Guide Words.

Guide words are those words in boldface at the tops of dictionary pages telling you what the first and last words on the page are. Sometimes they’re striking and/or hilarious. Here are two that have struck me:

1) From p. 89 of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, right-hand guide word (i.e., last word on the page):

avadavat /’avədəvat/ (also amadavat) n. a red or green South Asian waxbill sometimes kept as a cage bird. [Genus Amandava: two species.]
ORIGIN C17: named after the city of Ahmadabad in India.

The word itself is amazing, with the same sort of oomph as abracadabra, but the etymology lifts it into the stratosphere. (Best OED citation: 1871 C. Darwin Descent of Man II. xiii. 49 The Bengali baboos make the pretty little males of the amadavat..fight together.)

2) From p. 553 of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition, same location:

grutten past part of GREET

“Grutten”? Seriously? Further investigation reveals this is not the usual greet but the Scottish verb meaning ‘weep, lament,’ for which the past tense is grat and the participle grutten. (Best DSL citation: 1728 Ramsay Poems (S.T.S.) II. 123: Dar’st thou of a’ thy Betters slighting speak, That have na grutten sae meikle learning Greek.)

Comments

  1. Richard Williamson says:

    This occurs in other than dictionaries. The assembler (language) guide for the ARC Core microcontroller v3 instruction set had sign-extend (SEX) on the left page, and processor pause (SLEEP) on the right.

  2. “Grutten” is new to me – but I’ve known “grat” since forever. It turns up in the ballad of Lamkin, whose lead character conspires with a “false nourice” to commit a double murder, and “grat” is what they did when Lamkin has been condemned to die and the false nourice burnt at the stake.

  3. Well, I would have grutten too.

  4. On the language tags mailing list the other day, I had occasion to mention hypothetical replacement tags for the major national varieties of English. The current tags are en-CA, en-US, en-GB, en-IE, en-AU, en-NZ, and en-IN, which I proposed (tongue in cheek) should be replaced by en-canuck, en-yankee, en-limey, en-paddy, en-ozite, en-enzed, en-saffer, and en-baboo respectively. (There’s a constraint that such “language variety” tags have 5 to 8 letters.)

  5. I think you left out an “en-ZA” there, John.

  6. SFReader says:

    Re: Ahmadabad – > avadavad

    Looks like Gaelic pronunciation to me. They have this strange thing with “m” somehow transforming into “w” or “v”

  7. SFReader: that’s initial consonants only, and it’s grammar, not accent. Like Máire (Mary, nominative, starts with /m/), a Mháire (vocative, starts with /v/ or /w/, depending on dialect).

  8. SFReader: that’s initial consonants only

    No it’s not, but in Modern Irish they write an h after the consonant to show it’s lenited. Reading Old Irish, you just have to know that Emer is pronounced “ever.” But in any case, that change (m > v) was over a millennium ago and has no relevance here; still, it was the first thing I thought of when I saw the etymology.

  9. that change (m > v) was over a millennium ago and has no relevance here

    That’s why I assumed, maybe wrongly, that SFReader was more likely thinking of Modern Irish consonant mutations, of which /m/ > /v, w/ is indeed one, but which (like the others) only occurs word-initially and isn’t a question of pronunciation in the usual sense, being grammatically conditioned.

  10. Good point. I don’t know what SFReader was thinking, of course.

  11. Here or on LL we’ve also discussed the fact that in what used to be called Berber, the autonym “Amazig” can appear in some dialects as “Awarigh” etc.

  12. Back in the day, when I was the etymologist for the American Heritage Dictionary, I was sometimes asked to proofread a bundle of pages at the last minute, before they were sent off to the printers. All the staff would check the guide words carefully—once, among the guide words of the AHD, there had appeared an unusually coarse four-letter term that had disturbed the more delicate sensibilities among the readership. If you have a copy of one of the early printings of the 3rd edition (I think it was that edition), you can find it in the last few pages of the letter C. In the 4th edition as well, there was a surprising anatomical term or two among the guide words. The letter F in the AHD also has a number of entries for not very prominent words and persons beginning with F, inserted to prevent the long entry for the f-word par excellence from falling at the top or bottom of a page. It was also in the 3rd edition, I think, that a picture of O.J. Simpson appeared under the guide word sincere, an unfortunate juxtaposition that some judicious cuts and additions engineered out of existence in subsequent printings.

  13. The letter F in the AHD also has a number of entries for not very prominent words and persons beginning with F, inserted to prevent the long entry for the f-word par excellence from falling at the top or bottom of a page.

    That’s great!

  14. We wuz cheated! My print AHD doesn’t show any of those iffy bits. It must be the second edition. It’s not marked as such, but I know I had the first edition and somewhere in the late 80s bought an updated one. (For many years I’ve been using an electronic version, which is labeled 4th edition.)

  15. You should really get the fifth edition; it’s a gorgeous book and far superior in terms of etymology. (Also, it may be the last large English dictionary published in paper form.)

  16. David Marjanović says:

    a picture of O.J. Simpson appeared under the guide word sincere

    Truthiness!

  17. op tipping says:

    One can never know too many strong verbs. I grat in gratitude.

  18. Jeffry House says:

    The modern Norwegians Word for “weep” is gråte, past tense gråt. The Old Norse is given as “grata”, but I don’t know the imperfect.

  19. gráta, grætr, grét, grétu, gréti, grátinn.

  20. In Scots, the past tense of greet is grat or gret. The participle is generally written grutten, but there are many dialectal variants. The English proverb “Finders keepers, losers weepers” has a Scots version with greeters.

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