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what do you read, my lord?

words, words, words

(hamlet, act II scene ii)

one of the things i’ll be posting about on this blog is words. i have always liked words – they make me smile. just think of the word wombat or bollocks, ha ha! πŸ™‚ some words just capture what they describe so well, like slug or scratch, and some express amazing ideas, like epiphany. much of the power lies in the concept or the idea, of course, but the word also has its own power (some argue that the power actually lies in the word itself!).

i work on the oxford english dictionary which is fun as i get to work with words all day. i like learning about the etymologies of words and the different sense distinctions that exist within each word. you’d think that by this stage i’d be well on my way to becoming a masterful wordsmith – my grammar and vocabulary haven’t gotten any better, however, as i’ve proved quite impervious to self-improvement!

i worked on the word job only a month ago and i’ve already forgotten almost all the sense distinctions. the only thing i can remember is that to job can mean to stab, make a stabbing motion, or to perferate – basically having the same meaning as “to jab”. apparently the spelling and pronounciation of job (like many words) wasn’t particularly fixed, hence job and jab having a similar meaning in one sense. i still find it interesting that shakespeare didn’t spell his own name in the same way. it has been spelled shakspere, shakespere, shakespear and i’m sure there are other variations. there is effectively no standard way of spelling shakespeare’s surname!! this may seem a small thing but its very surprising if you think about the precision with which he used words. but i digress…

most of the words i’ll be posting about will probably be those that i discover at work. i’ll try and put in a variety so that theres something for everyone. some will be words that i find funny and some that are cool or interesting. i also want to make this post interactive and i’d love it if every time i post about words that people leave comments about their own words too! comments can be anything about words – words you’ve always liked, your particular connotations regarding certain words, the meaning of words, new words you’ve learnt. anything! even words you’ve made up! in fact, if you do and you get everyone to use it then i can put it into the dictionary! serious. its not that simple of course, but its easier than you might think. i won’t get into it right now, but as long as a word is in use by different sources for a long enough time it can go in the oxford english dictionary (oed). citations can come from the internet, but its also good if they are printed.

today’s words

jobbernowl – this is just a very silly word. it has two meanings which are related. it can mean a stupid person or it can refer to the head. what!? haha! that is very silly indeed. you might not be smiling, but try saying “you sir, are a jobbernowl” and keep a straight face. or imagine saying “he bumped his jobbernowl” πŸ™‚

sexton – this is a word that some of you may be familiar with – i only discovered it recently. a sexton is a guy who is an official of a church. he looks after its maintainance and has duties like burying the dead and ringing the bells. isn’t that just a cool name? i think its the concept that i like, that theres a guy who looks after the church and rings bells and gets given a special name for it. he’s not just a priest or a caretaker then, he becomes something special. i like that.

sex-crazed – with this one it wasn’t the word that i found interesting, but the quote that related to it. i’d be working on the word sex-crazed and been reading quote after quote describing pervy old men and teenagers. then i came across one quote which just made me laugh so much because it described something which i simply wasn’t expecting: the worst thing is telling people what happened. all I can say is a sex-crazed ‘gator tried to make with my $300 alligator boots.

love it.

and finally, sexophone. the oed’s definition says that a sexophone is an imaginary musical instrument resembling a saxophone and producing sexual sensations. out of interest, here’s a quote using the word: the sexophones wailed like melodious cats under the moon. ?!?!?!?!? what interests me about this word is not so much the word itself (although it is very wacky) but the fact that it is in the dictionary! a sexophone is something that huxley invented for brave new world, and so i’m sure there are some of you who’ll be familiar with it – i think remember nymeth having read it. a word needs at least 5 different quotations from different sources to go into the dictionary and even if it has that it still doesn’t mean that it’ll go in – the word also needs to have longevity. the defintion says the word is imaginary, and so the concept effectively only exists in huxley’s mind. whats more is that its not a concept or an idea but an actual thing! where or how on earth is anyone else going to talk or write about sexophones if they can’t even see one? why would one write about sexophones – its a very specific science fiction invention. imagine if every word for something invented in a science fiction or fantasy novel made it into the dictionary!? amazingly, though, there is one other citation for this sexophone and its by nabakov: physical love is but another way of saying the same thing and not a special sexophone note, which once heard is echoed in every other region of the soul.

barring nabakov’s use of it i don’t see the word having any longevity whatsoever (i googled it and only found bandnames and that sort of thing – nothing refering to the “instrument”) and when i realised this i was shocked. its such a big act of self-indulgence to include a word that blatantly won’t be used. i couldn’t believe it. i showed the word to some of my colleagues and pointed out that it should be removed from the dictionary, only to learn that it can’t be removed – once a word goes in it never goes out. this made including it even worse! i was horrified and quite indignant.

