On reading the Canadian Oxford Dictionary: the letters D through H
Discovering the Interesting
It’s been half a year that I have been vigorously getting to know the bulky companion I have come to call ‘Bertie the Behemoth’. The Canadian Oxford Dictionary is, all at once, the most interesting and most boring book I have ever read. I have, however, even laughed out loud while reading it, though I must admit that reaction is a rarity.
You see, as I thumb through the pages it gets to feeling like I’m being assailed by the sheer volume of unremarkable words defining types of species and chemical reactions and regions of the world and people long since perished and so on. But then as I finish reading the entry for ‘Defender of the Faith, a title given to Henry VIII by Pope Leo X in 1521 in recognition of his treatise defending the seven sacraments against Luther’ and my eyes are at half mast in the early stages of sleep as a tiny trail of drool may or may not be threatening to break free from my mouth, I am suddenly wide awake and doing a lexical double-take.
‘Defenestration – the act of throwing (especially a person) out of a window.’
Is it wrong that I laughed when I read that? If I was a person being hucked out a window I probably wouldn’t think it was funny, but then I’ve never been the object of defenestration. The word almost seems like technical jargon and it’s for such a specific situation when you consider the text in the brackets that it caught me right off guard. That’s what happens with reading the dictionary. You come across interesting words for some really random events, situations, emotions, etc.
The Perfect Fit
Sometimes it’s not the surprising words that make an impression, but the ones that you wish you knew sooner, because you can now finally describe something perfectly. Like ‘Elegiac – having a pleasing quality of gentle and wistful mournfulness’. I’m sure you’ve had an elegiac moment, like when you hear a certain song on the radio (like Paradise City by Guns N’ Roses) or a particular fleeting smell in the air (like the smoke from a filthy Players brand cigarette) and for some reason or other it takes you back to when you were a kid and for just a quick moment you want to go back there. Or for when you’re in the middle of something great and you don’t want it to stop, but you know that it will. I had always considered it as nostalgia for the moment I was in, but ‘elegiac’ just might be more accurate.
Other times, in reading the dictionary, I am confronted with my own idiocy. Well, it feels that way anyways. The other day I came across egghead and was surprised to learn it didn’t mean an unintelligent person, but was actually the complete opposite, being defined as ‘a person regarded as intellectual or highbrow’. So the next time you want to give your boss a compliment call him/her an egghead. I mean, they might not appreciate the compliment, but they should. I suppose your boss might experience fantods (a state or attack of uneasiness or unreasonableness) and your employment might become an ephemeron (a short lived thing) if you do, though. Your risk.
Another one that I didn’t expect was goober being defined simply as ‘a peanut’. I have used this word in a lot of ways from describing the sleep in the corner of a person’s eye to hocking a loogie or meaning a ridiculous person. Never a peanut though. I wouldn’t say it’s the most appetizing word. Loogie, by the way, is not a word in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, which brings me to another word that I have learned lately.
Pains of Hell
‘Hapax legomenon – a word of which only one instance of use is recorded’
Now this is interesting. I looked into it some more and found an example for you all. The word ‘flother’ is a synonym for snowflake which was found in the manuscript for The XI Pains of Hell (circa 1275). I don’t have a copy of this work just lying about, so I have no idea the context, but it sounds intense to say the least and also odd that the pains of Hell somehow have something to do with snowflakes. That aside, the real mystery is how does one know that it truly is a hapax legomenon? Or that any words that are considered a hapax legomenon really are? Think of all the words in all the books and poems and published material and then think about how realistic cross referencing all that would be. In order to prove a hapax legomenon, you’d have to prove it doesn’t exist anywhere else.
Which, since we’re somewhat on the topic of Hell, sounds like you’d have to go through Hell’s half acre to do it. That being ‘a great distance’. I hadn’t heard this idiom before, but I think it’s great. Half an acre sure isn’t much, but going that distance in the bowels of hell would certainly be rough. And that was a bit of an understatement. I had actually intended to write a much more eloquent line there, but the thing is sometimes there is a fugacious quality to writing in which things can be ‘fleeting, evanescent, hard to capture or keep’. Which is another word I have learned that has given me a name to describe a particular phenomenon. Thanks to the dictionary.
Thanks to the Dictionary
Also thanks to the dictionary, I now also have the word eldritch to use in describing something weird, spooky, or hideous as well as the word hirsutism to describe ‘the excessive growth of hair on the face and body’. Heck, we could even put those together and we’d have a hipster. That was maybe a little rude. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to create a foofaraw (a fuss, commotion, or disturbance). I really just wanted you all to be introduced to the fun word ‘foofaraw’ so you could bust it out the next chance you get. Truly. I didn’t mean to be a fart. Not the flatulent kind, but the kind meaning ‘an annoying or unpleasant person’. This was another word I needed to bring up because it made me stop, think, and have a little chuckle with. It’s fairly common to say ‘that old fart,’ but I’ve never heard someone called just a fart before. Well, until now. Because now when someone cuts me off in traffic that is what I call them. A fart. And it makes me a little less angry. So if you suffer from road rage – give that a shot.