Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Wondrous Words Wednesday (Or, Book Review: Reading the OED: One Man,One Year, 21,730 Pages)

Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages - by Ammon Shea

(I thought this would be a fun review to do for Wondrous Words Wednesday, which is a weekly meme hosted by Kathy over on her wonderful blog, Bermudaonion where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our reading. Feel free to join in the fun.)

"If you are interested in vocabulary that is both spectacularly useful and beautifully useless, read on," writes Ammon Shea in this wonderful book, an account of the year that he spent reading the Oxford English Dictionary. "I have read the OED so that you don't have to."

Ammon Shea loves words. He also loves dictionaries, and has amassed quite the collection. "By last count, I have about a thousand volumes of dictionaries, thesauri, and assorted glossaries," he writes, adding, somewhat unbelievably, that he doesn't view these 1,000 volumes of dictionaries as qualifying as a collection.

Even more remarkable is that the Oxford English Dictionary - which he purchased all twenty volumes of, mind you - is not the first dictionary he's read. (I pity Ammon Shea's mailman, who probably wished he had called out sick on the Monday morning that he brought five boxes of the Oxford English Dictionary - a total of 150 pounds - up a flight of stairs.)

There's only one way to pay homage to a book about one man's determination to read the entire dictionary - the Oxford English Dictionary, no less, all 21,730 pages of it. Because Ammon Shea includes, with much wit and amusement, many of the obscure and bizarre words that he came across in his perusal of the dictionary, I thought I would randomly select one word from each letter of the alphabet ... and try and write this review using these new (to me) 26 words.

Shall we begin? (Don't worry, I'll forgive you if you become a cachinnator while reading this baltering review.)

Reading the entire dictionary from beginning to end could be terriculament for most people, viewing it as a longueur. Either that or one could turn into a sansculottic noceur in order to finish it. Indeed, it is immutual for myself and the author, and I would be a minimifidian as to whether I could stick with this for an entire year, as Shea did. I would also imagine it would be a bit of of a kankedort for a significant other to discuss with others - kind of like the unpleasant experience of watching a couple halfpennyworth in public - unless you are Shea's lexiographer girlfriend (or perhaps his wife, maybe a opsigamy situation?).

Never an ultra-crepidarian, Ammon Shea relates the experience of reading the dictionary, which is an agathokakological experience at times - probably not unlike that of being a deipnosophist (but still better than suffering from empleomania). I'd imagine whether to continue with this project may have been a quaesitum for Shea, who read the OED for upwards of eight hours every day. (I'd imagine there was lot of pandiculation going on!)

I can't be a zoilus about Shea's effort, and I admit I do have a healthy amount of velleity about this whole thing. I enjoyed "Reading the OED," a repertitious find at the library (although I would have liked it as a xenium) and was finifugal at it's conclusion, wanting to be introduced to more than the yepsen of new words I learned. (Kind of as one would be at a delicious jentacular gramaungere that you can only visit the buffet once.)

Whew! Assuming some of these words are new to you, too, here are the definitions:

agathokakological - adj. - made up of both good and evil

balter - v. - to dance clumsily
cachinnator - n. a person who laughs too loud or too much

deipnosophist - n - a person who is learned in the art of dining

empleomania - n. - a manic compulsion to hold public office
finifugal - adj. - shunning the end of anything
gramaungere - n. -a superb or great meal

halfpennyworth - v. to bicker over minute expenses
immutual - adj. - not mutual
jentacular - adj. - of or pertaining to breakfast

kankedort - n. - an awkward situation or affair
longueur - n. - a long or boring piece of writing
minimifidian - n. - a person who has the bare minimum of faith (in something)
noceur - n. - a dissolute and licentious person; a person who stays up late at night
opsigamy - n. - marrying late in life
pandiculation - n. - the act of stretching and extending the limbs, in tiredness or waking
quaesitum - n.- the answer to a problem; the thing that is looked for
repertitious - adj. - found by chance or accident
sansculottic - adj. clothed inadequately, or in some improper fashion
terriculament - v. - to inspire one with groundless fear
ultra-crepidarian - n. - one who offers advice or criticism in matters beyond his scope; an ignorant or presumptuous critic

velleity - n. - a mere wish or desire for something without accompanying action or effort
xenium - n. a gift given to a guest
yepsen - n. - the amount that can be held in two hands cupped together; also, the two cupped hands themselves
zoilus - n. -an envious critic

My rating: I love words, and I love this amusingly quirky book, which I'm giving 5 out of 5 stars.

Other bloggers who have read this include:


The Book Lady's Blog

The QC Report


bermudaonion said...

This is a fantastic post! I love the way your reviewed the book and I'm impressed that you were able to use so many words from the book in it. Yepsen is a great word - now if I can just remember it. Thanks for participating today!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a fun book! And this is the ultimate Wondrous Words post!