Monday, March 15, 2010


Yesterday's New York Times Magazine featured an interesting "On Language" column. It was about the never-waning popularity of vocabulary-building books. The writer Ammon Shea is an expert in vocabulary enhancement. He recently published a book about spending one year of his life reading every entry in the Oxford English Dictionary. Shea explains that, for centuries, publishers have been trying to entice people into buying vocabulary-building books in order to better themselves, to raise themselves and their children to higher standards of living, and presumably, public speaking. Shea regrets that the pursuit of words is the result of a desire for socio-economic gain instead of the joy of rolling the words around in one's brain or one's mouth. Words, to him, are like fine chocolates.

In the course of the article, Shea mentions a handful of rare and obscure words from early dictionaries compiled in the early to mid 1600s, words that never entered mainstream use. When you read them, you'll see why. Here are the ones that caught my eye:

desticate: "to cry like a rat"
catillate: "to lick dishes"
brochity: "having crooked teeth"
groak: "to stare at someone in silence while he or she eats in expectation of being given some food"

Now, as a dog owner, I see reason to use at least three of these words all the time. Does my dog not groak me every morning as I scrape my spoon on the bottom of the yogurt container? Does she not catillate said yogurt container when I put it on the floor for her? When she tries to wake me in the morning with her teeny, tiny whimpers, is she not desticating? Are we not headed for doggie orthodontia this week because of her brochity? (Actually, it a cracked tooth, not a crooked one. Still.) Clearly, Muzzy is a dog suited to a 17th-century vocabulary.

Vitulations  (Wanton rejoicing) to all! -z

1 comment:

  1. Groaking! I love that one. Did you know that reading blogs is an *excellent* way to enhance your vocabularosity?


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