WORDMAN, SPARE THAT WORD!

This is a blatant publicity stunt, but what the hell, it’s the kind of publicity stunt I can get behind. Jack Malvern, in The Times, reports:

Dictionary compilers at Collins have decided that the word list for the forthcoming edition of its largest volume is embrangled with words so obscure that they are linguistic recrement. Such words, they say, must be exuviated abstergently to make room for modern additions that will act as a roborant for the book.
Readers who vilipend the compilers’ decision and vaticinate that society will be poorer without little-used words have been offered a chance to save them from the endangered list. Collins, which is owned by News Corporation, parent company of The Times, has agreed that words will be granted a reprieve if evidence of their popularity emerges before February, when the word list is finalised.

Needless to say, the bolded words are among the candidates for deletion; the full list, with definitions, is at the bottom of the linked article. As I said on MetaFilter, where I found the link, “I’m really surprised apodeictic and mansuetude are on the list; I’ve seen both of them used often enough I would have thought they’d be uncontroversial inclusions.” But, as I also said, it’s all in the OED anyway, so who cares whether Collins includes it?

Comments

  1. Ditto ‘vaticination’ etc. I see that a lot. Mind you I work on medieval political prophecy, in part, so no surprises there, perhaps.

  2. Yes on ‘vaticinate’ as well. Still, I have never been entirely clear why anyone should care about a non-OED English dictionary.

  3. “I have never been entirely clear why anyone should care about a non-OED English dictionary.”
    Moolah, dosh, folding stuff, lucre. That’s why people care about non-OED dictionaries. Since my local library subscribed to the OED online I’ve used it almost exclusively, but before that it was WAY out of my budgetary reach. Professional snobbery notwithstanding, for those mere mortals who make bizarre decisions like choosing to eat or pay the rent rather than to buy the OED, a a good range of quality 2md-tier dictionaries is still important. If the above rant has upset anyone, I’m anaspeptic, frasmotic, even compunctuous to have caused you such pericumbobulation.

  4. Personally, I vilipend Rupert Murdoch and all his works and pomps, so I could [not] care less. God bless the OED. [***incidentally, why is the US usage "I could care less", meaning the same thing? That's always puxzzled me.]

  5. Well, it puzzled me – but then it also puxzzled me. That’s a word, right?

  6. Olid is fairly standard crosswordese,… exuviate is, I think, a technical term,… fubsy and vaticinate fall into the ‘obscure but meaningful’ class, at least for me.

  7. W3NID ditched loads of words from W2NID which were obsolete and obscure and had been crammed in to inflate the wordcounts for advertising purposes.
    If you want a single-volume British English dictionary with lots of embalmed antique words, you buy Chambers, not Collins.
    “Olid is fairly standard crosswordese”
    In America, perhaps. Compared to British crosswords, American ones more frequently contain obscure words, short words, and especially obscure short words, familiar otherwise only to Scrabble players. This is for two reasons:
    * in American crosswords, every white square is checked (i.e. occurs in both an Across answer and a Down answer), which extra constraint (a) encourages shorter words (b) forces compilers to rummage deeper into the nooks and crannies of the language to find any word to fit
    * British crosswords have cryptic clues which test solvers’ riddling and rebus skills rather than obscure vocabulary

  8. Perhaps y’all should sign up for the Vocabulary Reclamation Project

  9. The BBC’s Today Programme had a good piece about this on the wireless (as I persist in calling it) this morning. Andrew Motion, the Poet Laureate, was trying to reclaim “skirr”, a word which seems reasonably familiar, though not exactly commonplace, to me.

  10. Maybe this is a good time to mention the vocabulary game/philanthropy scheme freerice.com. The first time I played, it took forever to get to level 45, but they have dumbed it down since then, and I was easily able to get to 46 within a thousand grains or so.

  11. I second the freerice.com endorsement. I’ve had a link to it on the bottom of my list of links for the better part of a year now, to try to encourage people to give it a go.

  12. John Emerson says:

    Apodeictic, compossible, mansuetude, exuviate, skirr, and vaticinate are all words I’ve seen used and would be sorry to seen disappear. All have more or less perfect synonyms, I imagine.