…but then a strange thing happened. i started finding the fact that this person included the word quite funny. i started thinking about this person and the more i did the funnier i found it all. the audacity, the irresponsibility of it! haha! i really hope they were being mischievous, ’cause it would be a brilliant joke. but if its just some totally self-indulgent person its equally funny!

after a while i couldn’t help but laugh at the word and soon i found it hilarious. now i love it!

really… a sexophone! hahaha! πŸ™‚

Categories: words
  1. July 12, 2007 at 9:29 pm

    I’ve read Brave New World, yes, but I couldn’t remember the “sexophone”. It’s so bizarre that it’s in the dictionary!

    I really enjoyed this post. I’m quite fond of words myself – I wouldn’t mind your job, in fact. I love language in general. “jobbernowl” is my favourite of the words you posted. I just love the sound of it, and, curiously, I think it fits the meaning.

    Have you read Douglas Adams’ “The Meaning of Liff”? It’s a dictionary of made-up words. I so wish some of those were used – they are just perfect! It’s a hilarious and delightful book, for everyone really, but especially for people who are fond of language.

  2. July 12, 2007 at 9:34 pm

    Sexophone and jobbernowl…two words that I will try to use in everyday conversation in the next few days πŸ˜‰ I’ll let you know how that goes.

    I REALLY enjoyed this post. I’ve always enjoyed words, the origin of words, and the sound of words. What’s fascinated me even more is accents. I love the sound of certain words spoken with different accents. For instance, I love watching Shakespeare (or should I say Shakspere) performed with a British accent. It adds so much to his use of the language.

    Words really are an amazing thing. It’s always interested me how gifted some people can be at choosing the perfect words when writing a novel or a poem while others just fail miserably. I’m looking forward to these posts…should be fun.

    Oh, and have you heard of Brave New Words? It’s a Science Fiction Dictionary. I’d post a link, but I’m horrible with HTML. Go to Amazon and type in “Brave New Words” It’s very cool. A whole dictionary of words invented through sci-fi and fantasy literature, tv, and film and it cites the original sources of the words. I think you’d enjoy it!

  3. Kim
    July 13, 2007 at 1:56 am

    Awesome idea for a series of posts. I love words too! My boyfriend and I used to think up outrageous words and then promise to drop them into our average workdays (preferably during meetings). I need to start this up with him again, it was so much fun.

    I’m amazed it only takes 5 citations to get something into the OED. Yet another reason to get at least 5 things published in my lifetime πŸ˜‰

  4. jean pierre
    July 13, 2007 at 7:52 am

    i’m really glad you guys liked the post! i enjoyed doing it πŸ™‚

    nymeth, i’m glad you like “jobbernowl” – and you’re right, it definitely fits its meaning. there is something very stupid sounding about the word!

    “the meaning of liff” sounds very funny – i’ll have to try and get hold of it. i like douglas adams and that kind of humour. i love made up words and i agree, there are loads that i wished actually existed! i remember my mom used to have a spoof almanac which had words of the day that didn’t exist and one of them was “ludlow” which is a was of newspaper that you use to keep a table steady with or something. haha!

    go chris! let me know how you get on! i’m going to be calling people (or their heads!) jobbernowls from now on… or if i can’t find someone i’ll call myself a jobbernowl! πŸ˜€

    sexophone is going to be a little trickier…! i’m trying to work out how to bring it in ordinary conversation… but then, we could just shove it in, like “i wish i had a sexophone” or “i feel all tingly, maybe someone’s playing a sexophone?”. or perhaps we can just be very silly and say “do you play the sexophone?” πŸ™‚

    what accents do you like in particular, chris? i also like accents! the irish and the scottish accents are always cool to hear! and i’m particularly taken with the liverpudlian accent at the moment.

    oh, and the right word for the right moment is a wonderful thing!

    i’ve never heard of brave new words. haha! i’ll check it out.

    kim, yeah 5 citations is the bare minimum and then you have to go on from there. its not thaaat simple, but also not that much harder to get the word in either. the main thing is, is the word being used, does it have a life? and then the citations (which sort of go hand-in-hand).

    oh, share some of your words with us! i love the idea of throwing it into a serious context like a meeting! haha! thats brilliant πŸ˜€

    you should definitely start doing that again!

    and chris and nymeth (and this goes for everyone actually), please share any words you like or have discovered. as i said, i want this post to be interactive, so if there are any words you like please share them. and since i’ll be posting about this fairly regularly, there’ll be loads of opportunities to share all your favourites and any new ones you discover.

  5. July 13, 2007 at 11:27 am

    “why would one write about sexaphones”

    That sounds like a challenge to me πŸ™‚

  6. July 13, 2007 at 12:41 pm

    You could easily use the word Sexaphone in every day conversation if you were Australian or from New Zealand. You could pretend you were saying saxaphone but the accent would mean that people wouldn’t be able to tell the difference.

    Or you could just adopt one of those accents for your every day speech and easily use the word sexaphone.

