doing, why he struggled with some parts of the text. It actually starts to bring the dictionary to life in a way that almost all other books about dictionaries fail to do.

 

 

 

 

but excluded from the OED until 1972.

 

 

 

eleven of its thirty-four pages are devoted to the process of finally including a word, used in the language since the sixteenth century, in the 1972 Supplement to the OED with the “coarse language” tag used in the language since the sixteenth century“course language

 

 

Etymology: < Irish céilidhe, Scottish Gaelic cēilidh, < Old Irish céile companion. http://www.transparent.com/learn-irish/phrases.html

Más é do thoil é. Please.

Tá brón orm. I’m sorry.

Ní hea. No.

Gabh mo leithscéal. Excuse me.

 

 

C is for Ceilidhe and Claggarnach

 

In the mid-sixties, I made a new friend at a youth hostel in London who, like me, wanted to hitchhike, but not alone. We joined together and hopped rides north to Edinburgh and Inverness. Nice people, easy rides, no mishaps. When my friend had to return to college in France, I had a confident thumb and two weeks to go wherever I wanted which were the Isle of Skye in the Inner Hebrides, places whose very names were enchanting. A succession of people picked me up. The last driver, a friendly salesman, let me out of his little Morris Minor at the hostel’s doorstep in Portree, and said,

“There’s a celidh down the street. You should go.” He pronounced it kay-lee.

I had no idea what a celidh was, but as a gamey twenty-something-year-old, I found out: a sort of Gaelic hootenanny with traditional music––fiddles, flutes, tin whistles, bodran drums––dancing, storytelling, and hospitality that swept me in.

I was in Scotland, but cedlidhes (the Irish add an e) happen in the Emerald Isle too. Originally, they were held in rural areas to facilitate courting. They’re even held in the United States. The Irish Ceilidhe Club of Rhode Island was founded in 1956 and still holds monthly dances. The web site is current only through Fall 2016, but check it out. http://www.irishclubri.org/index.html.

I’ve remembered the word (if not always the spelling!) for almost fifty years––a symbol of Celtic and Gaelic culture and a catalyst for returning to the UK, particularly Ireland.

 

The “C” that you see to the left is from one of my wife’s 180 alphabet books. Ogham: An Irish Alphabet, written by Criostoir Mag Fhearaigh, illustrated by Tim Stampton, published in 1998 and purchased for five Euros at Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop in Galway, Ireland on our first trip to Ireland in 2002.

Ogham is curious: 20 letters developed around about the 4th century, mostly horizontal and vertical lines carved on stones and wood stakes (375 examples survive), and read from the bottom up. Scholars argue about whether orgham is connected to the Latin or to runic and Etruscan alphabets. The name is most likely derived from Ogmios, the Celtic God of speech and oral learning.

The derivative Irish language, a cousin to Welsh in the Celtic group, continues in Ireland. The grammar is complex, the alphabet consists of 18 letters, and English speakers are baffled by the assignment of sounds. B+H, for examples sounds like V. H+G sounds like the Y in yellow. Go to this website to see how Yes, No, and Please sound in Irish. “Is ea,” “Ni hea,” and “Mas e do tholl e,” respectively.

“Claggarnach” is the perfect word to describe what I am hearing outside my window: the sound of heavy rain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

B is for…I’ll let you know in a minute.

 

First instinct: Mrs. Bryne’s Dictionary of Unusual, Obscure and Preposterous Words, an amusing volume that catalyzed my interest in weird words and built on the habit that another Mrs. B. established in me. Mrs. Bertheau, my 8th grade teacher insisted that every student’s book report contain five words new to us, along with a minty fresh sentence of our own making.

 

I am a dogged dictionary diver when it comes to definitions, but the practice of using the unusual words I’ve found in a sentence? Not so much.

 

What would friends think if I included Mrs. Bryne’s word zumbooruk––a small cannon fired from the back of a camel––in casual conversation? Unless I turn to writing fiction, that “Z” word is not likely to enter my working vocabulary and zumbooruk is too long for Scrabble. However, those of us who love words can excuse their lack of utility and be satisfied with the swish of pleasure that accompanies the sound of consonant and vowels in crazy combinations.

