Rushville Republican

Columns

September 27, 2012

The Web-ster’s Wacky Word World

RUSHVILLE — I’m gettin’ my plans together for a major par-TAY on October 16th! I plan to enter several Random Houses, break out my Funk and Wagnall it around! We’re gonna have a Merriam old time!

You guessed it – it’s Dictionary Day once again!

Okay, so maybe you’ve never heard of Dictionary Day. Neither had I until a couple hours ago when I promised No. 3 son twenty bucks for a slam-bang column idea. The best he could do was “Dictionary Day,” celebrated every October 16th, the day the famous American dictionary guy Noah Webster was born.

Yeah, Noah Webster, the one pictured on the (fake) $20 bill I gave No. 3 for this slam-bang column idea.

This year’s Dictionary Day is extra special, because 2012 is also the 206th anniversary of the first dictionary created in America, by the Web-ster himself, of course. That 1806 book succeeded in making bold new rules for lexicography (the study of lexicons), for etymology (the study of etyms) and, most of all, for spelling.

See, Webster was on a mission to rid our English of English. That is, to make uniquely American spellings of words those hoity-toity Brits had brung over. For example, he dropped one of the “l’s” in “traveller” (“What the ‘l’”? said the Brits). He made words like “centre” read “center” (What nreve!” wailed the Brits). He even booted the “u” out of words like “colour” and “honour” (“The horrour!” cried the Brits).

Of course, not all of Webster’s new-fangled language ideas stuck. Some spellings that never caught on included “iz,” “yeer,” “tung,” and “wimmen.” (He really published these.)

If you could hold that first small dictionary (6-1/2” by 4”) next to today’s immense Merriam-Webster, I’m sure you think, as I did, “So who the heck was Merriam?”

There are multiple answers to that question, not counting “Who cares?” which No. 4 son said when I asked him. Actually, the multiple answers are “George and Charles,” the Merriam brothers who published the first revised edition of Webster’s dictionary in 1847, and made gajillions of dollars off it and its successors.

(I was hoping like heck that Webster’s Merriam was the late Governor of Minnesota, proper name William, nickname – honest, now – “Spooky.”)

When I look through newly-published dictionaries, I always look first for the word that I and my high school buddies Don Hale and Dave Clark tried to invent: “spunt.” For two years, we randomly planted “spunt” on bulletin boards, chalkboards, mimeographed tests, and other public places throughout the school. We intentionally gave it no meaning or definition – kind of like my weekly columns. We wanted to see what meaning it might evolve on its own. Since it never caught on, I think it’s safe to say that “spunt” means “nothing.”

Still, there are lots of words that, despite the best efforts of politicians, do mean something. And on the pages of a dictionary, they’re sometimes joined in eye-catching ways.

For example, here are actual word pairs found in my 37-year old Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary. These are from the top corners of the dictionary pages, where the first and last words found on that page are placed together:

Let’s start with these, featuring words from entirely different points on the mood spectrum: “Purr-Pustulant; “Pit Saw-Placid”; “Lemony-Leprosy”; “Grimy-Groomer.”

Whereas these couplets occupy the same exact point on the mood spectrum: “Scour-Scratchy”; “Slug-Smack”; “Waste-Water Closet.”

This one made me think of a stupid mouse that roamed around a house I once lived in and persistently evaded capture: “Robustious-Rodent.”

Here’s how my kids label pictures of me with them: “Offspring-Old.”

If you’re overpowered by stinky cheese, you probably have “Limburger-Limpness.”

Illustrated in the dictionary by a picture of my beloved Chicago Cubs: “Loser-Loveable.”

A padded bra?: “Figure-Filler.”

Illustrated by a picture of me: “Ideal-Idiot.”

These mean spunt, but they just sound funny: “Nonprofit-Nootkas”; “Fruit-Fug”; “Busty-Buttinsky”; “Booger-Boot.”

The sum total of the estate I’ll leave my kids: “Inheritable-Inkwell.”

A good deed that you wind up regretting: “Fathead-Favor.”

Something my kids dread I’ll do in my old age: “Diaper-Dibbling.”

An impeccable prosecution eyewitness: “Defense-Deflator.”

