Monday, June 1, 2009

There’s a word for that

I am a nerd. If you’ve been reading this little writing experiment for more than a day or two, I’m sure you’ve figured that out all by yourself. So, given my nerd-like tendencies, you will not be surprised to learn that I’ve found a new book I’m in love with, and that it’s about reading the dictionary.

Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages is by Ammon Shea, a furniture mover and logophile who spent one year reading the Oxford English Dictionary from cover to cover. To cover to cover to cover. All twenty volumes of it. As he says, he’s read the OED so you don’t have to.

I’m only up to the letter H, but so far, this book is a hoot. For instance, I have learned that I am an anonymuncule: an anonymous, small-time writer. I knew this, of course, but I had no idea there was a name for my condition. I am also an antisocordist – an opponent of idiocy. If you are a purveyor of said idiocy, it might interest you to know that you are likely a bayard – one armed with the self-confidence of ignorance. I’ve met a bayard or two in my time.

One of the best words I’ve come across so far is bemissionary – to annoy with missionaries. This is what happened to me on Sunday when two impossibly young men from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints appeared on my doorstep. When I confessed to being a total heathen, they were reluctant to leave me in my sinful state; hence I was bemissionaried.

In case you were wondering, cellarhood is the state of being a cellar. This is, as Mr. Shea points out, “a wonderful example of the spectacular ways English has of describing things no one ever thinks it necessary to describe.”

Conspue is to spit on someone with contempt. Is there a way to spit on someone WITHOUT contempt? Maybe it’s a compliment. I expectorate on your person because of my great admiration for you.

Constult is to act stupidly together (I have two friends who spent Friday evening writing on bathroom walls in Newport, Kentucky -- I think this word may apply to them). Constult is closely related to unasinous – being equal to one another in stupidity. There are a lot of ways I could go with this (Bush and Cheney?), but I’ll leave you to insert your own joke here. But let me point out that unasinous is perhaps the best word I’ve ever heard.

Mr. Shea includes a whole section on the suffix –ee, and he points out that we’re missing out on a lot of fun by not making full use of these two little letters. Sure, we all know about employees, divorcees and escapees. But what about a beatee (one who is beaten)? Or a flingee (one at whom something is flung)? Or a boree (one who is bored, as I will be this morning in a staff meeting whilst you are reading this)?

Okay, here’s one to toss out at the dinner table next time you’re out with friends: “Excuse me while I go to the ladies’ room to fard.” Farding is adorning yourself with cosmetics (get your minds out of the gutter, people). So next time you pass some woman on the highway using her rear-view mirror to apply mascara, you can tell your buddies that you saw a person farding in her car.

Here’s something we’re all familiar with but I bet none of us knew its name – gound, which is the gunk that collects in the corner of your eye. Well, okay, I could have lived the rest of my life without knowing that. But here’s one we all need to know: happify – to make happy. Learning new and interesting words makes me happy, and so does this book. If you’re a nerd like me, read it and consider yourself happified.


  1. What kinda whackadoodle writes on the bathroom walls in Newport, Kentucky? Those people will likely catch something.

  2. Thank you for happifying me.

    Maybe someone should fard to get rid of their gound.

  3. This definitely looks like a book up my street. Amazon here I come. Thanks Em.

  4. This post happified me a great deal. This book has been on my "to read" list for a while, along with about 13,000 others. The only bad thing about working in a library is seeing so many fabulous books every day and knowing I'll never have time to read them all!


  5. I have to add this book to my Amazon wish list! The missionaries are impossibly young, aren't they?