Oxford is good enough to send me copies of many of their language-related books, and here are a couple of major new additions to their list.
1) The Concise Oxford English Dictionary (which I mentioned here) is the twelfth, and centennial, edition of this handy distillation of the sprawling magnificence of the OED. For a book that’s almost 1,700 pages long, it’s amazingly light and easy to hold, and it’s impressively comprehensive, including (for example) protonotary ‘a chief clerk in some law courts, originally in the Byzantine court,’ ‘pump and dump ‘the fraudulent practice of encouraging investors to buy shares in a company in order to inflate the price artificially, and then selling one’s own shares while the price is high,’ and punani (also punany) ‘the female genitals,’ none of which is in the comparably long Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate (though, to be fair, the latter has words not in the Concise Oxford, like pung ‘a sleigh with a box-shaped body’). It has usage notes (“prove has two past participles, proved and proven. Both are correct and can be used more or less interchangeably…”) and “1911-2011” boxes (“Punk is perhaps the last word you would expect to find in the first edition of the Concise, but it has a long history…”), and in the center are a set of useful lists of countries, kings and queens, chemical elements, and the like (it’s a shock to see the list of planets missing Pluto; they explain its demotion in a footnote). It’s already become the first dictionary I consult after the M-W Collegiate, and I’m very glad to own it.
2) James W. Pennebaker‘s The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us is a very interesting look at, well, pretty much what the title implies; I’m not really competent to review it, but fortunately Ben Zimmer has done a fine job at the NY Times, and there’s an interview with the author at Scientific American. (Mark Liberman discussed some of his findings earlier this year at the Log.)


  1. Protonotary is possible but I think prothonotary is more common. That’s what they are in Pennsylvania, the last surviving human prothonotaries in the wild, I believe. I say human because there is also the prothonotary warbler, likewise with an h, said to be named for its coloring, because prothonotaries in ecclesiastical courts wore golden robes.

  2. michael farris says

    That’s not the current web meaning of ‘pump and dump’….

  3. I like the frankness of O’s use of “I”. I get irked by alternatives such as the popsingers’ “we” or the South of England “one”.

  4. As a new father, I have heard “pump and dump” as a term referring to an act done by lactating women. If you’ve been drinking, so don’t want to nurse the baby with milk potentially tainted by alcohol, but you need to release the often painful pressure of milk build up in your breasts. Thus you pump the milk and throw away the result. Pump and dump.

  5. I like the frankness of O’s use of “I”. I get irked by alternatives such as the popsingers’ “we” or the South of England “one”

    One rather likes “one” as it happens.
    My COED is a decade old, but well worn. (Not least for crosswords.)
    I was surprised recently to learn that the origin of “punk” was to do with homosexuality as a denigrating practice and as such one of those epithets that’re a bit iffy. I’d filed it away with the music genre and its fans.

  6. Graham Asher says

    ‘Prothonotary’ seems to have arrived as a piece of mediaeval decorative spelling. See for notes on decorative spelling in Swedish; I first heard of this useful term when studying that language many years ago.

  7. Pennsylvania, the last surviving human prothonotaries in the wild, I believe.
    Not quite. There are a number of them in the Federal Court of Canada too. (Scroll down.)

  8. rootlesscosmo says

    According to this article
    “punk” in US prisons refers to a man who is the receptive partner in homosexual acts, consensual or not.
    Mencken’s The American Language glosses “punk” as “catamite.” (Another term for this is “gunsel,” from German Gansel–Sam Spade’s epithet for Wilmer, in The Maltese Falcon, has nothing to do with “gun.” The 1931 (pre-Code) film version is much less coy about Wilmer’s relationship with Kasper Gutman than John Huston’s 1941 remake.)

  9. According to my quick research, it was The Maltese Falcon print version that resulted in a change in the meaning of “gunsel” to having something to do with guns. Hammett managed to sneak it past his editor and as a result thousands of uninitiated readers took it to have a new meaning.
    I’ve heard it used many times in reference to a low-level hood.
    I think both movies were pretty clear about the relationship between Wilmer and Kasper, although for the 1941 version you have to do a little more decoding.

  10. Those of us who are ignorant worshippers at the OUP shrine tend to think of the Oxford dictionaries as the output of vast teams of janissaries. But it is worth recording that the 1911 first edition of the Concise, although adapted of course from the Dictionary itself, is the work of the excellent Fowler brothers.

