Friday, March 22, 2013

Word Nerds, B Part

Here's your second installment of the Word Nerd blog from Boswellians Hannah and Mel. Here we are, tempting you to check out the new Kobo.

Well, it's been an interesting few weeks for words. Over at Boswell, we've had remodeling words (complete with free coffee and barista face-time words), awesome-events-booked-recently words, and Mercury-finally-whipping-outta-retrograde words. With spring on the calendar and frigid temps clinging to the ol' thermometer, I'm sure you've all had an interesting past few weeks with words, too. Instead of focusing on that, let's indulge in some focused, specific word awesomeness based on the Tweets and emails we've receieved in response to our first blog post. 
Thanks for your words!

Two of Boswellian Halley's favorite words are oscillate and onomatopoeia. She's our local science-book guru, so it doesn't surprise that she likes oscillate, a word frequently found in physics texts. Yet onomatopoeia makes one wonder if she's writing science-themed poetry on the side. According to Phil Cousineau's Painted Word, which you can find in the Reference case with the writing guides, oscillate means "[t]o waver, move back and forth" (253). He identifies this as "[a]n imaginative word that is rooted in the Latin oscillum, a little mouth, most visually imagined in Virgil's Georgics when he describes a small mask of open-mouthed Bacchus swinging to and fro from a tree in a vineyard."
Really hoping this doesn't infiltrate your dreams this evening.
Upon sharing this with Boswellian Sharon, she said "Oh great--now I will never be able to unsee this." He cites the "pawky" (surely another word worth investigating) H. L. Mencken's use in the epigram, which is appropriate given our words the past few weeks: "'Life is a constant oscillation between the sharp horns of dilemmas'." Innit just.

We turn again to Cosineau's Painted Word for illumination with onomatopoeia--an unintended synesthesia, surely. As "[t]he imitation of a sound associated with the thing being named," onomatopoeia comes "from onomatopoios, from onoma, word, name, and a derivative of poiein, compose, make" (250). Here we have a word for the making-up of words. Brilliant! And it sounds exactly like a made-up-word! DOUBLE BRILLIANT! For those of you who still think the English language fixed, here's your whipakeup call and onomatopoeiatic license to ill-use perfectly good words, manipulating them to be more "sonicky," which is "Roy Blount, Jr.'s term for great-sounding words."
Not just riding a penny farthing, but tricks in a long skirt!
Eating donuts whilst trick-riding on a pennyfarthing seems like the old-timey equivalent of driving a manual transmission whilst eating a cheeseburger and smoking.
Hannah's favorite word is donut. There's no surprising origin of or definition for this word. However, a gang of delicious donut slang abounds. From the OED, we learn that donut usually refers to tires and life preservers, but really covers anything oblong in shape. In 1930, someone wrote of automobile tires: "We clout ten doughnuts an' call it a day." Here HERE. By the 1960's donut had morphed into a different kind of automotive slang. It had become not just the tire or spare tire, but a "manoeuver in which a car or other vehicle is (usually quickly) turned in a complete circle." This makes us nostalgic for summer-time frolickings, which surely are just around the bend. Fresh from the OED listing, this little gem from the New York Times Magazine circa August 1999: "A freckled friend of Sex Machine's loops around him on his bicycle, lazily doing doughnuts." One wonders what a friend of someone named Sex Machine would be named. At any rate, grab any friend (why should Sex Machine have all the fun?), grab your bicycles, and we'll brave it the local donutery, maybe doing a few donuts along the way, before clouting ten donuts an' calling it a day!
These hifalutin smokestacks are totally judging you.
And now for two of Mel's favorites: hornswoggle and hifalutin. The former means "[t]o cheat, bamboozle, hoax," (169) while the latter means Fancy-Pants. Shockingly, both are perfectly functional occupational terms. Hornswoggle is "[a]n old seafaring term, first recorded around 1829, for being tossed around the ship or into the water" (169). Hifalutin brings to mind "fancy steamboats floating" on mighty rivers, their "high fluted [see the contracted hifalutin there?] smokestacks that carried the soot and cinders well away from the passengers," a luxury not extended to the river-rafting riff raff (293). 
Boswellian Anne submitted two perfectly 'placed' words: Shenandoah and Monongahela. The first we could not find a definition for (any fellow Word Nerds out there who know, please email or tweet us!), but the second has an interesting entry in the OED: "the name of the Monongahela river, which runs from West Virginia to southern Pennsylvania, through a region which was an early centre [sic] for the production of rye whisky." The entries listed in the OED stretch from 1805 to 1998, by far the best of them from 1936: "Their drink was Monongahela rye whisky, the universal tipple of the wilderness known on the Mississippi simply as 'good old Nongela'." Quite a legacy for what one writer swore off in 1847, almost a century ealier: "May I never taste Monongahela again!" Now if you'll excuse us, Hannah has to track down some of this shine, and Mel has beg Anne to teach her how to pronounce this word. We'll make a game of it--once Hannah finds her some 'Good Old Nongela,' we'll share, and try pronouncing many different kinds of words. Good. Times. 
Speaking of games, there's an awesome one for all you Word Nerds and Words with Friends afficionados out there. It's really easy: just go to the OED online (those of you with university library subscriptions have free access to it!) and look up a random word. This very well could be the equivalent of taking "dictionary breaks" whilst studying in the library. Go ahead. Need an idea? Try "cat." It'll knock your socks off!
The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language
Seriously--read this book.
 Finally, you should really carve out some time to peruse Mark Forsyth's book, The Etymologicon, next time you stop by (it's in the Reference case with the writing guides). He has a game in there that's Super Word Nerdy and party-ready to boot! Back in the Quizzes section, you stumble upon "God loves a mud-caked, travelling wolf." It's up to you to ferret out who that famous person is, based on your etymological knowledge. How about Mr. "Courageous Cabbage?" "My Little French Lady?" "The Dwarf in the Priest's Garden?" That last one is none other than Elvis Presley ("Elvis comes from Alvis, a dwarf in Viking mythology. Presley is a variant of Priestly and means one who lives on land belonging to a priest" (266)). Amazewords!!
Regretfully, there are too many words for just two posts. This very well could be a weekly blog idea, but neither Hannah nor Mel have time to commit to a weekly Word Nerd blog post, now that they've discovered Monogahela and books in Hannah's pocket. We'd like to give a shout out to some additionally awesome words submitted by fellow Boswellians and customers: East Side icon Aaron Boyd submitted infidel; our barista neighbor Nick "Slim" King of Starbucks coffee (and Beer Magazine--see below) threw in cabal; Boswellian Nick confessed to loving chocolate; and we all agree that hullaballoo and ridiculous are the bee's knees.
Thanks for indulging our etymophilia and see you around Boswell Book Company for more witty wordplay!

We're really surprised that your favorite word isn't "beer."