  13. John Emerson says:

    Apodeictic, compossible, mansuetude, exuviate, skirr, and vaticinate are all words I’ve seen used and would be sorry to seen disappear. All have more or less perfect synonyms, I imagine.

  14. I’m way ahead of you. But I’m happy to plug freerice again; it’s fun, educational, and does good in the world!

  15. John Emerson says:

    The form I’ve seen is actually “incompossible”, in philosophy, and it strikes me as useful. On the other hand, it’s easy to guess. “Skirr” is presumably used only where its meaning is evident from contextt.

  16. John Emerson says:

    The form I’ve seen is actually “incompossible”, in philosophy, and it strikes me as useful. On the other hand, it’s easy to guess. “Skirr” is presumably used only where its meaning is evident from contextt.

  17. I’d never seen compossible before this thread, but its meaning was obvious. When I looked it up in the OED, I was left wondering whether it might not be more useful if it was used to mean “only possible with…”, or, to be clearer, “in(com)possible wthout …”

  18. Compossible sounds like the sort of thing George Bush might say.

  19. That bit sounds like the lecture the prison imam gave a disciple in a sketch on In Living Color. Priceless.

  20. “That bit sounds like the lecture the prison imam gave a disciple in a sketch on In Living Color”
    I haven’t thought of that excellent show in a VERY long time. Do you happen to know if that particular sketch is online anywhere?

  21. rootlesscosmo says:

    I seem to recall that Alec Guinness coined “fubsy” to describe the character he played in “The Lavender Hill Mob.”

  22. I remember seeing apodictic in English translations of Husserl, the phenomenologist. That’s the only place I’ve ever seen it but I haven’t read a whole lot of logic or philosophy. I assume that they would get rid of both apodictic and apodeictic if they got rid of either.

  23. “I seem to recall that Alec Guinness coined “fubsy” to describe the character he played in “The Lavender Hill Mob.””
    I know it from Nabokov: “she was nothing but a fubsy pig-pink whorelet”. Classic.
    “I remember seeing apodictic in English translations of Husserl, the phenomenologist.”
    It’s more of a standard term in translating Aristotle on rhetoric (and from the Analytics). BTW, you haven’t read much philosophy but you’ve read Husserl? That’s a hell of a place to start.

  24. I seem to recall that Alec Guinness coined “fubsy” to describe the character he played in “The Lavender Hill Mob.”
    That appears to have been a rumour started – or at least propagated – by John Podhoretz of the National Review. See the discussion.

  25. I’m surprised to see “muliebrity” on the list.
    The presence of these words in the OED is nice and all, but shorter dictionaries are easier to browse, and therefore it’s easier to come across unexpected, interesting words in shorter dictionaries (and a dictionary shorter than the OED can, obviously, still run a tad long).
    But I’m happy to plug freerice again; it’s fun, educational, and does good in the world!
    I’d dispute “educational”: with most of the words, if you already know what they mean or can make an informed etymological guess, you’ll be able to find the correct definition on the list, but if you don’t, and treat the definition freerice gives you as accurate, you’re likely to be misled. “Sanguine” and “optimistic” aren’t quite the same thing; nor are “inculcate” and “teach”.
    (This is especially blatant when the definitions are the wrong sort of thing: it asks you what “agave” means, and the answer is “spiny-leafed plant”. Well, agaves are spiny-leafed plants. But “agave” does not mean “spiny-leafed plant”; if you saw just any old cactus, and said “there’s an agave”, you might well be wrong, though they are spiny-leafed plants. “What sort of thing is an agave?” would be a better way of putting the question, but then of course you’d have to attend more carefully to what the potential answers are, because only some answers will even make sense for that question.)

  26. Siganus Sutor says:

    Those who have a foot in another bathtub and who frequently use an English dictionary may find it irrelevant to erase at least the three last words in bold, since roboratif, vilipender and vaticiner would make perfect sense for them. A reason good enough to keep these words in?

