09 August 2005

Use This Word in a Sentence

The more time that passes after completing college, the more that books long neglected on my shelves catch my attention. Among the top "children" screaming for attention is Weird and Wonderful Words, edited by Erin McKean and illustrated by Roz Chast with a foreword by Simon Winchester.

Mostly consisting of a dictionary of obscure words from "aboulia," the loss of will or volition as in mental illness, to "Zyrian," a former term for Komi, a language spoken by people living in northern Russia west of the Urals, Weird and Wonderful Words gives you words for things you wish you had words for. It also provides interesting alternatives for words we already possess; Have you ever used "oxter" to refer to your armpit?

Chast cartoons some great pictures to illustrate the meaning of many of these words. My sons and I have been picking a weird word of the day, and in practicing this daily verbal exercise, we experienced a moment of synchronicity. We had just read a chapter of Harry Potter VI in which Harry saves Ron's life from a poisonous potion by shoving a bezoar down his friend's throat, when Baylin (my younger son) picked the word bezoar at random.

Come to find out there are two types of bezoars, the most common being more well-known as a cat's hairball. According to WaWW, "a phytobezoar is a lump formed chiefly of vegetable matter [like cud], while a trichobezoar is one formed chiefly of hair." The accompanying cartoon depicts a cat hacking up a hairball while a bystander studies from a safe distance.

This book's main problem is that it provides no pronunciation guide. We're left to use phonetics as a guide, which probably only results in incorrect pronunciation. Nevertheless, Winchester's foreword and McKean's "How to Create Your Own Weird and Wonderful Words" make for delightful reading on the nature of language use and formation. McKean also provides "A Webliography of Weird and Wonderful Word Sites," and so far, all those sites are current.

Because of its format, short bits of information, I've placed it on the back of the toilet. It's also migrated to the coffee table on occassion, where some otherwise logophobe can find pleasure in words.

1 comment:

Robert Casserly said...

Sounds like a fun book, I'll have Amanda get it from the library.

Lately I have been enjoying learning lots of old words from this site:

www.humanities.mcmaster.ca/~beowulf