Sunday, October 03, 2010

Lost words

One of the most thumbed books on our shelves is this:
As a family of avid readers and crossword puzzlers, we have frequent recourse to dictionaries and this one has provided the solution to many a disagreement. When son and daughter were young, we had a weekly exercise where each of us chose a word from the Dictionary of Difficult Words to learn and use as often as possible during the week. I have to admit that we seldom recalled the words beyond a day or two; the only one that entered our family vocabulary was olid, meaning evil-smelling. You can imagine how frequently that was used in a household of teenagers and their friends!

I was reminded of this pastime by blogging friend erp*, who sent me a link to Save the Words. It is a wonderful website with an enormous collection of archaic and obscure words; you can even "adopt" a word, pledging to use it as frequently as possible in conversation and correspondence. Take a look, it is great fun. I thought I might adopt senticous, meaning prickly or thorny; it sounds far more interesting than grumpy, doesn't it? From now on I shall be signing any letters of complaint from "a senticous old woman."

*erp has asked me to credit the the Volokh Conspiracy with providing her with this link


  1. Yesterday had a discussion with a fiend here who asked whether grewsome" was a valid word. The attempt to correct it to gruesome was rejected by him. He declared it existed and is correct. Not having dictionaries here I was unable to follow my point through. Is it an Americanisation of the English? I'm not sure. Or am I being senticous about this? Love from Kalymnos.

  2. J, I find from my dictionary that 'grewsome' is the archaic form of gruesome and is used in US.

    I'm sure that Kalymnos is not experiencing the torrential rain that we have here. Enjoy the sunshine, you won't find much here when you come over!

  3. As teenagers, my friends and I had Word of the Week. I remember 'effervescent' particularly! There is still a lot of regional dialect here as well, but today's teenagers don't use it at all which is a shame.

  4. I've never seen grewsome as an alternate spelling for gruesome.

    Adding ‘some’ to a verb is common rural usage as in, little Johnny grew some and needs some new pants. There's also a rather vulgar meaning that needn't be defined on a classy blog like this. ;-}

    m. when our kids were in high school preparing for the SAT's (Scholastic Aptitude Test), they each worked one of the words on the study guide into dinner conversation. The rest of us had to try to figure out the meaning. The words were far easier than those on this website and few went undefined. One such word was tessellate. None of us got even close to figuring it out and it became a code word were instant laughter.

  5. Rattling On, I agree that it is a shame that dialect is being lost. It used to be a class issue but I think people recognise the historic and cultural importance of local dialect now.

  6. e

    I spent a very fraught weekend trying to find out about tessellation when my daughter was about 9 years old. She had maths homework on it and the term was new to me. I searched the local library to no avail, rang all my friends and eventually put through a radio call to my husband's ship! He didn't know it either! If only we'd had the internet then. So for me the word tessellate brings cringing not laughter!

  7. m. Obviously the lack was in our education system, not ourselves.

    BTW - apololgies to all for the mistakes of usage (so bad it can't be passed off as typos) in my previous comment.

  8. Our family loves to play Scrabble. In fact, we get quite competitive. Some of us cheat. Have you ever heard of the word "detuned"? Me neither. My husband tried to convince me it was a musical term. But I still love him anyway. I'm going to visit this link and bone up on a few new words. My goal is to leave him a senticous old man after the next Scrabble game :)

  9. Jodi
    There are some weird and wonderful words for you to beat that old cheating scrabble-playing husband with, so go get 'em!

  10. I used to love "call my bluff!" and have a fondness for a fat dictionary of Shropshire slang..
    That looks a very useful book :0)

  11. Val, Call my bluff was one of my favourite programmes, too. That book of Shropshire slang sounds interesting. I think Rattling On would enjoy it.


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