As part of Bas Bleu’s 2014 Book a Month program, each month we’re offering discussion questions about the featured work—for book clubs as well as thoughtful individuals. You may use the questions to reflect back on each book once you’ve finished it or to guide you as you read. Either way, we hope these features will enrich your reading experience. (We’ll do our best to avoid plot spoilers, but you should proceed with caution!)
If you’ve already read this month’s Book a Month selection—The Horologicon: A Day’s Jaunt through the Lost Words of the English Language—you know it’s not your typical reference book. So is it any wonder that today’s blog post isn’t your typical Book a Month post? Instead of offering you the usual series of discussion questions, we asked British author and wordsmith Mark Forsyth (he of the dazzling vocabulary and the illuminating blog The Inky Fool) to tell us about his favorite words. Here’s what he had to say:
Have you ever met a scambler? I’ll bet that you have. You just didn’t know there was a name for it. A scambler is a chap who, when he knows that somebody else is going to pick up the bill, orders the most expensive thing on the menu.
There. I told you that you knew a scambler. You see, there’s a word for everything. Absolutely everything. A scambler is somebody who preys on the gastrophilanthropy of others. He’s probably a groker as well. Have you ever seen somebody groking? It’s an old Scots word that means “to look at somebody while they’re eating in the hope that they’ll give you some of their food.” Yep, you’ve witnessed groking, especially if you happen to own a dog.
These are real words, by the way. Genuine, 24-carat, listed-in-the-Oxford-English-Dictionary, real words. The problem is that to find them you’d have to be the sort of lonely, socially inadequate person who reads dictionaries for fun. Luckily for you, I’m the sort of lonely, socially inadequate person who reads dictionaries for fun. In The Horologicon I pick the best words and then arrange them by the time of day when they would come in useful. So the book starts off with the Old English word Uhtceare (waking up just before dawn and not being able to get back sleep because you’re worried about the day to come), and goes all the way through the day via the morning commute, work, lunch, dinner, boozing and wooing to midnight.
As a taster, here are a few of my favourites.
Fudgel. Fudgel is an eighteenth-century verb that means “to make a great show of doing work, whilst actually doing nothing.” It was a wonderful moment when I discovered that there was a word for what I had been doing my entire professional life. A related term, by the way, is snudge, which means to stride around pretending that you’re terribly busy and have to be somewhere important.
Antejentacular. Because drinking before breakfast makes you an alcoholic, but antejentacular tippling makes you a debonair aesthete.
Duffifie. To duffifie a bottle is to leave it on its side so that you can get the last little bit out. It’s an old Scots word that’s much more efficient than the sinister English equivalent “make the bottle confess.”
Snollygoster. Snollygoster is a nineteenth-century American word meaning “a dishonest politician.” It’s sadly fallen out of use because, I presume, all American politicians are now honest. However, it’s such a beautiful word to say aloud that it should be kept in store just in case dishonesty ever makes it back into politics.
Ultracrepidarian. If you tell somebody that they’re giving opinions of something they know nothing about, they’ll get offended. But tell them that their opinions are ultracrepidarian, and they’ll probably think you’re complimenting them.
Gongoozle. To gongoozle means “to stare idly at a canal or other watercourse and do nothing.” It’s my favourite way of passing the time.
Thanks, Mark! Now, bluestockings, we bid you go forth and impress the world with your vocabulary…or just gongoozle for a while.