 

Which is why I’m delaying B for Bryne until J-day: J for Josefa, Mrs. Bryne’s first name. My wife suggested B for Beelzebub because of it was the wildest, most esoteric B word she could think of. So that’s it: end the ellipsis above with Beelzebub.

 

Several dictionaries, including the Oxford English, suggest a half dozen variant spellings and iterations including “Beelzebub,Belsabubbe (Middle English—now that’s a fun one!), and my favorite, the Hebrew baʿal-z’būb  which translates as Fly Lord or Lord of the Flies, an actual deity worshiped by the Philistines and believed to be the creator and controller of flies. Check out this etching. Some translations indicate his name as “Baal the Prince” and––I can’t believe this––“lord of heaven.”

 

In the New Testament “Baal-zebul” is a synonym for Satan or the Devil, and only referenced once in Luke 11:15. Jesus, when accused, denies that he is casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub.

 

Beelzebub pops up in other literature: as an image for fallen angels in Milton and in Langman’s Piers Plowman (“A bastarde y-bore Of Belsabubbes kynne.” Ancient lingo, but obviously unflattering.

 

Mrs. Byrne doesn’t reference Beelzebub, nor does he appear in any of our other word books. He’s no where to be seen or heard in The Word Detective, The Word Museum or I Always Look up the Word “E-gre-gious.”

 

This is the last time I’m likely to use Beelzebub in a sentence, but Thanks Amory. I have enjoyed the consonants and vowels, the stories and referenfes to He Who Shall Not be Named Again.

 

Beelzebub, n.

Pronunciation:  /biːˈɛlzɪbʌb/

Forms:  Also ME Belsebub, ME–15 BelsabubBelsabubbe, OE–18 Belzebub.

Frequency (in current use):

Etymology: < Latin Beëlzebūb, used in the Vulgate to render both the Greek βεελζεβούβ of the received text of the New Testament (for which early MSS. have βεελζεβούλ), and the Hebrew baʿal-z’būb ‘fly-lord,’ mentioned in 2 Kings i. 2, as ‘the god of Ekron,’ which Aquila had also reproduced in Greek as βεελζεβούβ, though the LXX rendered it βάαλ μυΐαν. The relation between the Hebrew and Greek words is not settled. The earlier English translations, and the Douay, followed the Vulgate in identifying them in form, but the Geneva Bible of 1560, followed by the ‘Authorized’ of 1611, represent the Old Testament word more exactly as Baal-zebub. From the New Testament designation of Beelzebub as ‘prince of demons,’ the word became at an early period one of the popular names of the Devil. Milton used it as the name of one of the fallen angels.(Show Less)

 

/biːˈɛlzɪbʌb/

Forms:  Also ME Belsebub, ME–15 BelsabubBelsabubbe, OE–18 Belzebub.

Frequency (in current use):

Etymology: < Latin Beëlzebūb, used in the Vulgate to render both the Greek βεελζεβούβ… (Show More)

Thesaurus »

 

  The Devil; a devil; also transf.

                  c950   Lindisf. Gosp. Matt. xii. 24   In Belzebub ðone aldormenn diobla.

                  c975   Rushw. G. Matt. xii. 24   Belzebub þæt is aldor deofla.

                  c1000   West Saxon Gospels: Matt. (Corpus Cambr.) xii. 24   Þurh Belzebub deofla ealdre.

                  c1175   Lamb. Hom. 55   Loke weo us wið him misdon þurh beelzebubes swikedom.

1377   Langland Piers Plowman B. ii. 130   A bastarde y-bore Of Belsabubbes kynne.

1546   J. Heywood Dialogue Prouerbes Eng. Tongue ii. iv. sig. Giiiv,   Ye be a baby of Belsabubs bowre.

                  a1616   Shakespeare Twelfth Night (1623) v. i. 282   He holds Belzebub at the staues end as well as a man in his case may do.

