THE BOOKSHELF, IV.

As I said in my last post, publishers have sent me several books lately; some will require time to read and absorb, but a couple are so obviously wonderful I can tell you about them right away.
1) Walker & Company’s Burgess Unabridged: A New Dictionary of Words You Have Always Needed is a very welcome reprint of an obscure book by Gelett Burgess (best known for “The Purple Cow“) whose original publication was, as he said, ill-timed: “With its commendation of both Theodore Roosevelt and the Kaiser Wilhelm as having ‘spuzz’, it appeared in September, 1914, shortly after the Battle of the Marne and before the German occupation of Antwerp.” In these times, when everybody seems to like inventing words, there should be widespread appreciation of someone who was a genius at it. He himself said, “Other dictionaries have recorded the words of yesterday, my lexicon will give the words of tomorrow. What matter if none of them is ‘derived from two Greek words’? My words will be imaginotions, penandinkumpoops, whimpusles, mere boojums rather than classic snarks, for I shall not construct ‘Portmanteau’ words, like Lewis Carroll. I shall create them from instinctive, inarticulate emotions, hot from the depths of necessity.” But you want to see some examples. How about alibosh, “A glaringly obvious falsehood; something not meant to be actually believed; a picturesque overstatement”? Or bleesh, which as a noun means “1. an unpleasant picture; vulgar or obscene art; 2. Revolting, disgusting, coarse” and as an adjective “revolting, disgusting, coarse”: “Your practical-joking friend sends you bleesh foreign postcards from abroad; and your chauffeur revels in bleesh photographs of crime, with an X showing ‘where the body was found.’” Or… but wait, what’s this? The word right after bleesh is blurb, “1. A flamboyant advertisement; an inspired testimonial. 2. Fulsome praise; a sound like a publisher”: “On the ‘jacket’ of the ‘latest’ fiction, we find the blurb; abounding in agile adjectives and adverbs, attesting that this book is the ‘sensation of the year’…” That’s right, Burgess not only invented blurb, it was so perfect a word it wound up in everyday use and eventually the dictionary, a fate to which very few invented words are destined. The others have not gotten so far, but some of them seem useful enough to: gorm “A human hog; a practical egoist” (“When he loses his watch, he offers a reward which shrinks amazingly when his property is returned…”); huzzlecoo “An intimate talk; a ‘heart-to-heart conversation; a private confidential chat”; igmoil “1. A quarrel over money matters; a sordid dispute. 2. The driving of a hard bargain; a petty law suit”; kripsle “A worrying physical sensation, an invisible annoyance absorbing one’s attention,” with its attendant adjective kripsly (“Walking on spilt sugar is kripsly”)… Well, I could go on, but you get the idea. Each word is accompanied by definitions, examples, and an eight-line comic poem. I generally am impatient with attempts to infiltrate the dictionary—made-up words are usually awkward and have pointless meanings—but I can’t get enough of these.
2) Hippocrene Books, purveyor of references for some very hard-to-find languages (I have their little phrasebook/dictionaries for Georgian and Chechen next to each other on my shelf), have sent me a copy of their Modern Aramaic Dictionary & Phrasebook. As they say on their webpage, “Of the dialects that comprise Modern Aramaic, Swadaya (Eastern) and Turoyo (Western) are the most commonly used. This unique dictionary and phrasebook incorporates both, helpfully illustrating the most relevant differences between the two.” It’s romanized (though of course they provide an alphabet table), it’s got a grammatical introduction, maps showing where the Swadaya and Turoyo dialects are spoken, little inset essays on things like “Holidays and festivals”… What can I say? I’m just glad to live in a world where it’s so easy to get such a handy reference to such an obscure language (though not quite so obscure since Mel Gibson got hold of it).

Comments

  1. bud driver says:

    I wonder where the “gorm” in the British usage “gormless”comes from? It certainly doesn’t fit
    Burgess’s “human hog”.
    Bud

  2. Christopher Culver says:

    Hippocrene’s dictionaries apalling. Badly typeset, often compiled by people who aren’t trained lexicographers, I respond to the argument “Well, there are no other options in print” by saying that Hippocrene dictionaries are actually worse than nothing.

