Just when I start to doubt that anyone pays attention to my rambling (other than a few loyal readers and the usual detractors), I get a flurry of emails.
It never fails, when I use obscure words or Southern slang/sayings, that my fellow word enthusiasts come out of the woodwork, even quicker than tired people and pet owners get riled up over illegal fireworks being shot off at all hours. This time it was the use in my column last week of the phrase “quomodocunquizing clusterfist” from a blog post by Merriam-Webster on patriotism. I had mentioned the phrase once before in a column about patriotism versus nationalism, but it seemed to really hit home this time.
Maybe it’s all that time we’ve spent indoors lately. Some of us don’t have the talent and/or extroversion necessary to make parody videos on YouTube, after all, so we spend more time reading, streaming movies, TV shows and Broadway plays (thanks, Disney+, for showing Hamilton, and damn you for all the earworms … and here I go, looking for the original Broadway version of Into the Woods, if just because Meryl Streep is no Bernadette Peters and one of my favorite moments was cut from the movie version).
Or maybe it’s because we’re famelicose (constantly hungry) for obscure words … which are far more satisfying than kale (by leagues!), or perhaps we’re tired of the fabulosity (an exaggerated statement, or story that’s completely made up) we’ve been subjected to over the past few years.
Those of us who are afflicted (or perhaps blessed, considering the pandemic) like Greta Garbo with apanthropy (a desire to be alone, or a distaste for the company of others) are also probably more than a bit annoyed with those afflicted with akrasia, doing something you know you shouldn’t, deliberately acting against good judgment and common sense.
And when we deal with many blatherskites (people who talk at great length without making much sense; hush, you) mumpsimuses (stubborn people who refuse to change their minds despite being proven wrong), and ultracrepidarians (people with opinions … so many, many opinions … on subjects beyond their knowledge), we begin to search for succor where we can.
And so, we break out tomes like The Little Book of Lost Words: Collywobbles, Snollygosters, and 86 Other Surprisingly Useful Terms Worth Resurrecting by Joe Gillard (from which many of these words came), or head to websites like Merriam-Webster, Lexico or The Phrontistery because, quite honestly, we’re sort of nutters when it comes to words (some of us more nutty than others; yes, I mean me).
Paul Anthony Jones is one of those nutters, and wrote The Cabinet of Linguistic Curiosities: A Yearbook of Forgotten Words (one I don’t yet have). He’s often a source for the BBC for stories on words, especially odd and rare ones. Jones says he’s been obsessed with words since he was a kid (ditto, buddy).
“I like finding words that fill in a gap—there’s one called ‘frowst’—it’s an old 19th century schoolboy slang word for ‘extra time spent in bed on a Sunday.’ The fact that anyone thought to come up with that word is great—it’s something that everybody needs,” he told the BBC. “A lot of them are dialect—I found one, ‘shivviness,’ in an English dialect dictionary; it means ‘the uncomfortable feeling of wearing new underwear’ and comes from ‘shiv,’ which is an old Yorkshire dialect word for a splinter or a loose thread. It’s that idea of something being itchy.”
When you think about “shiv” in mostly American slang (a homemade knife or razor used as a weapon, often made from something like a toothbrush), “shivviness” takes on other connotations … and well, I sort of feel the need to shower.
I already felt the need to retreat from the callithumpian din (like a discordant band or noisy parade) over the weekend from neighbors frooncing (frolicking exuberantly with noise and energy) with illicit fireworks … which is still going on.
But it’s hot outside right now. A cold shower might just be the ticket. And I can’t hear fireworks in there anyway …
Among words in Jones’ book is one that should be familiar to many newspaper writers and others who work on deadline—charette: “A period of intense work or creative activity undertaken to meet a deadline,” the BBC wrote. “Coined at the Ecole de Beaux-Arts in Paris where, in the mid-19th century, architecture students transported their projects (sculptures and scale models) in a small wheeled cart, or ‘charette.’ Their last-minute flurry to meet deadlines at the end of term became known as working ‘en charette’—‘in the cart.’”
Considering that I often write my column on Monday afternoon, it’s a concept with which I’ve spent a lot of time. Sure, sometimes it’s because I write on news topics and/or current humbuggery (nonsense or deceitful language or ideas; gosh, no idea where that could come from) from a sociological perspective, and because I tend to work better on deadline. Other times, like when I write about words, I could probably write further ahead (and I do, sometimes).
But that would require working on the weekend, when I’d much rather shilly-shally than work if I can help it. Even if it involves obscure words with which you might confuse people. That’s always fun, but it’s also work. On the weekend.
And yet, “Hamilton” is calling me back … “Da da da dat da dat da da da da ya da da da dat dat da ya da!”