Reviews

Prepare to Be Logofascinated by Paul Anthony Jones' 'Word Drops'

What conversation wouldn’t be improved by the inclusion of the word kummerspeck, which is defined as “excess weight gained through comfort eating” but literally means “bacon-grief”?


Word Drops: A Sprinkling of Linguistic Curiosities

Publisher: University of New Mexico Press
Length: 216 pages
Author: Paul Anthony Jones
Price: $19.95
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 2016-04
Amazon

Are you logofascinated?

Author Paul Anthony Jones is, and most likely his book Word Drops: A Sprinkling of Linguistic Curiosities will make more people fall in love with words. After all, Jones is not only logofascinated (spellbound by language); he’s also logodaelalus (someone who is “cunning in their use of words”).

Jones presents all things logo in the introduction to Word Drops -- including the less than appealing logodiarrhoea (a flow of words). Even though logodiarrheoa isn’t the prettiest of terms, it does nothing to diminish the brightness of Jones’ work. For word lovers, Word Drops may provide a much needed reminder of just how fabulous language really can be.

Let’s face it -- in today’s world, it’s tempting to say language isn’t as much fun as it used to be. We seem to live in a world dominated by images, memes, acronyms, emoticons, and hashtags. That’s not to say that it can’t be amusing to talk about some of the latest additions to various dictionaries. Consider this blurb from the OED website: "The June 2016 update sees the inclusion of over 1,000 new words and senses in the Oxford English Dictionary, along with the revision or expansion of almost 2,000 entries. Additions this June include glamp, starchitect, starter marriage, and ROFL."

It’s easy to make fun of words like glamping or the bro fascination (bromance, brocabulary, etc.), which seems to be another linguistic trend. Still, looking at the most recent OED additions isn’t exactly like perusing Lewis Carroll’s poem “Jabberwocky”, which gave us (in addition, of course, to the word Jabberwock) words like galumphing, chortle, and snicker-snack. It’s not ever like singing along to Mary Poppins and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”, which -- fun fact -- is included in Microsoft word’s dictionary. Words like bro-hug and vlog (which were added to the OED in March 2016) just don’t seem as clever, however.

Jones takes us back in time, and his love of language and engaging writing provides a reminder of how fun, whimsical, puzzling, and enjoyable language is. That said, Jones admits most probably aren’t quite as logofascinated as he is: “I openly admit that reading a dictionary cover to cover might not be everyone’s idea of a Christmas (or indeed any day) well spent -- and in retrospect that level of nerdishly obsessive logofascination probably outsteps Urguhard’s original definition -- but I can be consoled by the fact that, as a lover of language, I am by no means alone.”

Jones certainly isn’t alone; his Twitter feed, which also focuses on language and etymology, has almost 20,000 followers. Word Drops isn’t really a dictionary, either. As Jones explains in the introduction:

In compiling these early bare bones of Word Drops, it soon became apparent that clutches of tweeted trivia seemed somehow to work -- or rather ‘drop’ -- together. The fact that, for instance, the Jerusalem of Jerusalem artichoke is actually the Italian word for ‘sunflower,’ girasole, appeared to sit perfectly beside the old French idiom avoir un coeur d’artichaut, ‘to have a heart like an artichoke,’ which describes someone who seems fickly to fall in love with everyone they meet. And speaking of artichokes…

Some of the entries in Word Drops would definitely fit into Twitter’s 140 character limit; take, for example, these little nuggets: “Pumpernickel means ‘farting goblin’” or “In Japanese, a cat sitting on all its paws held under its body is called kobako-zuwari, meaning ‘sitting like a incense box.’”

Other selections are much longer. The entry for sooterkin (a “monstrous mouselike creature supposedly borne by women who sit on stovetops during pregnancy”) is over a page long and includes both history and rational, which is appropriate and necessary -- because a definition that involves monsters and pregnant women sitting on stovetops calls for an explanation.

Sometimes language can have a life of its own. Take the term "bushusuru", which Jones explains is a Japanese word meaning “to vomit in public”. The literal translation, though, is “to do a Bush”. The term became popular when President George H.W. Bush vomited (very publicly) during a dinner in Tokyo in 1993.

A few entries don’t even contain definitions; they are simply linguistic trivia. Jones lets us know that St. Lucia is the only country named after a woman and that Swedish didn’t become the official language of Sweden until 2009.

Many entries will just have people trying to figure out how to work words into their everyday lives. After all, what conversation wouldn’t be improved by the inclusion of the word honeyfuggle, which means to trick or deceive, or kummerspeck, which is defined as “excess weight gained through comfort eating” but literally means “bacon-grief”?

Even with all the fun, there’s still a lot to think about. If the term cackle-berry, which Jones notes meant eggs in American slang, had really caught on, would eggs still be such a popular food? Would people in 2016 order cackle-berries for brunch? Or what about the word octothorp, which Jones identifies as an “alternate name” for the hash or number sign? Octothorp tag just doesn’t have quite the same ring as hashtag. A question kept nagging me as I read Word Drops. A hundred years, from now will someone be writing another book about linguistic curiosities that talks about how words like glamp or bromance came into existence? What new words will be added then, that we haven't even dreamed up, yet?

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