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! 🙂 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.
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” 🙂
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.
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! 🙂