  27. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    The BBC’s Today Programme had a good piece about this on the wireless (as I persist in calling it)
    Don’t forget wireless has made a comeback as a word, not quite the same meaning, though. Comebacks being one of the things they discuss.
    Yes, of course R. Murdoch is the devil, but there’s no reason we can’t make use of the topic and still not buy his rotten old dictionaries and papers.
    I once had a copy of the O.E.D. cd, but I’ve lost it. The OUP charge outrageously for everything. They should lower their prices by 90% and sell more ‘product’.
    I don’t like the idea of two feet in different bathtubs, you would immediately notice any temperature difference in the water.

  28. George Bush could not pronounce compossible, unless of course he interjected ‘er er’ between each syllable. Puxzzled sounds like a word to me, if it isn’t it should be. Its up there with Pizazz.

  29. I never knew that ‘Wireless’ has ever been away.

  30. A.J.P. Crown says:

    The death blow to the word wireless was its use by Prince Charles (‘looks like an art deco wireless’) as a description of Jim Stirling’s building, 1 Poultry. I still use it intermittently, but at 55 I’m probably among the youngest. Of course, the Americans use some completely different old word like ‘phonograph’ or ‘sox’.

  31. ” The OUP charge outrageously for everything. ”
    Seconded. For an enthusiastic pieriansipist, said entusiasm wanes markedly when confronted by the OUP’s obvious fondness for some other old-fashioned words – “Mammon” and “highway robbery” come to mind.

  32. I seem to recall that Alec Guinness coined “fubsy”
    Sheesh. Fanny Burney, in her Diary for April 1780, writes: “In the evening we had Mrs. L , a fat, round, panting, short-breathed old widow; and her daughter, a fubsy, good-humoured, laughing, silly, merry old maid.” And she obviously didn’t invent it; by the time the OED gets around to revising F, they’ll doubtless have antedates. John Podhoretz is an idiot.
    The Oxford Book of Australian Light Verse has a poem by Hector Monro called “You’ll Love Their Fubsy, Tangy Charm” that starts: “They hammer us with glamour as they clamour to enamour us,/ The barrel-breasted beauties of the television screen.”

  33. What’s with all this “OED” stuff? I never heard of it before, but here it has it’s own acronym. Is it a curiosity by itself or does it have some significance to another endeavor like scrabble or crosswords? (What do you bet Mr. Hat has something about this tucked away in the archives?)

  34. Nijma,
    OED stands for Oxford English Dictionary. It is so commonly referenced here on LanguageHat that usually no explanation is necessary.
    As for the words being cut, I the only one I recall seeing is mansuetude. But I agree with the comment that removing the words would diminish the joy of coming across a new and interesting word while you are looking up another one.
    I guess every dictionary publisher has to make these kinds of decisions. Collins has just decided to make it public.
    I have a rather old Compact Edition of the OED and a good magnifying glass. It works fine for me on the rare occasion that I use it.

  35. I didn’t recognize apodeictic until I googled for it and realized that it’s an alternative spelling of apodictic. For some curious reason, the same Greek loanword is much more popular in my native Croatian (where it has the form apodiktički). Sometimes you’ll even see it thrown around casually in debates on Croatian internet forums. I had no idea that its English counterpart was so obscure.

  36. Yes, that’s a common problem—I wrote about it here with regard to hypostasis.

  37. Thanks for the link to your hypostasis post, Hat. I did not realise that word was so uncommon in English. I came across it while providing ESL help to a Punjabi friend in her pathophysiology exams, and until I read your older post just now I was unaware of its philosophical definitions. Like Bob, the only of the condemned words I was familiar with was mansuetude.

  38. It is so commonly referenced here on LanguageHat that usually no explanation is necessary.
    Yes, that was my point.
    I just happen to have a WSNCD. How about them apples?

  39. To be fair to all the users of the unexplicated OED set of initials, that set returns 2.5M ghits, as opposed to 119 ghits for WSCND, and not all of those 119 refere to Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary. So, the assumption of familarity may not have been quite so unreasonable after all. It’s all about context, really. In a forum devoted to Hindi cinema, use of “OHE” and “OEH” is understood to refer to dictionaries, and does not need clarification. Similarly in this context, the use of “OED” without explanation seems understandable. Especially since trying those three letters as a dough mane name will take one to the dictionary in question.

