4

The Ten Best Words in Johnson’s Dictionary

Samuel Johnson’s A Dictionary of the English Language (1755) is better known as Johnson’s Dictionary, and is among the most influential dictionaries in the history of the English language. It’s also available online! Because I fully acknowledge that few people get as excited about dictionaries as I do, I’ve taken the liberty of pulling out my ten favourite definitions for you.

rhetorick

rhetorick: The act of speaking not merely with propriety, but with art and elegance.

crapulous: Drunken; intemperate; sick with intemperance.

affront

affront: 1. Insult offered to the face; contemptuous or rude treatment. 2. Outrage; act of contempt, in a more general sense. 3. Open opposition; encounter: a sense not frequent, though regularly deducible from the derivation. 4. Disgrace; shame. This sense is rather peculiar to the Scottish dialect.

I must confess that, with a little Scottish in my family, I find Johnson’s treatment of them amusing. However, he might not find them to so easily offended, if he didn’t put so much work into offending them!

warlock

warlock: A male witch; a wizzard. Warlock in Scotland is applied to a man whom the vulgar suppose to be conversant with spirits, as a woman who carries on the same commerce is called a witch: he is supposed to have the invulnerable quality which Dryden mentions, who did not understand the word.

pirate: 1. A sea-robber. 2. Any robber; particularly a bookseller who seizes the copies of other men.

At least Johnson also devotes some time to making fun of his own occupation.

dull: Not exhilaterating (sic); not delightful; as, to make dictionaries is dull work.

oats: A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.

lexicographer: A writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge that busies himself in tracing the original, and detailing the signification of words.

Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 11.19.38 PM

As well as the work of others like him.

booby: [a word of no certain eymology; Henshaw thinks it a corruption of bull-beef ridiculously; Skinner imagines it to be derived from bobo, foolish, Span. Junius finds bowbard to be an old Scottish word for a coward, a contemptible fellow; from which he naturally deduces booby; but the original of bowbard is not known.] A dull, heavy, stupid fellow; a lubber.

Support the project through my GoFundMe page, or visit my shop.

0

Writer’s Quote Wednesday

Welcome to my first Writer’s Quote Wednesday.

I encountered Wang’s site for the first time today, but those words just filled my heart, as I’ve been struggling with imposter syndrome lately. My advise to all the writers following the Dictionary Project: keep making what you’re making; it’s worth it.

Come back next Wednesday for more quotes.

Support the project through my GoFundMe page, or visit my shop.

0

the intentions and methods of a lexicographer

Photo on 1-27-15 at 5.21 PM

“Most early commentators on the Dictionary felt compelled to reflect on the author’s efforts in producing the work – not surprising, of course, for a lexicographer’s intentions and method’s are particularly relevant to the work’s authority and the critical reference within which the book may be understood, used, and interpreted.” Allen Reddick, The Making of Johnson’s Dictionary 1746-1773, 1993.

I do not wish to compare myself to Samuel Johnson, only to address what Reddick says about the intentions and methods of a lexicographer. I consider myself more of a lexophile than a lexicographer. The task I’ve set for myself is nothing compared to what Johnson did. I have countless dictionaries to consult that build on his work and others. To reinvent the English Dictionary from scratch would be pointless.

Samuel Johnson (18 September 1709 [O.S. 7 September] – 13 December 1784), often referred to as Dr Johnson, was an English writer who made lasting contributions to English literature as a poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer.

Samuel Johnson (18 September 1709 [O.S. 7 September] – 13 December 1784), often referred to as Dr Johnson, was an English writer who made lasting contributions to English literature as a poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer.

I’ve discussed my intentions elsewhere in this blog and on my crowdfunding page, but for those of you who are new to the Dictionary Project I will recap. The Dictionary of Victorian Insults & Niceties is an instructive resource for Victorianists, especially authors of historical fiction. It was inspired by authors’ questions about what to make their characters shout, when they wanted to say “fuck” in the 1800s. Depending on the character you are writing, the answer may very well be ‘fuck.’ That is what my dictionary sets out to teach you.

My methods for writing the dictionary involve consulting other dictionaries and thesauruses, as well as researching the ways in which words were used in the literature and press of the time. University libraries, Project Gutenberg, and online newspaper databases provide examples of how words were used. Oxford’s Historical Thesaurus is especially helpful, and I recommend it. It covers the entire history of the English language, whereas my little book will only cover 100 years – and only the words that need an explanation on usage.

