My Contribution to Humankind

Deep in the tangled weeds of today’s early morning, between the time I awoke at 2:30 and the time I finally accepted that I had lost another good night’s sleep, I stumbled across a reason to be glad about my insomnia: a book entitled The Cabinet of Linguistic Curiosities: A Yearbook of Forgotten Words. The book, published in the UK, is available online from Amazon and others for around $20, including shipping from the UK. Though I find it appealing, I have better things to do with my $20; but I wish I could justify making a trip to London to pick up a copy and save on the shipping costs. The author/compiler (Paul Anthony Jones) presents 366 words or phrases, one for each day of the year (including February 29). Jones offers up fascinating words like ambilaevous (adj.), meaning equally clumsy in both hands, and word-grubber (n.), someone who uses obscure or difficult words in everyday conversation. The discovery of The Cabinet of Linguistic Curiosities led to other linguistic gemstones mined from the book by BBC, including these (selected by BBC among twenty-six words they don’t want our language to lose):

Agerasia (pronounced ‘adge-uh-ray-zee-ah’), a more youthful appearance than one’s true age (derived from a Greek word for ‘eternal youth’).
Beard-second, based on the same template as ‘light-year’, one ‘beard-second’ is the approximate length a man’s beard hair grows in one second: five nanometres.
Charette, a period of intense work or creative activity undertaken to meet a deadline; this word recently found its way into the Hot Springs Village Property Owners Association’s lexicon, where it’s being used to describe a series of public meetings designed to generate ideas for a “master plan” for our community.
Eucatastrophe, a sudden and unexpected fortuitous event. JRR Tolkien, who coined the word in 1944, defined it as “the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears.”
Proditomania, the irrational belief that everyone around you is a traitor; the unnerving feeling that you’re surrounded by people out to get you.
Spanghew, to inflate a frog and bowl it across the surface of a pond. (I cannot believe the word is not in more common use.)

I have been actively absorbed by langualust since I was a child, but I was never as bright as Levi Budd, a precocious six-year-old Canadian who noticed the gaping absence of a term to describe words that form different words when spelled backwards (e.g., spoons-snoops, stop-pots, spit-tips). So, he coined his own: levidrome. I’ve been a fan of neologisms ever since I first heard the term used in my Linguistics 101 class in college (I have no idea the context, but I do think I recall that’s where I first heard it). Speaking of palindromes…I coined the phrase “automotive palindrome” to describe the state in which a car’s odometer reads the same from left to right and right to left, as in 100001 miles or 51515. That will probably be remembered as the greatest contribution I made to humankind.

So, in spite of being enmeshed in what I think is at least the third straight night of sleep interrupted by insomnia, I’m smiling now at the world of words.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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