Monday, January 24, 2011

Words you didn't know, wish you had, but probably won't know again...

One of the constants in my life has been feast/famine, which is rudely inconsistent. I didn't have a job for most of the fall, which meant I had much more time to write, which really was all I could afford to do. Then I applied to grad schools, left for Canada, came back from Canada, left a day later for Denver/Boulder, flew back, had a week to sort out my life, and then started my day job. And it's not even February yet.

I'm not complaining. I like being busy. I'm wildly productive when I'm busy; so not only do I get things done, but it means that I feel calmer, more confident, and much less lonely. Hey - I love my laptop, but I do love actual human interaction every now and then.

Canada was beautiful, Denver/Boulder was inspiring (I met with Shakespeare geeks AND saw how tea gets made at the Celestial Seasoning plant!), and I haven't heard from grad schools yet - which is a good thing; they send the rejection letters out first. And my day job! My day job is awesome. I'm creating/running/implementing a 6th grade Drama program at an under-achieving Middle School. RIGHT?!

So my insane life aside, one of the many themes of the conference in Boulder surrounded the sad fact that the vocabulary in the English language is shrinking. Observe:

William Shakespeare knew an estimated 25,000+ words.*
A few generations ago, the English speaking world knew about 18-20,000 words.
My generation is sitting pretty with about 11-13,000 words.
The children currently going through school are projected to know 7-8,000 words by the time they graduate high school.

* - keep in mind, Shakespeare created thousands of words, but for the sake of depressing statistics, let's say those are not included in his original 25,000+.

With the understanding that the previous statistics I can in no way justify through any kind of acceptable means, those are some really depressing numbers, no? Kind of makes me want to add a "word of the day" app to my non-existent smart phone.

Now, my ex-girlfriend, perhaps in a premonition of the discussions to come, bought me a desk calendar for Christmas. But not just ANY desk calendar my friends.  She bought me .............wait for it....................


And let me tell you, it's just as awesome as it sounds. Here are some examples of this modern miracle:

Nizzle - You thought it was a word created by Snoop Dogg, didn't you? Hizzle, my nizzles! Nizzle actually means: To be slightly intoxicated, to be the worse for liquor; to be unsteady; usually in past participle [nizzled].  (Joseph Wright's English Dialect Dictionary, 1898-1905)

Beats the Dutch - Something extraordinary; "That beats the Dutch, and the Dutch beats the Devil" is the superlative. (James Maitland's American Slang Dictionary, 1891)

Sport Ivory - If someone smiled, he sported ivory. (Morris Marples, University Slang, 1950)

Jugulator - Sounds like a Marvel Comic Villain, eh? Or perhaps what Jack the Ripper's imaginary friends called him. A Jugulator is actually a cutthroat or murderer. (William Whitney's Century Dictionary, 1889)

Googer - No, not Google's puny baby brother. It's actually a synonym for The Devil. (Walter Sleat's Specimens of English Dialects, Westmoreland, 1879)

Death Hunter - An undertaker, one who furnishes the necessary articles for funerals. Sounds kind of bad ass to me; dare I say it - Lord of the Rings-esque. (Francis Grose's Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1796)

Tree-Geese - A name given to barnacles, from their supposed metamorphosis [into geese]. I swear to you, I'm not making this up! (Robert Nare's Glossary [of] the Works of English Authors, 1859)

Gone to Texas - An American expression for one who has decamped, leaving debts behind. It was, and is, no unusual thing for a man to display this notice - perhaps only the initials G.T.T. on his door for the callers after he has absconded. Does that explain anything at all about the years from 2000-2008?? (Trench Johnson's Phases and Names: Their Origins and Meanings, 1906)

Toozle - To pull about, especially applied to any rough dalliance with a female. Perhaps after some Nizzle, for shizzle! (John Brockett's Glossary of North Country Words, 1825)

Bag of Nails - American thieves' cant. Confusion; topsy-turvydom; from "bacchanals." (John Farmer's Slang and its Analogues, 1890)

Scurryfunge - a hasty tidying of the house between the time you see a neighbor and the time she knocks on the door. See?? Some of these actually come in handy; I scurryfunge all the time! (John Gould's Maine Lingo: Boiled Owls, Billdads, and Wazzats, 1975)

Stick with me kids, and you too will become a bona fide nerd. As the year progresses, I'm sure these words will continues to find their way onto my page. Bonus points if you send me some rare words of your own ...


H said...

I'm *glad* you're busy! "Busy" is good for your spirit!

As for the "Forgotten English Daily Words" calendar...LOVE it! I, too, scurryfunge (especially when my parents call from the road and say they're on their way) and now...I know there's a word for it!

Schmatie!! said...

I'm so glad the first thing I did today was read your blog-- now I feel like I've already learned something!

Phoenix said...

I feel smarter reading this post. And I'll put it out there as my fun word/phrase - but I'm assuming you already know - that "Mind your P's and Q's does NOT mean "Mind your own business," but rather, "Mind your pints and quarts." As in, bub, you're drinking a little too much, don't get nizzled on me here.

Love ya!

Lira said...

Might I add my new favorite just discovered word too? Ambisinister! When you can't do shit right with either hand!

Awesome post, my frizzle.