Sunday, 19 December 2010

Great Hairy Ruins

I wish I could read dictionaries properly. Well, obviously I can read them; I just can't pronounce all the words. They have little symbols above letters which inform one - for example - whether the o is short or long (apparently). Only I can't read the symbols. It's some sort of code, I believe.

I went looking for an explanation and found this, which only made my head hurt.

Thesaurus is one of those words I never really know how to pronounce. Is it thes-aur-us as in tyrannosaurus? Or thes-aur-us as in - well, I can't think of an example.

(In my younger days, I once got into a terrible muddle with a clitoris. I thought the stress fell on the 'or' which isn't good when one is trying to give directions.)

I am thinking about dictionaries today because one of the Sunday papers ran an article on a new book based on A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, published in 1785 by Captain Francis Grose. I cannot give you a link to the article as the paper thinks readers should pay for the privilege of being subjected to advertisements for Mercedes Benz motorcars, but I can give you the link to the text of the original book. Here! And don't blame me if you are lost for days wandering amongst totty-headed mopsies, sosse brangles, twiddle poops and fribbles ... Welcome, in fact, to Blowsabella's Pitstop.

By the way, I am hugely amused to read that Capn. Grose was ably assisted by one Hell-fire Dick, Esq. of Cambridge. Now, there's a name that lingers on the tongue.

Slang is a funny affair. Many of Cap'n Grose's words lollop from the mouth charmingly and yet their meanings are lost to us. Modern slang is not nearly so lovely. For example, Twitter is an online thingum - O, I don't know, look it up. Anyway, Twits are people who use Twitter. They tweet to each other. I tweet/you tweet/he/she/it tweets. Twits whose tweets are read by lots of other twits are called The Twitterati. Some of them are Twats - that's past tense, not gratuitous swearing.* And all of this appears (a.k.a. masquerading as News) in respectable broadsheets without a raised eyebrow. Even Cap'n Grose showed greater delicacy:

THINGSTABLE. Mr. Thingstable; Mr. Constable: a ludicrous affectation of delicacy in avoiding the pronunciation of the first syllable in the title of that officer, which in sound has some similarity to an indecent monosyllable.

Perhaps Mr Naughtie should refer to the Culture Secretary as Jeremy Thing?

Anthony Buckeridge knew that slang was ephemeral and invented his own for the boys at Linbury Court School. Ozard (meaning bad) is the opposite of wizard (meaning good). Anyone at all clumsy, irritating or slow on the uptake is a great hairy ruin - which I'm campaigning to bring back into general usage (with some difficulty, I might add).

My society, the Campaign for Usage of Non-standard Terms (abbreviated to T.H.I.N.G. for obvious reasons) will be launched in the New Year. In the meantime, please consider joining Save The Words.

O, and if anyone can tell me another name for thesaurus I'd be ever so grateful.

* And the band played Believe It If You Will.


  1. This is great. Project Gutenberg has been a favourite place to visit, for many years. Of course, now, you can download the texts to your e-reader, for free!

  2. Loved the ‘Save the Words’ link, Moptop. I selected and adopted ‘Frutescent’ as in ‘having the appearance of a shrub’.

    On the subject of frutescent , gentlemen and boats , forgive me for being an addle pate but when I fall across an Athanasian Wench I try to open my vowels and stress the ‘ahhh’ rather than the ‘or’.

    Yuletide blessings.

  3. I find there's nothing a clitORis likes better than being got into a muddle over... especially with the assistance of 'one Hell-fire Dick.'

    I always think of you as a literary Nigella, and this post has done nothing to dispel that image!

  4. Perhaps because his name was Boris?

    Finding another term for thesAURus (as I know it) is a bit like describing a smell without referring to another smell. Or maybe not.

    Excellent post, Moptop. Merry Christmas to you!!

  5. @ Martin - churlishly, I rejected the offer of an e-reader this Christmas in favour of Book Tokens. Now I am trying to weedle the Kindle back - to download my book AND keep it.

    @ Tinker - do you have the appearance of a shrub, Sir? If so, it will be an evergreen. But, yes, an Ahhh is far preferable to an Orrr.

    @ Bébé - I taught Nigella everything she knows, darling.

    @ Deborah - Your homework is to write an ode to an Orange without mentioning the word orange.