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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

“Weird and Wonderful Words”, by Erin McKean, illustrated by Roz Chast, forward by Simon Winchester

132 pages, Oxford University Press, ISBN-13: 978-0195159059

Weird and Wonderful Words is an informative, entertaining and amusing reference that explains the meaning of hundreds of the most bizarre, astonishing and interesting words that, although technically a part of the English lexicon, have been laid aside from our everyday conversations and are now forgotten and waiting to be found. For instance, do you have a gongoozler (an idler staring at any kind of activity in your neighborhood?) Is your aunt a bablatrice (a female babbler?) Are you eager to enhance your scibility (the power of knowing?) Then prepare your pluteus (a shelf for books) for this small amusingly ostrobogulous (bizarre, unusual, or interesting) volume. Organized alphabetically and in dictionary format, each entry, written in a conversational style, provides a clear definition of a specific word. It often includes the word’s origin and is sometimes accompanied by a drawing that serves to illustrate both the word’s meaning and its usage and may just squeeze a squirk (a half-suppressed laugh) or a chortle out of you. This book is a handy reference for those who get a kick out of wordplay and for those who want to add some spice to their conversation and/or writing. You can read it studiously from front to back or just peruse it in a random fashion. In-between these letter-designated chapters are more juicy pieces of two-page word trivia with such headings as Irregular and Incredible Illnesses, Freakish and Fantastic Fornications, Exceptional and Extraordinary X-es, and so on. At the end of the book are tips on how to create your own words (should you need help with that); a Logophile’s Bibliography, a short directory of dictionaries (basic, in-depth, and for modern English usage), and a short list of reference books of word knowledge and language builders. The only thing missing from this volume is a pronunciation guide, but otherwise it is the perfect way to discover, by either direct consultation or casual browsing, the unusual words like ascesis, passiuncle and illywhacker, that (used) to decorate our language.

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