Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Dictionary - A Few Words (On Why I Love It)

My secondary school made us read dictionaries as a punishment. Seriously. Talk about rewarding bad behaviour!
Photo by Caleb Roenigk


Noun. Early 16th century.
[medieval Latin dictionarium and dictionarius), from Latin dictio(n)-.]

Branch I
1(a) A book explaining or translating, usually in alphabetical order, words of a language or languages,
giving their pronunciation, spelling, meaning, part of speech, and etymology, or one or some of these. E16

1(b) obsolete. The vocabulary or whole list of words used or admitted by someone. L16-E18

1(c) An ordered list stored in and used by a computer; especially a list of words acceptable to a word processor. M20

2 A book of information or reference on any subject in which the entries are arranged alphabetically. M17

Branch II
3 figurative. A person or thing regarded as a repository of knowledge, convenient for consultation. E17

The smallest dictionary I own
(and one of my favourites)
I've loved dictionaries for as long as I can remember. As a child and into my twenties, I was in the habit of always carrying a dictionary around with me, just in case I came across a word I didn't know. At my wedding, my best man gave a speech in which he said he hoped a dictionary would fall on my head; later that night, he tried to sneak into my room to take the Collins Dictionary I had stashed in my luggage, lest I take a dictionary with me on my honeymoon. Yes, I really like dictionaries, and it seems I've developed a bit of a reputation for it.

People often ask me why I love dictionaries so much. Specifically, why dictionaries? Why not, say, encyclopaedias? Or books generally? I do love encyclopaedias, and I am a bibliophile, but it's true that I have a particular affection for the dictionary, an affection quite distinct from my love of words and language. Dictionaries, you see, are unique; they are singularly fascinating works of unfathomable human endeavour and investigation; dictionaries are windows, offering knowledge and the promise of knowledge. With the dictionary, one can peer into the future as well as one can peer into the past.

For anyone that's unconvinced about the beauty of a dictionary (and I do get a lot of unconvinced looks when explaining my love), I would encourage, nay, challenge you to sit down with a good dictionary and read it for twenty minutes. It doesn't even matter which dictionary. Obviously I'm rather loyal to the Oxford English Dictionary, but there are numerous quality dictionaries out there: Collins, Merriam-Webster and Chambers to cite a few of my favourites. Sit down, take that time, and read it. Perhaps you could look up that word or phrase you've always wondered about. Why do we say someone is about to get their just deserts?  If one can be disgruntled, can one also be gruntled? Or, like me, you could just relax and read away, allowing the pages to lead you wherever they may go. However you approach it, I've no doubt that you will be pleasantly surprised, and maybe ... just maybe ... you'll get hooked like me.

My desk. Looking unusually tidy. And with only two of my dictionaries present.
Do please dictate your most lexical comments in the box below.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Dick - Well Spotted

This was not a pleasant picture to find
(photo by Chuck Coker)


Noun. In sense 2, uncapitalised. Mid-16th century.
[Male forename, playful alteration of Richard from Anglo-Norman Ricard, Latin Ricardus, whence Richard (of which it is used as a familiar abbreviation).]

1 A man, a fellow; a lad. Frequently with qualifying adjective. M16

2 The penis. coarse slang. L18

Yes, yes ... you're thinking: "Oh Lexicolatry! Again covering the bawdier words of the English language!" For one moment, however, roll your eyes back into the forward position and consider with me why dick is an interesting word, and whether it's actually rude at all. Well, in the right (or wrong) context, yes, of course it's rude; the OED specifically labels it as 'coarse slang'. Its rudeness is curious, though, in that it's not absolute; unlike many other swearwords, there are occasions when we suddenly shift backward 400 years, to a time when it wasn't rude at all, and you could bandy dick about willy-nilly without a care in the world.

Take the phrase Tom, Dick & Harry, for example, meaning 'anyone'; I could use that phrase in the most polite of company without so much as making a nun blush. Detectives have been called dicks, and an old person might complain of having a dicky heart. And if I described someone down the pub as a clever dick, it would elicit little more than a wry smile - just imagine if I threw that out on a Saturday night without the qualifying word clever. And as for that most delicious of English desserts, does anyone even think of anything untoward when served a delicious bowl of steaming spotted dick? Well, actually, yes, they do; even the straightest of laces can't help but smirk when that one's plopped on the table.

Do you know of any other non-rude dicky terms?

Can you use them without smirking?

Do please leave any comments in the box below.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Dichoptic - Wide Eyes

Photo by Kevin Collins


Adjective. Late 19th century.
[Greek dikho-, from dikha two, apart + OPTIC.]

1 ENTOMOLOGY. Of the eyes: widely separated.
Of an insect: having such eyes. L19

2 Involving or pertaining to the presentation of different
(not merely stereoscopic) images in the two eyes. M20

Apparently, you can tell a lot about someone by how far apart their eyes are, though I doubt that applies in the worlds of flies and hammerheads. I like the word dichoptic, and I want to use it more often, or even once at all, but I can't for the life of me think when I'm going to have that chance.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Dice - A Plural to Die For

Some dice.
(photo by Ross Websdale)


Noun. Middle English.
[Old & modern French dés. See DIE noun.]

1 Plural of die. ME

2 A game or games played with dice. ME

A die
(photo by Kolby)


Noun. Plural in Branch I dice; in Brack II dies.
[Old & modern French , plural dés, from Latin DATUM.]

Branch I
1(a) A small cube whose six faces are marked with from one to six spots,
used in games of chance by being thrown from a box, the hand, etc.,
the score being decided from the uppermost face;
a cube with different markings, or a solid with a different number of faces, used in the same way. ME

1(b) figurative. Chance, luck. L16

2 A small cubical segment, especially of meat, etc. for cooking. Usually in plural. LME

Branch II
3 A cubical block. M17

4 An engraved stamp for impressing a design on some softer material
as in coining, striking a medal, embossing paper, etc. L17

5 Any of various devices for shaping bulk material, especially:
(a) an internally threaded hollow tool for cutting a screw thread;
(b) a part into which a punch is driven;
(c) a block with a hold through which material is extruded;
(d) a hollow mould into which material is forced prior to solidification. E19

6 A toy. Scottish. E19

Thanks guys!
(though I still feel a bit guilty about this)
I seem to like dice, having previously used them to illustrate the words bone, cleromancy and determinism on this blog. I also remember the exact moment that I learnt the proper singular noun is die, so I would like to thank Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone for their book Scorpion Swamp (which I wasn't allowed to read), and their proper use of die and dice. And yes, I do know that most people just use dice, and I know that when I use die it sounds irrevocably pretentious. But it is die. Look, it says it right there in the OED. It's one die; two dice. So there.

Do please roll out your most cubical comments in the box below.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Dibs On This Word!

Toy cars: the source of countless dibs claims between brothers
(photo by Ronelle)


Interjection & noun. N.American. Mid-20th century.
[Probably related to DUBS interjection & noun.]

(Demanding) a first claim or option. (Followed by on)

Growing up in Britain, the phrase de rigueur to stake first claim on something was bagsy, as in: "Bagsy this seat!" or "Bagsy first go!" This is a 1950s corruption of bags I, as in "I bag this." In North America, the equivalent expression is dibs, as in: "I call dibs on this!" Different dictionaries give different explanations as to its origin, with some suggesting it's related to dubsdab or division, while other saying it's from dibstones, a playground game since antiquity. Whatever the truth, no one seems to have first dibs on a verifiable etymology, and the legal standing of calling dibs or bagsy has (to the best of my knowledge) never been tested in a court of law.

Do you call dibs, bagsy or something else when staking your claim on something?

Do please bag a comment below.