I’ve been running my ‘obscure word of the week’ series for quite a while. I’m in no danger of running out, either – English has over a million words in it, most of which are pretty obscure, one way or another.
I thought I’d mention where I am getting these from. I have various sources which include the entire original 11-volume Oxford English Dictionary, which I happen to have in my bookshelf. Specifically, I’ve got the 1971 ‘compact’ version, which has 171,476 current words and 47,156 obsolete ones. Large parts of it are older – this started as a nineteenth century project. J. R. R. Tolkien, apparently, defined ‘walrus’ when he worked for it after the First World War.
Of course English keeps on evolving – and to meet that I also keep a weather eye out on the interwebs. But for the most part, the OED is a wonderful source that never stops giving, particularly when it comes to the older words and their origins.
For me, obscure words and how they evolved are endlessly fascinating, because they paint a picture of the evolution of language – mostly it’s about how English pursues other languages down dark alleys, mugs them for vocabulary and then riffles their pockets for more. Not to mention the wonderful contribution of Mr Wm. Shakespeare, Esq, who – if he didn’t have a word for what he wanted – would usually make one up. Bedroom for instance. Nobody agrees on exactly how many he actually invented – anything from around 420 to 1700 has been cited. But they apparently include words such as: disgraceful, equivocal, futurity and (wait for it) kickie-wickie.
Do you like obscure words? What do you find interesting in them?
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2019