Sir James Augustus Henry Murray (7 February 1837 – 26 July 1915) was a Scottish lexicographer and philologist. He was the primary editor of the Oxford English Dictionary from 1879 until his death.

Sir James Augustus Henry Murray (7 February 1837 – 26 July 1915) was a Scottish lexicographer and philologist. He was the primary editor of the Oxford English Dictionary from 1879 until his death.

Currently, I’m struggling with the construction, style, and layout of the thesaurus section of my dictionary, but am constantly working on and reviewing every part of this book. If you have any ideas, questions, or suggestions, feel free to contact me.

What am I fundraising for? The Dictionary of Victorian Insults & Niceties will hardly be a reliable resource if I don’t have a second and third pair of eyes edit the thing. I started the Dictionary as an eBook project, which is inexpensive, but I will be creating promotional materials, covering the cost of the design, and am working on a business plan to create hard copies for those who want them. In the meantime, I am absorbing costs myself, as I do not wish to go with a conventional publisher, who would increase the cost to you, my reader. I intend to give away lots of free downloads. I want the finished product to make it into the hands of everyone who can use it!

Support the project through my GoFundMe page, or visit my shop.

3

Home… Soil… Rain…

b41e68d2146a0afcf43f5be337941dcc

This is not exactly free association, but I’ve been inspired by the daily prompt to riff on home, soil, and rain with some Victorian words for you, as I look out my window and see nothing but snow.

Home played an integral role in Victorian culture. Victorian morality was built and maintained at home, and the home was presided over by those domestic angels, the wife and mother. ‘Householdy’ and ‘householdness’ were used the way millennials use ‘random’ and ‘addicting’ to describe things that aren’t random, or addictive, at all. (On a side note, ‘addictive’ is an adjective; if you put the suffix ‘ing’ on a word, it’s a verb.)

Boarding_house

In mid-nineteenth century American slang, a ‘drum’ was a house that was not a home, like a boarding house, or some other place that you slept regularly, but didn’t feel at home.

‘Home,’ in the larger sense of the word, isn’t just your house, but your town. ‘Ham’ was a Victorian abbreviation of ‘hamlet,’ and was recognized as meaning such as the suffix of popular surnames, like ‘Billingham.’ Around the time of the Boer War, the term ‘stad,’ with its Dutch roots, also increasingly referred to the town someone was from in English.

‘Soil’ also has feminine connotations because things grow inside Mother Earth. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the oldest recorded use of the term ‘Mother Earth’ refers to ‘her’ reproductive qualities.

“And all the while in bellie of His mother Earth it lies, The want of humour in the seede The moistie soile supplies.” – Mancinus & Dominicus, “The Plaine Path to Perfect Vertue,” 1568.

Doesn’t the Earth have enough problems without us throwing gender on it and debating its reproductive rights? Sometimes soil is just dirt.

It needs rain, which the Victorians enjoyed referring to as ‘waterworks,’ as in “The fireworks were put out by the waterworks.” Though, colloquially, that just makes us think of tears. When miserable people love company, our fireworks are extinguished by their waterworks.

Support the project through my GoFundMe page, or visit my shop.

1

Five of the Best Short Antique Movies You’ll Ever See

It’s Friday, we all need a break. Here are my favourite short YouTube videos on the late-Victorian/Edwardian Era.

1. The Ballad of Bess Houdini by Paul Vickers and The Leg: a music video about the wife of Harry Houdini. This one is not an antique, but it is one of my favourites.

2. Vancouver Street Scenes, 1907. It’s like someone got hold of a smart phone in 1907, and hopped a street car.

3. The May-Irwin Kiss, 1896. This 21-second video was the first romantic movie ever made!

4. Eugen Sandow, 1894. If you don’t know who Eugen Sandow is, check him out on my other blog.

And finally,

5. The first American science-fiction movie, A Trip to Mars, 1910.

Have a great weekend!

Support the project through my GoFundMe page, or visit my shop.

