Wordsmithery

A crossword clue led me to this by chance. The clue was ‘word was first coined in the book If I Ran a Zoo by Dr Seuss’. The answer was Nerd! This immediately caught If-i-ran-the-zoo-cover (1).jpgmy attention because Dr Seuss is one of my all-time favourite children’s writers. I adored his books when I was young and tried to pass on the love to my children by reading out his quirky verses night after night, twisting our tongues over his wonderful, wacky invented words.

But it is only now I discovered that the word Nerd is thought to have been coined by none other than Dr Seuss in his book If I Ran a Zoo published in 1950! The book is about a boy named Gerald McGrew who, when visiting a zoo, finds that the exotic animals are “not good enough”. He says that if he ran the zoo, he would let all of the current animals free and find new, more bizarre and exotic ones. Among these fantastical animals is a critter called a Nerd! To quote directly: “And then, just to show them, I’ll sail to Ka-Troo/And bring back an It-Kutch, a Preep and a Proo/ A Nerkle, a Nerd, and a Seersucker too!”

One year later, in 1951, Newsweek magazine included the word in an article using it to define someone who is a “drip” or a “square”. Today the word ‘nerdy’ is used to describe someone who is not attractive, and awkward or socially embarrassing; or someone who is extremely interested in one subject, especially computers, and knowing a lot of facts.

A ‘word-nerd’ would tell you that when we use Twitter, and Tweet away today, it would be worth remembering that the word was coined by Geoffrey Chaucer, known as the father of English poetry, who died 620 years ago, to describe the continuous chirping of a bird.

And that, well before a search engine was named Yahoo, the Yahoos appeared as legendary creatures in Gulliver’s Travels published in 1726.

Surprisingly a number of words that we tend to believe are so ‘trending’ and ‘21st century’ were coined well over a hundred years ago. These can be attributed to 19th century authors, many of whom were creative wordsmiths–inventing, importing, adapting, and generally messing about with language!

The revered Bard, Shakespeare was one of the first to print words like Obscene and Eventful, as well as much-used phrases such as Bated Breath and Love is Blind.

And for those of us who plodded through Charles Dickens it is he, himself who coined the word Boredom! Writing in the early 1800s Dickens also coined very not-boring words like Abuzz, Flummox, and Devil-May-Care!

And to think that bureaucratic red tape is an affliction of modern times, Wait! The word Red Tape comes from the English practice of using red or pink tape to tie official documents and,  as early as 1851 Dickens coined the apt term ‘red tape’ as slang for “the collection or sequence of forms and procedures required to gain bureaucratic approval for something, especially when oppressively complex and time-consuming.” Thus according to the OED, a Red Tape-worm’ is “a person who adheres excessively to official rules and formalities.” Sounds like a breed we all know too well!?

For those of us who describe our calling as ‘Freelance’ writers, we may be interested to learn that in 1820 author Sir Walter Scott used the term free-lance to describe a mercenary soldier, one whose lance (a long spear) was not exclusively in the service of a single master, but was hired out along with its owner to those to needed, and paid for, the service.

Today the lance has replaced by the pen (or its electronic version) but the nature of service remains the same!

–Mamata

 

Word Play

I am a logophile. Before you leap to dangerous conclusions, let me explain! I am a lover of words! Words fascinate me, excite me, and intrigue me—the sound of words, the use of words, and the play with words. While I run scared from attempting a Sudoku puzzle (I guess that makes me Numerophobic or Arithmophobic!) I cannot resist any kind of word game or puzzle. Scrabble is the only board game I enjoy. I feel insecure without the presence of my faithful dictionaries on my table, even when I can Google up a word with a single click.  I enjoy the act of turning the pages to find the word I am looking for and, in the process, discover at least a few new ones while browsing.

Perhaps the first word that got me hooked was supercalifragilisticexpialidocious from the film Mary Poppins. It sounded as wonderful as it meant. It took many hours to learn how to say this, and much longer to even dare to spell it out! Though an invented word, it later found its legitimacy in the Oxford English Dictionary. But it could not lay claim to being the longest word in the English language, the title of which is claimed by—take a deep breath—pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis! (a lung disease caused by inhaling very fine ash and sand dust.)

logphile.jpg

Source: Google

Over the years I have been noting down interesting words and word-related things.

Sharing some fun and games with words!

Palindrome

These are words or phrases that read the same in both directions. According to language experts palindromes are the most difficult kind of phrase to create.

The best known example: Madam I’m Adam.

An interesting one: A Man, A Plan, A Canal, Panama.

And a very clever one!

Doc, note, I dissent. A fast never prevents a fatness. I diet on cod.

Lipogram

This is a literary work in which one or more letters of the alphabet are excluded. The term lipogram comes from the ancient Greek leipográmmatos, which means ‘leaving out a letter of the alphabet’.

As far back as the 3rd century BC, Greek poet Tryphiodorus wrote an epic of 24 books, each one omitting one letter of the alphabet.

One of the most famous lipograms of more recent times (1939) is a 50,000 word novel called Gadsby. The author Ernest Vincent Wright makes no use of the most frequently used letter of the English alphabet—E.

A tiny extract illustrates how: ‘Upon this basis I am going to show you how a bunch of bright young folks did find a champion: a man with boys and girls of his own; a man so dominating and happy as individuality that youth is drawn to him as is a fly to a sugar bowl.’

From selective exclusion to all-inclusion—that is the Pangram!  This is a short sentence containing all 26 letters of the English alphabet. All the worthies who learnt touch typing on a manual typewriter will be glad to learn that the one sentence they pounded out, in endless practice, is the most famous Pangram: The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

Cheers to all fellow logophiliacs, wordaholics, word fanatics, word nuts, logolepts, verbivores and, the even nobler, epeolatrists (worshipper of words).

May our tribe increase!

–Mamata