There was a 'Dictionary of Highly Unusual Words' lying around the office, so I snaffled it to have a look at over the weekend. Compiled by Irwin M. Berent and Rod L. Evans, it's quite a decent little collection of strange word arcana, with a healthy smattering of palindromes, anagrams, acronyms, and puns.
The puns are usually very bad; the entry for 'Lawsuit' reads 'A police officer's uniform'; while the entry for 'Falsehood' reads 'A phony gangster?'. There are curious facts about a number of words: the Dutch town called 'Leeuwarden', according to Berent and Evans, has 'since 1046 ... had 225 different spellings.' There is in fact a whole class of entries about place names. 'Lazbuddie', in Texas, was apparently created from the nicknames of two local rangers, 'D. L. "Laz" Green and A. "Buddie" Shirley." The city 'Florala' is so named, apparently, because it sits on the state line between Florida and Alabama. We also learn that the inhabitants of 'Lawrence, Massachusetts' call themselves Lawrencians, but the inhabitants of 'Lawrence, Kansas' call themselves Lawrentians. I'm glad we got that sorted out, but what would Lawrence of Arabia think?
Another class of words listed in the dictionary concern themselves with the order of vowels or consonants in a word. 'Adenochondrosarcoma' is apparently one of the longest words beginning and ending with 'a'; 'Abstentious' uses all five vowels, which appear once only, in alphabetical order. A personal favourite of mine so far is this entry:
Aceeeffghhiillmmnnoorrssstuv: What twisted logic did the German novelist Christoffel von Grimmelshausen use when he came up with this pseudonym? Actually, it isn't as twisted as it might appear. He simply rearranged all the letters of his name - in alphabetical order!
In a similar vein, we get words like 'Patronessship' and 'Duchessship', which are both distinguished by the three 'S's in a row; the Estonian word jaaaarne (meaning 'the edge of the ice'), which has four consecutive appearances of the same vowel; and the Yugoslavian forename 'Jernej', which 'begins and ends with a J - a rarity!'.
The anagrams are fun; perhaps the most complex example cited is that of the writer Edward Gorey, who produced 15 separate anagrams from his own name. (Read any books by Drew Dogyear, anyone? No? Then perhaps some Regera Dowdy?) The word 'enormity' scrambles to produce 'more tiny'; the word 'float' does so 'aloft'; a 'butterfly' will 'flutter by'; 'dynamite' contains the warning 'I may dent'; and an 'entrail' is apparently 'reliant'.
In a related class of words, the authors ask us to take out a few letters from an existing word, and sometimes to scramble the result. If you take out the 'g' and 'e' from 'fragile', then it is still 'frail'. The word 'butteriness' is apparently constructed on eight other words, the shortest of which is 'bu', and the longest which is 'butterines'. Whatever the hell they are. Oh, and Darlene will be pleased to know that her name rearranges into four other first names: Darleen, Leander, Leandre, and Learned.
Random word facts:
While it is perhaps distressing to hear that the phrase 'Ebro River' means 'River river', being told that the phrase 'Dnieper River' translates to 'River river river' would drive you tautologically insane.
The word 'Queue' is 'the only word in the English language that retains its pronounciation even after the last four letters are dropped'. (That's quite true, you know. I've tried it.)
'Cabbaged' is apparently what's called a 'piano word', composed entirely of letters from the musical scale (A, B, C, D, E, F, G).
The ten most common words in American English, from a 1971 source, were 'It', 'Is', 'to', 'the', 'that', 'you', 'a', 'of', 'in', 'and'.
The word 'pat' is onomatopaeic, and means the same thing if read backwards as it does when it is read forwards, although the words are different.
My favourite entry has to be this, about a word that does not exist but is cited in a number of dictionaries:
Phantomnation: This word has appeared in a number of "legitimate" dictionaries. Webster's once defined it as "appearance, as of a phantom; illusion (obsolete and rare)." Rare! Obsolete! I'll say! In fact, this word is so rare and so obsolete that it may never have been used, except of course in some dictionaries. The first dictionary (or dictionary supplement) to include it was entitled Philology on the English Language, published in 1820 by Richard Paul Jodrell. It seems that Mr. Jodrell tended to combine words without using hyphens. So he misquoted the source of this supposed word, citing the following passage from the Odyssey: "These solemn vows and holy offerings paid/ To all the phantomnations of the dead" (x, 627). In actuality, there was no such solid word as "phantomnations." It was two words: "phantom nations." And you thought dictionaries included words that people used.
There are several words that this dictionary misses out on, though. A few that come to mind: 'Sesquipadalia', a long word which means (more or less) 'long words'; 'Jingo', from the expression 'By Jingo!', one of the few words in the English language that is said to have come from Basque; and 'Uffish', a made up word, to be sure, but a good one.
So there you go.
PALINDROMES PLUS! Before I go, here's just a selection of the palindromes from the dictionary:
Bison bison bison The formal name for the bison.
Ajaja Ajaja A scientific name for the roseate spoonbill, which reads the same no matter which way you read it: last word first, last letter first, or otherwise.
Cardinalis cardinalis cardinalis The scientific name for the bird, cardinal.
So how about it, reader. Got any weird word nerdery to share?
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