9

Old-fashioned Gender-neutral Terms of Endearment

If you know me, you know I’m the proud parent of a genderqueer artist. Learning to address someone you adore with gender-neutral pronouns is like learning to speak a second language. It challenges the way that you think about gender and identity. When you hear someone speaking your first language (referring to your loved one in old familiar terms), it is too easy to slip back into old ways of speaking, even though you are trying to show your loved one the respect they deserve.

f0d5c56aa5e396d38d0e437b42ab3611

Clearly, these changes to my language infiltrate the rest of my life. I’ve searched in vain for genderqueer folk in the nineteenth century, but have only been able to locate their trans and cross-dressing friends. ‘Genderqueerness,’ as a concept, didn’t exist yet. Victorian England was a very heterosexist gendered society, but they still had gender-neutral terms of endearment.

Many of the labels that signify closeness use gender to personalize the connection. For this reason, it is easy to think of gendered terms of endearment as ‘traditional,’ or more ‘natural,’ but even the Victorians were capable of expressing affection without binary language.

2d84c0cd34c438dbe8da4f73cb645436

A ‘cobber’ is a late victorian way of calling someone your ‘BFF.’ Likewise, ‘pally’ was a more affectionate way of saying ‘pal.’

Calling someone a ‘crackerjack’ was like calling them a pro, or super-talented. In fact, there are many contemporary ways to refer to someone affectionately by complimenting their abilities.

Though it has connotations of snobbery today, ‘fancypants’ was a way to compliment someone on their good looks.

Which brings us into romantic relationships, where your ‘mash’ is someone (of any gender) that you are infatuated with.

An ‘out-and-outer’ was a bold Victorian, but the term could be used to insult someone for being too outspoken about their beliefs. The Victorian Era was, after all, a time when referring to someone as a ‘squarehead’ was a way of saying they were honest. Out-and-outers were extraordinary people, who were reckless and beautiful. ‘Ripsnorter’ and ‘ripstaver’ were other ways of saying basically the same thing.

Leave your favourite gender-neutral terms of endearment in the comments.

Support the project through my GoFundMe page, or visit my shop.

3

Serenity through the ambiguity of language

serenity

Serenity‘ is an old word –  even for this dictionary. It dates back to 1525. It’s been spelled ‘serenyte,’ ‘serenitie,’ and ‘serenity.’ Someone once told me that they thought it meant peace. I think of it as a decadent kind of peacefulness, in which you can read and really listen to the words in your head.

“How can one be a quietist in London? I never get a moment’s real quiet. This morning I went to St Barnabas and thought I should be quiet there but carpenters came in and sawed wood until I went away.” – Constance Wilde, quoted in Frany Moyle, “Constance: the Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs Oscar Wilde,” (2014).

Typical of her time, Constance Wilde explored spirituality and meditation with a passion, she was looking for peace of mind to ease her poor health. Quietism seemed to me the greatest quest for serenity.

Quietism is a form of Christian worship, in which one seeks to become one with the divine. It is a form of meditation, thought to bring you closer to God.

Quietist philosophers view the discipline as broadly therapeutic or remedial, and feel that philosophy’s value is in resolving logical problems in other subjects, including other branches of philosophy. Intellectual quietude can be attained by resolving confusion of thought. Much of this confusion can be resolved through ascertaining the meaning of words, and the use of language. Quietist philosophers sought to attain a state of intellectual enlightenment by resolving thought and language problems.

Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein (26 April 1889 – 29 April 1951) was an Austrian-British philosopher who worked primarily in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language.

Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein (26 April 1889 – 29 April 1951) was an Austrian-British philosopher who worked primarily in logic, the philosophy of mathematics, the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of language.

This lead to Ordinary Language Philosophy, which sought to make language unambiguous. If only language could be clear and straightforward, they thought, then so many philosophical problems would be resolved. To them, philosophical problems were created when we forget what words mean.

This phenomenon of forgetting the meaning of words is one I am familiar with, but it is one of the greatest sources of serenity in my life. I deeply empathize with Constance Wilde’s quest for quiet, and share in many of her physical challenges, but I seek something very different. I adore ambiguous words, like ‘twitterly,’ a mid-nineteenth century synonym for feebly that implies that you have all the strength to offer of a weak little bird. Few people reading that word today will understand what it meant in 1846. It recalls tweets, girlishness, chatter, and fluttering about.

As a reader, I love finding a well-crafted sentence that provides so many layers of meaning. I’ve also spent entirely too much time thinking and writing about the etymology of a dunce to not finish this project.

Support the project through my GoFundMe page, or visit my shop.