XYLOTHEK AND MONGO.

Two words I never dreamed existed:
1) “The wooden library, or xylothek (from the Greek words for tree, xylon, and storing place, theke) … is generally speaking a collection of simple pieces of wood specimens placed together in some kind of cupboard. In a refined form it is in the shape of ‘books’ where you can find details from the tree inside, everything arranged as a ‘library’.” More here, with pictures. It’s not in the OED, but it should be. What a wonderful phenomenon! (Via wood s lot.)
2) “mongo (MAWNG.goh) n. Objects retrieved from the garbage.” The earliest citation is from James Brooke, “Sanitation art showings brighten workers’ image,” The New York Times, September 10, 1984. (A couple of years ago, the Times reviewed a book by Ted Botha called Mongo: Adventures in Trash.) I ran across the word while reading a New Yorker Talk of the Town piece by Ben McGrath on the “san men” of New York City and Robin Nagle, who studies them:

Nagle’s interests lie more with the trash collectors than with the trash, although the two intersect on the subject of “mongo”—sanitation lingo for “redeemed garbage” or the act of collecting it. (Nagle consulted a lexicographer, looking for help in tracking down the etymology, to no avail.) “Within the department, if you mongo or if you don’t—there’s kind of a dividing line,” she said. “ ‘He mongos.’ ‘Do you mongo?’ ‘Oh, mongo, are you kidding? I wouldn’t mongo.’ ” She paused. “Hell, I mongo, absolutely. And I have some pretty nice things.”

No, that one’s not in the OED either, though they do have Mongo “A Bantu language spoken by an African people living in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire)” and mongo “A monetary unit of Mongolia, equivalent to one-hundredth of a tugrik.” I hope they’re busy working on that etymology while they prepare an entry.
Unrelated to language, but a very sobering fact from later in the piece: “nationally, fatality rates for sanitation workers, owing to the risks associated with loading trucks in the midst of moving traffic, are roughly three times those for firemen and policemen.” I tip my hat to sanitation workers everywhere, who never get enough respect.

Comments

  1. Brad Hughes says:

    Isn’t mongo American slang for large or huge? “He has a mongo amount of homework today.”
    And then there’s the name of Alex Karras’s character in _Blazing Saddles_.

  2. mongo (MAWNG.goh) n. Pawn in game of life.

  3. As I note in my own entry for mongo, there is a far earlier occurrence in the unpublished Lexicon of Trade Jargon, compiled by the Works Progress Administration and from about 1938: mungo, referring to the person who salvages discarded items, rather than the things being salvaged. I emailed Dr. Nagle about it today.

  4. I suspect that “mongo amount” (only 72 ghits) is a hybrid of “humongous amount” and “mondo amount”.
    There is also Emperor Ming of Mongo, from the old Flash Gordon serials.

  5. The “humongous” sense of mongo is attested from the mid-’80s in college slang (see HDAS II). There’s also the oafish character of Mongo in the 1974 movie Blazing Saddles, but his name is more likely a clipped form of mongoloid. (Not to mention an excuse for another character to exclaim “Mongo! Santamaria!”)

  6. Mongo Santamaria was a Cuban jazz/pop conga player in the 50s and 60s. Don’t know how reliable this is:
    “He was born Ramon Santamaria in Cuba, and nicknamed Mongo by his father (the word denotes a tribal chief in Senegal). He began learning violin, but quickly switched to drums and then congas, and left school early to work as a musician on the highly active local scene in Havana.”
    Link

  7. That’s not what Ramon said: “Mongo told me himself that his nom-de-musique was a nickname for ‘Ramon.’” For what it’s worth, there does not appear to be a word mongo in Wolof, but of course that’s only one language of Senegal.

  8. Yeah, the (Ra)MON-GO explanation looks better to me too. The music-publicity world does not really have a word for the concept of “fact”, though they sometimes do use the word “fact” to mean something quite different.

  9. I dislike the concept “syncronicity” (it’s just heightened attention due to recent exposure) but this is the second occurrence for me today.
    It is of course entirely off-topic — though I like the xylothek (and am pleased that I could understand the word without the explanation) — but John Emerson’s mention of some people having a very peculiar notion of “fact” prompted me. It’s not just musicians — I engaged and a bit of ranting over the misuse of “canon” by fan-fiction writers just a few hours ago.
    And just to return briefly to the matter at hand: How do you get from Mongo to Mawng.goh — are there any common words spelt with an “o” but pronounced with the [ɔː]?

