The obscure word of the week’s sources

This week I thought I’d share some of the sources for my obscure words. They come from several places but mostly my collection of dictionaries, which includes Webster’s Unabridged Third New International and the 11-volume First Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, which I have in its two-volume micro-print edition of 1970 – four pages per page, plus a handy magnifying glass.

The thing about English, of course, is that it is a constantly evolving language. Much of its vocabulary has been pinched from other languages, of course – English is the jack-daw of languages, a language that hunts other languages down, mugs them for vocabulary, and then riffles their pockets for anything that might have escaped. And if a word isn’t around, English speakers are usually adept at inventing one to suit. A certain William Shakespeare was particularly good at it. Lately we’ve been deluged by a whole raft of neologisms thanks to technologies that demanded new words to describe them – or which pillaged old words and used them in new ways.

The upshot is that there are plenty of new words, words that fall out of favour and are lost, and other words that have been around a while, but which nobody’s usually heard of. It’s estimated that there are up to a million distinct words in it, of which most people typically wouldn’t use more than 10,000 in ordinary conversation. So there are plenty of obscure words around.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2020

2 thoughts on “The obscure word of the week’s sources

  1. When I left my workplace on retirement, there was a 2-volume Oxford dictionary (abridged edition, I suspect–no magnifying glass needed) up for grabs, so it went with me. I’ve had a huge Random House dictionary (6 inches thick and about 12 by 10 inches when closed) for decades. I have to admit, though, when I need to look up a definition or spelling these day, I just google it.

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    1. I must admit I tend to use Google too when I’m writing, if I need – it’s faster than walking across the room, getting out the magnifying glass, and doing some weightlifting with the OED. I keep thinking Shakespeare had the right idea – if there wasn’t a word, he’d make one up…

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