A really good complainer: “Crackerjack-Crank.”

A rubber-stamp legislature: “Conformational-Congress.”

When you spill the wine: “Bungle-Burgundy.”

A really crowded, really sweaty, really sticky disco: “Agglutinative--A-Go-Go.”

What this column probably did to you, dear reader (sorry!): “Insult-Intelligent.”

TakefiveT5@yahoo.com

1
Text Only
Columns
  • There's something about Maryland My family unit has just returned from a death march – oops, make that, “vacation” – in Annapolis, Maryland. In spite of constant 96-degree temps (though it dropped as low as 95.7 at night), and the stifling humidity, we had lots of dolgurn fun. Mainl

    July 22, 2014

  • Learning to say goodbye From as far back as I can remember, saying hello has been a part of nearly each day.During my youth, it was used when I met new people my parents introduced me to and was frequently followed by a handshake. I couldn’t count the number of times I used

    July 18, 2014

  • Lessons from the largely forgotten war As we approach the official date on which the First World War started, July 28, 1914, when the first shots were fired by the Austro-Hungarians who invaded Serbia, it’s appropriate to think about the lessons that catastrophic event has taught us one h

    July 15, 2014

  • Please go away My wife is planning our summer vacation, which we will take in the fall. We took our spring vacation this summer. We got behind in 1984 and still haven’t caught up. I don’t have much input into the planning of these trips, but Mary Ellen did assign m

    July 15, 2014

  • Soothing '60's Surf Sounds I’m sitting in my home office enjoying a serenade of rhythmic pulsations emanating from the outside wall. It’s coming from our water spigot. No. 5 son (age 13) and his buddies are using it to fill water balloons. 1,500 water balloons to be exact. 1,5

    July 15, 2014

  • Soccer-stopping Storm a Lousy Treat What a great way to spend a Saturday morning in July: I’m sitting in my car with rain cascading on the roof, lightning skittering all over the sky, and thunder sockin’ it to the atmosphere with such force that I feel a rumbling in my bum.I’m staring

    July 8, 2014

  • Only in America - Top 10 As we move into the glorious months of summer, I thought you might be amused by reading the Top Ten List of what Canadians supposedly think of how things are going in this country. It’s a lot like David Letterman’s “top ten list.”Number 10: Only in A

    July 8, 2014

  • Government today is way too intrusive What ever happened to the America of my youth? That great country that was indeed the jewel of the common person of the world. The country where one could actually, through hard work and industry, make a good living and actually have the OPPORTUNITY

    July 8, 2014

  • Gone in the blink of an eye Over the holiday weekend I was able to enjoy three days, (somewhat) off work. Three day weekends are always a highlight for me and I am sure most of you will agree.I went fishing to wrap up my Sunday evening. While sitting in the old John boat castin

    July 8, 2014

  • Mum Mum If my grandmother were alive today, she would be 125, and she would still, no doubt, be walking around in her six-inch-high heels, the ones she asked to be buried in—and she’d have a Marlboro in her fingers. She demanded to be called Mum Mum because

    July 3, 2014

Featured Ads
AP Video
'Modern Family' Star on Gay Athletes Coming Out MN Twins Debut Beer Vending Machine DA: Pa. Doctor Fired Back at Hospital Gunman Raw: Iowa Police Dash Cam Shows Wild Chase Obama Seeks Limits on US Company Mergers Abroad Large Family to Share NJ Lottery Winnings U.S. Flights to Israel Resume After Ban Lifted Official: Air Algerie Flight 'probably Crashed' TSA Administrator on Politics and Flight Bans Raw: National Guard Helps Battle WA Wildfires Raw: Ukraine's Donetsk Residents Flee Senators Push to End Hamas Threat in Cease-Fire A Young Victim's Premonition, Hug Before MH17 Raw: Deadly Storm Hits Virginia Campground Death Penalty Expert: 'This is a Turning Point' Raw: MH17 Victim's Bodies Arrive in Netherlands Raw: Families Travel to Taiwan Plane Crash Site Arizona Execution Takes Almost Two Hours Crash Kills Teen Pilot Seeking World Record
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.