  10. Wouldn’t the pseudo-French ‘xylotheque’ be a more acceptable English orthography?

  11. Or ‘xylothecary’?

  12. Also, isn’t this concept already quite happily covered under ‘solander’? Great pictures, by the way, in a Joseph Cornell sort of a way.

  13. Someone speaking about me here?

  14. Sili, it depends on the dialect, of course, but for me on, dog, log, and most other words ended in -og have it. But I’d agree that mongo would have to be “MAHNG-goh”.

  15. Doug Sundseth says:

    No discussion of “mongo” would be complete without a Cleavon Little quote:
    “Candygram for Mongo! Candygram for Mongo!”
    And an Alex Karras quote:
    “Mongo only pawn… in game of life.”
    (Not that any of this has anything to do with the linguistics. But “mongo” has certain associations that must be noted.)

  16. There’s an ironic poem by Mikhail Lermontov, Монго (“Mongo”), where Mongo is a fellow officer’s nickname. The narrator’s nick is Маёшка (Mayoshka).

  17. David Marjanović says:

    The Mongolian “tugrik” is actually a tögrög… why does everything have to pass through Russian…
    In Vienna, “Mongo” is used as an insult, short for “mongoloid”.

  18. Roger Depledge says:

    Benjamin Law and his nephews in the West Riding of Yorkshire are credited with “inventing” shoddy and mungo in the early decades of the 19th century. These were reclaimed rags and offcuts of woollen or worsted garments that were recycled as yarn. The words look like cognates of shed and mongrel, but I suppose, on the model of spinning jenny, we can’t entirely dismiss the possibility of the hypocoristic Mungo for the patron saint of Glasgow.
    One of Dewsbury’s historic mills (factories), now restored as flats, is proudly labelled “Machell Bros. Limited Shoddy & Mungo Manufrs.”

  19. Also, isn’t this concept already quite happily covered under ‘solander’?
    Close, but no cigar box. A solander is “A box made in the form of a book, used for holding botanical specimens, papers, maps, etc.”; a xylothek need not be in the form of a book but must hold pieces of wood (rather than “papers, maps, etc.”).

  20. mungo, referring to the person who salvages discarded items, rather than the things being salvaged.
    Q. What exactly do you do?
    A. I am a mungo. I salvage and resell discarded goods.
    Q. What sort of mungo are you?
    A. I am a mongo mungo.
    Q. And you are rather a successful and well-respected one?
    A. Yes, I am considered a mondo mongo mungo.
    Q. Whereabouts do you live?
    A. Kinshasa.
    Q. So, let me get this right: you’re a mondo Congo mongo mungo?
    A. B1ngo.

  21. mungo, referring to the person who salvages discarded items, rather than the things being salvaged.
    Q. What exactly do you do?
    A. I am a mungo. I salvage and resell discarded goods.
    Q. What sort of mungo are you?
    A. I am a mongo mungo.
    Q. And you are rather a successful and well-respected one?
    A. Yes, I am considered a mondo mongo mungo.
    Q. Whereabouts do you live?
    A. Kinshasa.
    Q. And what sort of mongo do you specialise in?
    A. Mainly military – old sports equipment from the army bases, chiefly.
    Q. So, let me get this right: you’re a mondo Congo pongo fungo mongo mungo?
    A. B1ngo.

  22. I’ve never seen a discussion of this except by poets (William Stafford is one), but certain sound patterns seem to generate words of certain types. “Sleek, slip, slide, sloop, slop, slime” for example. Or “niche notch nock nick nook”. I don’t think that these are all cognates like “shirt-skirt”, but some may be.
    I know that this kind of word-formation is crucial to Arabic, but it seems to have some latent function in English.

  23. [...as above...]
    Q. So, let me get this right: you’re a mondo Congo pongo fungo mongo mungo?
    A. Wrongo. I also translate for them when reselling into different countries, actually.
    Q. Ah! So you’re a lingo mondo Congo pongo fungo mongo mungo.
    A. B1ngo.

  24. Just a small correction: “xylos” is actually the Greek word for wood or timber, appropriately enough. The usual Greek word for tree is “dendron”.
    Love the blog, by the way. Been reading it for months, but haven’t commented yet.

  25. Small correction to the small correction: xylon (ξύλον, neutral like ‘dendron’/δένδρον).

  26. (Sorry, I don’t know why I’m doing this; the result of reading 400 pages of my own writing: ça vous change un homme.)

  27. Why can’t xylothek just be a woodpile?

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