Word hoards

A collocation of dictionaries

I love words. (You may possibly have noticed.) It’s one of the delights of reading, not just the storyline or characters but the way that sentences and phrases break down before being reassembled, the collocations or how their constituent words are juxtaposed or arranged.

I’m partial to commas, colons, brackets and semicolons (again, you might have noticed) because the more that words and phrases are put together in different relationships the richer the language becomes. So much nicer than the jumble of clichés that we customarily read, hear, write and say, at least to my way of thinking. (Of course, it’s almost impossible not to avoid those habitual collocations — as, for example, erm, my way of thinking.)

And let’s not forget the secondary meaning of ‘collocation’, literally ‘the positioning of things side by side’. I present above a conflation of both definitions, a collocation of dictionaries. You’re now itching to know the background to those volumes, are you not?

Continue reading “Word hoards”

Mischievous, not misleading

giuseppemariacrespi_bookshelves
Giuseppe Maria Crespi’s Bookshelves (Wikimedia)

Edwin Moore and Fiona Mackenzie Moore
Concise Dictionary of Art and Literature
Tiger Books International 1993

With entries ranging from Alvar Aalto to Francisco Zurbarán spread over 440-plus pages this is my kind of book, whether I’m dipping in, looking up a specific reference or finding that one entry leads to another. The clues are in the book’s title: there are short paragraphs on artists and writers, on artistic schools and techniques and on writing styles and genres.

Opening a double page at random I find a discussion (page 340) on Realism in both literature and art which includes references to George Eliot, Courbet, Gorky and Magic Realism; on the opposite page I can read about Redskins and Palefaces — not an obscure title by Arthur Ransome but a phrase to distinguish those who write about the outdoors (such as Hemingway) and those who focus on ‘indoor’ matters (Henry James is cited) — and, lower down the page, I find a note about relief sculpture in all its forms.

I’m assuming that Fiona Mackenzie Moore contributed the art entries and Edwin Moore the literary items, as the former also wrote the 1992 Dictionary of Art, while the latter, according to the Guardian, is a former senior editor who spent 18 years working in non-fiction publishing and now writes reference books. The literature entries are often characterised by sly humour and dry observations, such as this entry for Fiona Macleod:
Continue reading “Mischievous, not misleading”

More Dido lingo

whale-ships
19th-century whalers processing whale blubber

In “Croopus! A Dido Twite Lexicon” I listed some of Dido’s colourful language in the Wolves Chronicles, some of it genuine — variously Cockney and from other parts of Britain — and some of it Joan Aiken’s own invention (which, oddly enough, often seemed perfectly genuine). There undoubtedly were the inevitable omissions and, as further novels in the series are read, there’ll naturally be additions. Here’s the first of what will probably be part of an ongoing exercise (expect more addenda as time goes by) listing terms used by Dido in Night Birds on Nantucket. Continue reading “More Dido lingo”

Croopus! A Dido Twite Lexicon

Young Joan Aiken (photo: http://joanaiken.com/pages/gallery.html)
Young Joan Aiken (photo: http://joanaiken.com/pages/gallery.html)

Joan Aiken’s The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (1962) has already achieved recognition as a modern children’s classic, and quite rightly too. It spawned a dozen or more sequels, all set in an alternate history universe (“uchronia”) in a world a little like ours but with some alternative geography (“paracosm”). The majority of them feature that wonderful Cockney sparrow Dido Twite, though she didn’t appear till the second volume, Black Hearts in Battersea, only to seemingly drown.

I started taking notes on the sequence in 2012, fifty years after the first story appeared, but never got round to reviewing all the titles. In preparation for a re-read I intend to publish some of those notes on this blog in the hopes they may be of interest to diehard fans as well as to new readers yet to fall under Aiken’s spell. This first occasional post is about Dido’s colourful lexicon, and here I acknowledge the influence of Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable (this first appeared in 1870, though my edition dates from the 1980s) and The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (re-issued in facsimile in 1994). Here it is then:

Dido’s Dictionary of Phrase and Lingo
Continue reading “Croopus! A Dido Twite Lexicon”

How to speak improper

A plate of oysters by Thomas Rowlandson (1757-1827) Oyster: "a gob of thick phlegm, spit by a consumptive man"
A Plate of Oysters by Thomas Rowlandson (1757-1827) http://www.chrisbeetles.com/gallery/cartoon/plate-oysters.html
Oyster: “a gob of thick phlegm, spit by a consumptive man”

The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue
Foreword by Max Harris
Senate / Studio Editions 1994 (1811)

No, that’s not good enough. The title page of the original (a facsimile is included in this edition) is much more informative as well as entertaining, and is worth reproducing, after a fashion.

Lexicon Balatronicum
=========

A
DICTIONARY
OF
Buckish Slang, University Wit,
AND
PICKPOCKET ELOQUENCE.

==========
Compiled originally by Captain Grose.

AND NOW CONSIDERABLY ALTERED AND ENLARGED,
WITH
THE MODERN CHANGES AND IMPROVEMENTS,
BY A
MEMBER OF THE WHIP CLUB.
ASSISTED BY
Hell-Fire Dick, and James Gordon, Esqrs. of Cambridge; and William
Soames, Esq. of the Hon. Society of Newman’s Hotel.

So just what is this Lexicon Balatonicum and what was its purpose? To answer the last first: it was a spoof dictionary, a compilation of obscure and not so obscure words and phrases put together for a laugh. The clue is in its first title: Continue reading “How to speak improper”

No Zeroes here

Willem P Gerritsen, Anthony G van Melle editors
Tanis Guest translator
A Dictionary of Medieval Heroes
Boydell Press 2000

Anglophone Arthurians should from time to time contemplate a different European perspective on the Matter of Britain and its contemporary analogues, and this Dictionary of Medieval Heroes (with the snappy subtitle Characters in Medieval Narrative Traditions and their Afterlife in Literature, Theatre and the Visual Arts) by two Dutch academics gives just such an opportunity. Here we are introduced to such figures as Aiol, Berte aux Grands Pieds, Heimbrecht, Parthonopeus of Blois and Ruodlieb, heroes and heroines certainly previously unfamiliar to this reader but popular with a significant proportion of medieval European readership, featuring in tales that certainly stand comparison with accounts of Arthur, Galahad, Gawain, Merlin or Perceval.

This is a very user-friendly edition for English-speakers: Continue reading “No Zeroes here”