Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Of winter wonders and of words

Hope everyone's holiday was lovely. Mine was mellow, but enjoyable. While I usually find trekking down to Philadelphia kind of depressing, it was not so this time around. I still can't stand spending extended periods of time in my Mom's house; it's cluttered, drafty, and full of old ghosts. However, with all the festive bustle going on (cooking, errands for forgotten ingredients, etc.), I was too "in the moment" to get bogged down in location issues.

We've never been a big gift giving family, mostly due to financial restrictions, so it's always been one present from each person, or in some cases, a "very nice" (i.e. costly) gift from a bunch of folks. So I was fortunate enough this year to receive the Lord Of The Rings special edition box set (woah!) from Mom and Skip and a lovely crystal set from Lisa and Tom (her fiancé). I'd asked Lisa for a decanter, but she mistakenly purchased a carafe set instead. Still, it VERY NICE lead crystal; heavy as hell and beautifully carved.

I did "run out of book" during my stay, having finished Caesar's Women by Colleen McCullough for about the third time (great book). Luckily, Mom has a rather extensive library and, while browsing, I stumbled across Simon Winchester's The Professor And The Madman. It's a historical work, set in the late 1800s, which documents the relationship between the then editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, Dr. James Murray, and a brilliant, yet deeply troubled inmate at the Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum, Dr. W.C. Minor. I'm half way through the volume already and am completely enthralled. While the topic of the OED might not strike most folks as particularly interesting, to a word junky such as myself, it's captivating.

The most enjoyable aspect of the work is that it's not strictly historical narrative. Winchester routinely wanders off on tangents to discuss the origins of a particular word; in fact, each chapter commences with a definition from the OED itself. For example, it tickled me pink to realize that I could be accused of indulging far too much in "sesquipedalianism", that is, the use of long words. In fact, I could be described as a "sesquipedalian polymath", that is to say, a person acquainted with various subjects of study who uses long words. Sure, it's more than a bit arrogant to insist that one is that, but what a great way to say it, no?

A few other tasty examples: "Lunatic" is derived from Latin word "luna", meaning moon and originally meant someone affected with the kind of insanity that was supposed to have recurring periods dependent on the changes of the moon. "Bedlam", on the other hand, is actually derived from the name of London's Hospital of St. Mary of Bethlehem, founded as a priory in 1247 and latter converted into a "hospital for lunatics" in about 1402. Bethlehem -> Bethlem -> Bethlam -> Bedlam.

Now maybe I don't get out enough, but I find stuff like that just fascinating.

So, if you fancy yourself even a minor "philologist" (one who rejoices in and studies words), I'd suggest picking up a copy of The Professor And The Madman at your earliest convenience.

I wear my geekdom like a burning badge of honor.

Definitions not found in the Oxford English Dictionary:

Digitalverein - Zu Hause
(chilly technodub from the fine folks at Thinner)

Various - Robots Selected Cuts
(mechanical melancholy)

Blood Duster - Cunt
(with tracks like "I Just Finished Sucking Off Metal Heads In The Mens Urinals" and "A Tracksuit Is Not Appropriate Metal Apparel", it has to be good)

Moby - Play
(Eminem is wrong; people do still listen to techno, although this isn't)

Various - Thinner Volume 03
(the nice thing about netlabels is you can make hundreds of CDs for nothing)


Blogger Marianne said...

Ah, music to my eyes?! Lovely Book Nerd in disguise. I enjyed the reveiw, thanks!

12:36 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home