  3. dearieme says:

    Poor old Burgess. The Young cover all those meanings by, like, “weird” and “random”.

  4. SnowLeopard says:

    Interesting to see someone else has had a bad experience with Hippocrene — at one point I abandoned their Farsi dictionary in favor of pantomime, and I’ve avoided them ever since.

  5. Forrest says:

    In general, I find most Hippocrene products to be pretty useless in terms of content; their dictionaries, for instance, generally have so few entries that they’re not even all that useful for travelers. But I think they do put out some useful publications, and that this varies in accord with whoever compiles them. They’ve recently published a “Basic Arabic Workbook”, by John Mace, for instance, which strikes me as quite useful.

  6. Hippocrene’s dictionaries apalling.
    I abandoned their Farsi dictionary in favor of pantomime, and I’ve avoided them ever since.
    It’s impossible to generalize about Hippocrene products. As I said in this post, “the quality ranges from excellent to abysmal; caveat emptor.” Sure, they put out some total crap, but doesn’t every publisher? And it’s not like you can turn to another source for many of their languages; sure, you can find better books for Farsi, but not for Chechen or Aramaic. And though I’ll be glad to be corrected by someone who actually knows Aramaic and has had a chance to look it over, this one seems well done.

  7. Don’t be a goop!

  8. If I recall rightly what I was told by someone who should know, the Aramaic book is extremely purist – a lot of the words in it are neologisms for which most speakers would in practice use Arabic or Turkish equivalents.

  9. Ah, that’s good to know.

  10. We had a lot of fun laughing at the (Eastern) Armenian one in my field methods class.

  11. Whatever Burgess “invented” it wasn’t the word gorm.
    http://www.ceantar.org/Dicts/MB2/mb21.html

  12. Are you sure it isn’t gaumless?

  13. It actually was gaumless originally, but by the late 19th century non-rhotic confusion had caught up with it. OED:
    gormless, a.
    [f. gaum, dial. f. GOME notice, understanding + -LESS.]
    Wanting sense, or discernment. Hence gormlessness, the quality of being gormless.
    c1746 J. COLLIER (Tim Bobbin) Lanc. Dialect Wks. (1862) 55, I steart like o Wilcat, on wur welly gawmless. 1845 E. BRONTË Wuthering Heights xxi, Did I ever look so stupid: so ‘gaumless’ as Joseph calls it? 1861 WAUGH Birtle Carter’s Tale 19 Eh, thae greyt, gawmbless foo! Wheer arto for up theer! 1881 ‘BASIL’ Love the Debt iii, You lazy, idle, gaumless good-for-nowt! 1883 in B. WEBB My Apprenticeship iii. 161 Parliament is such a far-off thing, that [they].. say that it is ‘gormless meddling with it’. 1925 J. AGATE Contemporary Theatre 1924 44 Cordelia is a ‘gumph’ or, as we say in Lancashire, ‘gormless’. 1932 L. GOLDING Magnolia St. II. ii. 304 She just went on pulling the [beer] handle and in a moment.. the floor was swilling. ‘Mother!’ cried little Nellie sharply. ‘You are gormless!’ 1934 A. RANSOME Coot Club xix. 233 Ye’d better. He’ll ferget the salt else, the gormless old lummocks! 1940 Illustr. London News CXCVII. 164/2 He looks at once genial and ‘gormless’. 1951 ‘E. CRISPIN’ Long Divorce viii. 84 Pen’s been running after a gormless little twerp of a foreign school~master. [...]

  14. iftheshoefits says:

    Given the Hibernian “gorm”, is it not conceivable that a soupcon of anti-irish sentiment, and not solely the non-rhotic confusion, conveniently assisted in the transformation?

  15. Only if it’s conceivable that a significant number of English-speakers were aware of an Irish word with a completely irrelevant meaning (‘blue or green’) and decided for some reason to substitute its spelling in this word, which I don’t think it is.

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