  40. I just thought that all this discussion of the OED might have whetted some appetites, and it turns out they have an 80th anniversary special price for their dead-tree version. Just £450, or $895US, until January next year.

  41. Okay, I get it. There’s no reason for the buzz, it’s just that all the other kids on the block are talking about it too.

  42. Nijma’s comment has left me wondering again – what is the proper term of sets of initials such as OED or WSNCD? They are not acronyms as I unddrstand the word, and “abbreviation” would seem more appropriate for something like oxendic, so what should one call sets of initials?

  43. I spent some time yesterday clicking through their “how to use this site” slideshow thingy–don’t they know about scrolling?–and the only thing I discovered was it was good for insomnia. Maybe I’m just crabby and need another nap, but I can’t think of a good reason to click through the rest of it.
    I enjoy the rest of the stuff on Mr. Hat’s sidebar, but I guess you can’t have everything.

  44. Nijma, if your local public library has a subscription ot the OED, you can access the whole kit and caboodle here, by entering your library card details.

  45. Ah yes, Paul so it does. Now I see the light. I can see the site is for playing with, but I don’t see yet what it’s use is. Maybe if you’re reading a dusty tome and run across a word with a context obviously different from the contemporary meaning? Or you want to date something you’re reading by when a word entered the language? BTW I see they didn’t hot swap anything until the late 90′s and are just now adding it–we knew about hot-swapping long before that. Can you envision a wiki OED?

  46. “Can you envision a wiki OED?”
    Not before you mentioned it, now I’m going to have that nightmare haunting me for who knows how long.

  47. @Stuart’s “what is the proper term of sets of initials such as OED or WSNCD?”: Many people do use “acronym” for this; others generally use “initialism” or simply “abbreviation”. “Abecedism” exists as well, but is quite rare.

  48. Thanks, Ran. I had an idea that “acronym” was establishing itself as the mot juste, or at least the mot de facto, but I thought that if there was a “correct” term of art, this madding crowd would know it.

  49. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    I suggested that they combine the Oxfoird Dictionary of National Biography (DNB) into Wikipedia, but that met with all the enthusiasm of a (insert metaphor here) at the OUP (aah!) — probably quite rightly because you can get access at most English lang. libraries.
    I remember the gnat-like point-sized OED that came in 2 vols with a magnifying glass and was practically free if you joined the book of the month club, where you were forced to return all their rubbishy books to them for a year as the real price.
    The other thing about ‘OED’ is that many (most?) people actually say o-e-d, rather than uttering the whole phrase (a valuable saving of 5 syllables).

  50. Hey, Stuart– thanks for the suggestion that my local library may have an OED subscription! Turns out that my county government has a web page that takes my library number and logs me into the OED web site. Amazing.

  51. I would have written W7NCD rather than WSNCD. It’s usual to use digits rather than initials for numbers in acronyms and initialisms*. In this case it also distinguishes W7NCD from W6NCD.
    *A conscious exception is TLA for “Three-letter acronym”: “TLA” is a TLA whereas “3LA” would not be a 3LA.

  52. “whereas “3LA” would not be a 3LA.”
    I’m guessing this is far too highbrow a place for a chepa punning reference to a Michael Jackson album of a similar-sounding name?

  53. Regarding Stuart’s “what is the proper term of sets of initials such as OED or WSNCD?”: I have a feeling I have read the term alphabetism in one of David Crystal’s books, but can’t remember which one.

  54. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Highbrow schmighbrow.

  55. “alphabetism”. Thanks, Virtual Linguist. I think “initialism” is bit easier to say. It is also possibly slightly more specific, since any string of letters is by definition an alphabetism, it seems to me.

  56. I remember the gnat-like point-sized OED that came in 2 vols with a magnifying glass and was practically free if you joined the book of the month club, where you were forced to return all their rubbishy books to them for a year as the real price.
    I have that edition, except that I didn’t have to join the club, since I bought it off a guy who came in to the used bookstore where I was working. He asked me how much the store would pay him for it, and I (thanking my stars I happened to be at the cash register) said “The hell with the store, I’ll give you $25 for it,” and we had a deal. It doesn’t have the magnifying glass, but that’s OK because I’m nearsighted.
    The other thing about ‘OED’ is that many (most?) people actually say o-e-d, rather than uttering the whole phrase (a valuable saving of 5 syllables).
    I have a friend who says “öd.”