1759   W. Law Coll. Lett. Import. Subj. 193   To crucify the Christ of God, as a beelzebub and blasphemer.

1815   W. Kirby & W. Spence Introd. Entomol. I. v. 153   This fly is truly a Beelzebub; and perhaps..was the prototype of the Philistine idol worshipped under that name and in the form of a fly.

1849   Macaulay Hist. Eng. I. xiii,   His old troopers, the Satans and Beelzebubs who had shared his crimes (i.e. of Claverhouse).

 

Harper’s Bible Dictionary by Madeleine S. Miller and J. Lane Miller in consultation with eminent authorities. The Third Edition published in 1955 by Harper & Brothers

Beelzebub. See Baal-zebub.  “lord of flies” also Beelzebub, a Philistine God worshipped at Ekron, believed to creator and controller and creator of flies. Jesus denied that he cast out devils by the power of Beelzebub in Luke 11:19 f.

 

 

Beelzebub Britannica also called Baalzebub, in the Bible, the prince of the devils. In the Old Testament, in the form Baalzebub, it is the name given to the god of the Philistine city of Ekron (II Kings 1:1–18). Neither name is found elsewhere in the Old Testament, and there is only one reference to it in other Jewish literature. See devil.

 

I’m sure you

 

 

 

 

D is for Detective

D is for Detective, as in The Word Detective (2016) by John Simpson. I’d save this book for the “W” entry, but it’s due at the library and another word-hungry reader wants it.

The book’s subtitle is “Searching for the Meaning of it all at the Oxford English Dictionary.” How many of us have been at a dictionary? The author, who worked on the OED for forty years, is referring to the physical headquarters at Oxford University, at one point described as “gloomy corridors…the office mirrored the sort of work we were doing.”

In 1976, John Simpson, a graduate student finishing up a master’s in Medieval Studies, became a cub lexicographer, ultimately assuming the role of chief editor and overseeing the 1989 update and online version. The OED was first suggested in 1857, editorial work began in 1879, and a final 10-volume edition was published in 1928. Simpson articulates his love for the job in the first chapter.

There have been many accounts of the dictionary’s history, but very few (if any) have managed to capture the excitement of the job––the fact that each day you are uncovering small but significant facts that have been almost entirely forgotten often for centuries and you have the opportunity to bring them back to the surface. The thrill of discovery, like the elation of a well-rounded definition, is almost like creating a poem.

His first task was to update the entry for “queen,” which began as the Anglo-Saxon word cwen. His process for providing new historical information and usage was to collect index cards in the basement of the building, gather additional information from books in the department’s reference library on the first floor, and write definitions in his office on the ground floor.

Hundreds of employees worked on the update. The process of hiring them is different than I imagined:

…Lexicographers veer as far away as they can from people who claim to love words. What is the point of loving words and at the same time expecting to analyze and classify them?” In the process of hiring people, Simpson asserts, “So how do we weed out these word lovers?” By giving them an exam, or, he says, “you just look around the room and see ho is left-handed and you appoint them. It’s a scandalous approach for a professional, but it’s backed up by real data.

 I love the OED, acquainting myself with the 20-volume print edition at the Whatcom Community College Library, the University of Southern Maine’s online version, and learning the book’s crazy history from Simon Winchester’s The Meaning of Everything: the Story of the Oxford English Dictionary. I missed electronic acesss when I completed my MFA degree, but my wife bought me a year’s subscription last Christmas and also showed me a review of The Word Detective in Christian Century, my current favorite OED book.

 Simpson’s favorite book about the OED is Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages by Ammon Shea, published in 2008. Simpson says Shea’s book “starts to bring the dictionary to life in a way that almost all other books about dictionaries fail to do.” I’ve placed a hold at the library for that title and Shea’s Bad English: A history of Linguistic Aggravation.

 If you pick up a copy of Simpson’s book, you might go to chapter 9 entitled “Gxddbov Xxkxzt Pg Ifmk,”

 Eleven pages of the 34 pages in “Gxddbov Xxkxzt Pg Ifmk,” is about the f-word, but I didn’t get a subscription to the OED or Simpson’s book so that I could focus on the OED’s category of “coarse slang.” Or did I? J Check out tomorrow’s blog, E for Elucidation