I love, love, love words. Unusual ones. Obscure ones. Exotic ones. And the stories behind them. Like the invaluable phrase ~ as mad as a hatter. Don’t you wonder why a good honest hatter is regarded as more prone to lunacy than, say, a tailor? I do.
I’m also curious about the link between language and culture. The Meaning of Tingo by Adam Jacot de Bound is a kind of dictionary that list words from languages all over the world. The words have very specific and unusual meanings. Take the word in the title ~ tingo. It’s from the Pascuense language of Easter Island, meaning “to borrow objects from a friend’s house, one by one, until there’s nothing left”. Or how about this word, one bandied about in the Netherlands ~ plimpplampplettere? Say it, and listen to yourself. Doesn’t it sound just like stones skimming on water?
Are you a rasorial searcher, always after words? The English poet W. H. Auden was once asked to teach a poetry class for 20 students. Two hundred applied to study with him. When asked how he chose his students, he said he picked the ones who actually loved words. (I’m sure I would have been one of the chosen, and if you’re still reading this, you would have too.)
There are tons of field guides to words. Two of my new favorites are Better Than Great by Art Plotnik and Wordcatcher by Phil Cousineau. Want more wit and wisdom? William Safire’s NYT columns “On Language” are collected in his book, The Right Word in the Right Place at the Right Time.
Prefer your wordy gems in a microburst? Read Erin McKean’s column at the Wall Street Journal. McKean, the most interesting lexicographer of our time, is the founder of Wordnik.com and the author of Weird and Wonderful Words, More Weird and Wonderful Words, Totally Weird and Wonderful Words, and That’s Amore (also about words). Her first novel, The Secret Lives of Dresses, was published by GrandCentral/5Spot in February 2011. She says it’s her first book where the words are arranged in something other than alphabetical order. See why I turn to her column first in the Weekend Journal. Week in Words – Wsj.com
Oh, and did I mention that she has A Dress a Day Blog?
Listen here to Erin speak at Google. She’s smart, playful and So Not Erinaceous.
Note to Readers ~I suggest you make note of these links on your digital thumbscall (think post-it). Many were used in the writing of this post ~ including one for the swell www.wordswewomenwrite.wordpress.com page itself.
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I find words to be addictively interesting, especially when people like Plotnik, Cousineau, Jacot de Bound, Safire and McKean dig up tantalizing tidbits from obscurity. Scratch around on their word turf. I promise ~ you’ll winnick, snorkel and, quite probably, cachinnate in spite of yourself.