  57. Would have been more fun without bolding words.

  58. John Emerson says:

    I still have that OED. My son lost the magnifying glass one day burning ants. I was infuriated, since I had stressed to him how important it is to be responsible and careful when burning ants.
    I confess before God and everyone that I never did pay for it. I moved and the billing never reached me, and I was not diligent and responsible in taking steps to be rebilled. Perhaps a book club curse was the true reason for my unsuccess in life.

  59. John Emerson says:

    I still have that OED. My son lost the magnifying glass one day burning ants. I was infuriated, since I had stressed to him how important it is to be responsible and careful when burning ants.
    I confess before God and everyone that I never did pay for it. I moved and the billing never reached me, and I was not diligent and responsible in taking steps to be rebilled. Perhaps a book club curse was the true reason for my unsuccess in life.

  60. A.J.P. Crown says:

    No. Moving in order to avoid paying $20 for the OED tells me that you have your priorities a little out of whack, though. No big deal.

  61. @mollymooly: W7NCD and W6NCD brings to mind the wireless for me rather than the dictionary as they are valid formats for US Ham Radio Call Signs. Neither call sign is assigned, so get your ham radio license and you can be W7NCD.
    *sigh* I need to get a life.

  62. John Emerson says:

    No, no, I was moving for toher reasons. Also, I would have had to have bought a bunch of stupid books.

  63. John Emerson says:

    No, no, I was moving for toher reasons. Also, I would have had to have bought a bunch of stupid books.

  64. Perhaps no-one has ever told you why we need Collins and Chambers as well as the OED? You see, Mr Murray, who originally compiled the OED, was a Hawick man, so that that great work has a linguistic substratum of Southern Scots underlying it. Whereas Collins, being from Glasgow, has Western mid-Scots as its substratum, and Chambers, from Edinburgh, Eastern mid-Scots. I’m sure that everyone will agree that such diversity is welcome.

  65. Collins, Chambers, OED, they’re all useless anyway, since none of them offer a defintion or etymology for NZ English “huckery”, which means run-down, decrepit, in a state of poor repair, etc. So I say that none of them are worth the paper they’re no lnoger being printed on.

  66. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Is there a dictionary that does have huckery?

  67. Crown, A.J.P. says:

    I didn’t know all the dictionaries were written by Scotspersons. Were they motivated by Dr Johnson’s definition of oats?

  68. They were probably motivated by the famous answer, AJPC. “That’s why you breed fine horses and we breed fine men.”

  69. A rather nice obscure word turned up in the last episode of Lost in Austen this week, when Mr Bennet called Mr Bingley “You drivelling, anorchous imbecile!”

  70. anorchous – without looking it up, I thought it might have meant, “without a killer whale”.

  71. A.J.P. Crown says:

    “without a killer whale”
    If it means that, I can use it constantly.
    I eat oats a lot, so does my daughter. I’ll have to tell her that one, dearie. I was impressed at an early age by the power of oats. When I was young we ate Scots Oats; it had a blue packet with a picture of an enormous man in a kilt on it, tossing the caber.

  72. I only have the COD. I feel like such a poser …
    (Got it through those bookclubs, too.)
    This article musta made an impression since “apodeictic” seems to have become the word of the day when it comes to lashing creationists lately.

  73. For me, OED = Oxford English Doorstop ever since I saw the compact edition used as such in the offices of the English Department at Murray State University.

  74. Did anyone else catch Bob Edwards on NPR this morning talking about the OED? I don’t see the podcast online yet.
    It was followed by an interview with a guy who spent a year reading the OED from cover to cover.
    http://www.bobedwardsradio.com/blog/2008/10/4/80-years-of-the-oed.html

  75. At least I’m assuming it’s the same guy.

  76. Same guy, new interview, plus he talks to the Head Honcho and an Outpost Writer whose names both start with S. The ATM was beeping at me so I didn’t catch all of it. Talks about sources and says readers do submit information via their website, so perhaps it IS on its way to becoming a wiki.

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