    Or if you were italian it would be easy too. If you were calling a sex line you would be calling a sexaline. You would be on the sexaphone. ha ha!!!

    I too love words – I love silliness too : )

  7. jean pierre
    July 13, 2007 at 1:01 pm

    πŸ˜€ brilliant! hahaha! i love it.

    fence, does that mean we can look forward to seeing the word sexophone in your writing sometime…?

    by the way, i spelled it wrong in some places – its “sexophone” with an “o”. i’ve corrected it now…

    but charlotte’s sexophone with italian accent can still work! πŸ˜‰

  8. July 13, 2007 at 1:04 pm

    I lika your sexaphone voice-a.


    Gday, I play the sexophone.

    See?? It works!!

  9. jean pierre
    July 13, 2007 at 1:11 pm


  10. July 13, 2007 at 1:58 pm


  11. July 13, 2007 at 1:59 pm

    πŸ˜› πŸ™‚ πŸ˜‰

  12. jean pierre
    July 13, 2007 at 2:04 pm

    that one with the tongue sticking out looks a little pervy…!

  13. July 13, 2007 at 5:51 pm

    You two are too damn cute…even on the blog, lol!

  14. Jeff S.
    July 13, 2007 at 7:13 pm

    What a wonderful post! I find it amazing that there is no general consensus on how to spell Shakespeare considering how popular his works still are to this day.

    As for accents I like English, French, and Italian. I also can’t believe you can’t take a word out of OED once it’s made it’s way in. That shocks me even more than how a word gets in. I would think the use of words would fall out over time and thus not be relevant for inclusion anymore. I find it quite baffleing. It’s like a referee in a sport making a bad call and not changing the call.

    I also have seen the book Chris has mentioned and I think you would love it.

    As for jobbernowl. I pretty sure I can work it in soon. I know there are a lot of jobbernowl’s out on the road when I’m driveing. πŸ™‚

    I promise to think of words I enjoy tryig to keep alive for future posts.

  15. Jeff S.
    July 14, 2007 at 9:47 pm

    Ok. JP. I tried slipping jobbernowl into a conversation with Carl and Cameron last night and I can safely say that the word is a conversation stopper. They both got silent and then looked at me as if I was a little off. They were like what did he say? Is he insane? Well I then explained and we all had a good chuckle. I thought you might appreicate my efforts. πŸ™‚

  16. jean pierre
    July 15, 2007 at 12:02 am

    haha! well done jeff. i can definitely imagine things going quiet if someone dropped that word into casual conversation! πŸ™‚

    i’m trying to think of a way to do it ironically perhaps, or something… or tongue-in-cheek? but no – its too weird a word!

    you went above and beyond using it, though. i’m just happy people found the word interesting, i really don’t expect people to actually say it.

    although, perhaps saying “you sir, are a jobbernowl” could work…? with a put-on haughty accent or something…?

    i also like the french accent a lot. theres something so goofy about it and then also romantic, of course.

    i can’t believe a word can’t come out either…? and you’re right, its exactly like not changing a bad call.!

    i think the reason they don’t take words out is so that the oed can be a chronicle of all the words that have been in use at any stage. there are lots of interesting words that are now obsolete and haven’t been used in 200 years. i think the verb “job” as in to poke is now termed obsolete. but its interesting to know that it was once used.

    “sexophone” is another matter, of course, and that one is definitely a mistake, like the referee’s bad call. yeah, i think they should amend that rule so that they can correct bad calls!

  17. August 10, 2007 at 4:08 pm

    Don’t let him fool you, we still think he is insane, even after the explanation! πŸ˜‰

  18. jean pierre
    August 10, 2007 at 6:43 pm

    hahaha! πŸ˜€

  19. Anonymous
    March 19, 2008 at 11:40 pm

    it’s understandable that “sexophone” made its way into the dictionary. the term DOES have longevity. it’s a natural pun, of course. an almost inevitable play on the word “saxophone.” as long as saxophones are being played and there are horny teenagers (or immature adults with sex-obsessed minds), there will be references to the word “sexophone.” (in my high school band, there were several musicians adept at playing the sexophone and the male organ. not to mention the scrotal sax.)

  20. jean pierre
    March 20, 2008 at 11:20 am

    ah, thats very interesting to know!

    what i meant was that the word doesn’t have any longevity in that specific sense and since the sense you describe isn’t in the dictionary i was effectively refering to the word as a whole (since the word currently only has one sense).

    puns are difficult, because technically, as the definition of a pun entails, a pun is a play on words and thus not a word in itself.

    if a particular pun gains a lot of currency, however, then it can of course become a word in its own right.

    i love the way the kids at your school use the word, though! thats hilarious!

    here’s hoping that the word, as your boys use it, gains more popular currency and that it one day goes in the dictionary!

  1. July 18, 2007 at 9:45 am
  2. August 10, 2007 at 1:24 pm

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