Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Word Nerds Part One.

Hi All!

Mel here, with part one of a two-part-blog for your reading pleasure. This one's interactive, so if you want to play the game that Hannah and I came up with (rules and such to follow), please tweet us your favorite word @boswellbooks (#faveword). We're collecting your favorite words for part two, coming soon to a Boswellian blog near you.  

Spring is coming (so are book six and season three, Game of Thrones nerds!), which means bugs. This post celebrates "entymology and etymology," or: The Wonderful Peculiarities of Words and Word Origins. For example, the study of insects is "entymology," which you can distinguish from the study of words by the "n." So the old joke is that there's an "n" in the "insects" word. Unless etymology is your thing, I bet you didn't know that we have a great selection of books on the subject at Boswell Book Company. Let's take a tour, shall we?

Up first is my favorite word, "absquatulate," which I discovered in Phil Cousineau's The Painted Word: A Treasure Chest of Remarkable Words and their Origins (shelved in our "Reference" case with the writing guides). Go ahead. Say it out loud. Great, right? Cosineau's definition is: "To flee, abscond, or boogie. This facetious frontier slang combines the notion of speculating with squatting or camping." Who doesn't love the notion of "frontier slang" in this digital day and age? Cousineau continues: "[m]y informant, the tea maven, James Norwood Pratt, tells me that when he was growing up in North Carolina absquatulate meant to 'absent one's family and self abruptly to take up "squatting" elsewhere'" (3). Apparently folks in the 19th century liked to smash words together to come up with funny new words, just like we do today. Daniel wouldn't be happy with me posting my favorite word smash-up here, but I'll give you a few hints. The first part is simply the word "amaze--." Hint two: it's NOT "amazeblog," but it's darn close. I also like "crazement" and "wonderblusting." You should always feel free to absquatulate from the world of Webster to come up with your own slanguage!

Speaking of Webster, did you know how politically-charged the writing of dictionaries has been historically? For more on this, check out The Story of Ain't: America, Its Language, and the Most Controversial Dictionary Ever Published, by David Skinner. According to Skinner, "ain't" really upset the lexicographic apple cart. You can find this wonderful book in  our American History section. This is the same section where we keep The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, a book by Simon Winchester that blew my view of dictionaries and language as static. Did you know that the Oxford English Dictionary (or "OED," as the cool-kids call it) was written by a bunch of old white British dudes? And that one of them was locked up? Written, no less, on a bunch of index cards, like so many (terrible) notes for high school research papers. Winchester himself is a pretty interesting character: he's a former Oxford geologist. I dig that because I was an English and Geology double-major as an undergrad. One of the greatest things for word nerds about geology is how many awesome adjectives there are available for the naming of rocks. For example, the word "vuggy," which I tried desperately to get Patrick Somerville to include in his amaze-- book This Bright River.

Back in the Reference section, we have another gem: The Unexpected Evolution of Language: Discover the Surprising Etymology of Everyday Words by Justin Cord Hayes. On page 138, we learn the definition of "keister," which seems almost too good to be true: "Original definition: 'strongbox; chest.' New definition: 'buttocks'." According to Cord: "[t]his word derives from the German word 'kist,' meaning chest, as in 'place for valuables.' Germans kept their loot in their 'kists,' and, of course, some nefarious folks would break into those 'kists.' When English speakers 'stole' the word, a chest, safe, or strongbox became a 'keister.' Thus, a burglar might rifle around in your 'keister,' looking for nuggets. Enter pickpockets." Words--why you so fun all the time?

How about this excerpt from the chapter "Sex and Bread" for all you fresh spring lovers? Just a little sumpin' sumpin' from Mark Forsyth's book The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language: "Freud says that everything was secretly sexual. But etymologists know that sex is secretly food. For example, mating with somebody was originally just sharing your food, or meat, with them (meat meant food of any kind and not just flesh). Likewise, your companion is somebody with whom you share your bread (from the Latin panis)" (34).

Then there's the power of words to make a good blurb. There's this blurb I adore on the back of Andrew Shaffer's Literary Rogues: A Scandalous History of Wayward Authors, which I wish someone would use for blurbage on my memoir: "Extends the schadenfreude to the boudoir," written by the New York Times Book Review. Intrigued? There's a copy of Literary Rogues on one of the new paperbacks tables. Dope. Which used to mean "idiot," and now means "amaze-."

Finally we have the words in titles, which any writer who isn't lying can tell you are difficult to choose. From Dan Wilbur's How Not to Read: Harnessing the Power of a Literature-Free Life (available in the humor section), we have a series of classic book covers with incredibly descriptive new titles. On page 78 there's the childhood favorite by Eric Carle The Very Hungry Caterpillar, retitled Eat Until You Feel Pretty. Then there's Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, which is really Skipping Dinner Is Like Dropping Acid (99). Also hilarious: Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange, which we all know should have been called Way Easier to Watch than Read (91).  

What's your favorite word? Hannah and I want to know. What's your favorite book? Hannah and I want to try to come up with a Wilburesque new title for it! And if you want a good blurb, you've come to the right place. We'll blurb the blurb outta your favorites! Tweet us your faves and look for part two of this blog post: let the word games BEGIN!