  11. Two more notes on the prothonotary warbler:
    1. As if to emphasize the variable spelling, the Latin name of the Prothonotary Warbler (with an H) is Protonotaria citrea (without the H).
    2. Many who are otherwise ignorant of birds and bird-watchers know (or know of) the Prothonotary Warbler, since it had a bit part in convicting Alger Hiss.

  12. “Mencken’s The American Language glosses “punk” as “catamite.” (Another term for this is “gunsel,” from German Gansel–”
    Wait..”Madame Helga Mistress of Pain” is a trite old stereotype of Germans, but this is new to me….geese?

  13. John Emerson says

    As I understand, a gunsel is a tough guy whereas a punk is weak and needs protection. Both are homosexual convicts (“gay” doesn’t seem right in this context). The punk is nominally passive while the gunsel might be active, but according to a prison psychiatrist I once knew, “If they’ll flip, they’ll flop”.

  14. J. W. Brewer says

    My native Delaware (whose colonial history was tied to that of Pennsylvania) also retains prothonotaries (each county has one, who essentially functions as clerk of the Superior Court), although the office seems to have ceased being elective since my childhood. Those of us who became enamored of punk rock as junior high school students in Delaware in the late ’70’s were generally (to the best of my recollection) innocent of any knowledge of the word’s catamitical historical associations.

  15. but this is new to me….geese?
    Yeah, there’s no gansel or gänsel in my German dictionary.

  16. “…but according to a prison psychiatrist I once knew, “If they’ll flip, they’ll flop”.
    The modern parlance is “versatile”. It’s generally but not uinversally true.
    I have heard “punk” used as a verb in a metaphorical sense. to “punk s/o out” means to totally dominate them.
    Does it really belong to the poke-punch-peak-pike-bung word family?
    Also interesting how it attached to young teenaged boys. “He’s acting like a little smart-mouth punk (a brat).”

  17. ‘Punk’ in its sexual meaning has not always been strictly homosexual. At the end of Measure for Measure, the fop Lucio objects to marrying a female prostitute, saying “Marrying a punk, my lord, is pressing to death, / whipping, and hanging”.

  18. J. W. Brewer says

    To the extent I’d thought about it, which is not much, I suppose I’d always assumed that the Yeats line “Come swish around, my pretty punk” was invoking the archaic Shakespearean sense noted by Dr. Weevil (MforM also has “My lord, she may be a punk; for many of them are neither maid, widow, nor wife”) rather than an explicitly catamitical subtext, but the subtextual possibilities of “swish” make me wonder if I’d missed something.

  19. rootlesscosmo says

    @AJP: Yeah, there’s no gansel or gänsel in my German dictionary.
    I should have checked mine. Mencken doesn’t (as I had remembered) give a derivation: “The tramp who carries a boy with him, to rustle food for him and serve him otherwise, is a jocker or wolf, and the boy is a punk, gazooney, guntzel [sic], lamb, or prushun.” He speculates about the origin of the last of these but not the other terms. According to Malcolm Braly’s memoir False Starts, “jocker” was in use in some US prisons to denote the prisoner who takes a punk under his protection and for sex.

  20. Yeah, there’s no gansel or gänsel in my German dictionary.
    -el suggests Yiddish or some other dialect version of Standard gänschen / gänslein. Cf. mägchen / mägdlein / מיידל.

  21. Er, Mädchen.

  22. Oh, I only thought of Hansel & Gretel etc. I didn’t think of Yiddish.

  23. @MMcM: right on the nail. ‘Gunsel’ comes, according to the OED, from Yidish גאנדזל (genzel, “gosling”), equivalent to standard German Gänslein.
    Although the OED does not explicitly mention it, a 1929 Hammett quote (“‘Another thing,’ Spade repeated, glaring at the boy, ‘Keep that gunsel away from me while you’re making up your mind. I’ll kill him.'”) is claimed to have originated its current sense of ‘hitman’. Erle Stanley Gardner argued in the Atlantic Monthly in 1965 that this was a trick of Hammett’s to bypass the strict censorship of Joseph Shaw, the editor of the magazine where The Maltese Falcon was first published, and that eggcornish reinterpretation by readers led to the new meaning.

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