The excellent Grant Barrett (aka Mo Nickels) has started a new word site:

Double-Tongued Word Wrester records words as they enter and leave the English language. It focuses upon slang, jargon, and other niche categories which include new, foreign, hybrid, archaic, obsolete, and rare words. Special attention is paid to the lending and borrowing of words between the various Englishes and other languages, even where a word is not a fully naturalized citizen in its new language.

There are a lot of word sites out there, you say? Yes, but most of them are seriously untrustworthy, being concerned more with fun than with facts. This one you can take to the bank; Grant is an actual lexicographer, for Oxford University Press in New York City. The entries are not only fun and interesting, they come with extensive citations. The latest, for example, is “jitterbug n. a gang member; a juvenile delinquent.” Now, this is a meaning I was totally unaware of; I knew only the Merriam-Webster definition ‘a jazz variation of the two-step…; one who dances the jitterbug.’ (I checked Cassell to get the British perspective, and was surprised to find that the dance-related meanings are labeled “Hist.” and the primary meaning is given as ‘a person who spreads alarm,’ yet another meaning unknown to me!) The definition is followed by nine citations, from a 1941 Bosley Crowther movie review (“The big holdup job gets messed up by a couple of ‘jitterbugs’ who are assisting on it, the girl turns out a great disappointment, the gunman is rendered a fugitive with a moll and a dog who love him”) to a quote from last Sunday’s Palm Beach Post (“…he would join the idle, young black males in jail. ‘Jitterbugs,’ Lupo called them, using street lingo”). I’m going to bookmark the site instantly, and I suggest you all do the same.

Oh: what is a “double-tongued word wrester”? Glad you asked. The FAQ page explains:

What About That Weird Name? “Double-Tongued Word Wrester” comes from a citation in the online edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, under the entry for word, n.:
1571 GOLDING Calvin on Ps. xii. 3: This dubblehartednesse..maketh men dubble~tunged & woordwresters.
It’s a reference to Arthur Golding’s translation of Calvin’s commentary on the Psalms.
Anyone who studies theology will immediately note that to be called a “double-tongued word wrester” is not to be complimented. To be double-tongued is to speak with a forked tongue, to be a liar and a deceiver, while a word wrester is one who picks and chooses his own interpretation of scripture in order to have it conform to his own lifestyle, rather than modifying his lifestyle according to the standard doctrine of his faith.
Outside of Arthur Golding’s work, I have not been able to find the two parts of the term—double-tongued and word wrester—together. So I’ll join them here as a new, different word, and say that a double-tongued word wrester is one who finds a home in more than one language and who draws forth words from the zeitgeist like plucking drowning sailors from the sea, or like pulling thorns from the paw of a lion, or like picking blackberries from the brierpatch.

(Thanks to plep for the link.)


  1. aldiboronti says

    Not only bookmarked, but moved up to nestle in the top half-dozen of my etymology favourites!
    Wonderful link, lh.

  2. Except I forgot to add a link to the site — d’oh! Just fixed it. Sigh…

  3. All best to Mr Nickels. In fact, Mo Dallahs to him!

  4. Thanks, everybody. I’m flattered and relieved at the response.
    Note: I expect you lot to constantly take me to task when I get things wrong. Nothing keeps a word geek honest like other word geeks do.

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