Saturday, January 3, 2015

Words


I’ve just finished re-reading Catch-22 by Joseph Heller, and loved it every bit as much as on my first reading about five years ago. The main differences for me the second time round were: a) I read the novel on my Kindle rather than in paperback format; b) I could almost follow the plot at moments; and c) I learnt several new words along the way, thanks to the wonderful Oxford Dictionary of English that came with my Kindle.


In my pre-Kindle days, I would never have dreamed of reaching for the dictionary to look up a word; well, not unless it was preventing me from following the story, let’s say. Nowadays, however, I happily highlight any word that arouses my interest and, in less than a few seconds, a simple definition appears, together with an enticing invitation to read the full definition if I’m curious about its pronunciation, origin, and so on. Indeed, I think it’s fair to say that the Oxford Dictionary is to Kindle what Wikipedia is to the Internet: once you enter, you’ll never leave.

Well, anyway, here are six of the words that I clicked on as I raced through Catch-22:

1) flak
2) ersatz
3) strafe
4) callipygous
5) catatonic
6) piebald

Those of you who are better-read than I am will doubtless be appalled that a so-called English teacher and would-be writer should need to check the meaning of such simple words as “flak” and “piebald”. You’re not the only one who’s appalled by my lack of vocabulary, believe me. That said, I do make a cracking Euro omelette, so I reckon that just about evens the score, don’t you?


But where were we? Ah yes, I remember! We were talking about omelettes words, weren’t we? Personally, I use my Kindle dictionary primarily for three different reasons:

(A) to look up the meaning of a word that’s genuinely new to me e.g. “callipygous”

(B) to check the meaning of a word that I always thought I understood e.g. “piebald”

(C) to confirm the meaning of a word I understand from the context e.g. “ersatz”

And, talking of contexts, here are those same six words in context:
  1.  “He wove his way through the filthy barrages of flak
  2.  “They preferred ersatz [to cotton]”
  3.  “In that case, I’ll strafe
  4. “He enjoyed her long white legs and supple, callipygous ass”
  5. “[He saw] devout mothers with catatonic eyes nursing infants”
  6. “Her whole face [was] disfigured by a God-awful pink and piebald burn”

So, how many of these words are genuinely new to you (A)?  Which ones did you know already (B)?  Which ones have you worked out from the context (C)? 


OK, then, let’s have a look at what Mr. Kipling Kindle has to say about all of this...


How interesting! In much the same way that it’s quicker to say “TV” instead of “television”, so “flak” is, I’m sure you’ll agree, somewhat easier to reel off than “Fliegerabwehrkanone”.  



This was pretty close to what I had imagined “ersatz” to mean, namely “imitation”. Just below the entry for “ersatz”, I noticed the following entry for “erst”:


Although words like “erst”, “erstwhile” and “ere” are part of my passive vocabulary – and, alas, still part of my Dickens-obsessed students’ active vocabulary –, I had never made the connection between “ere” (= “before”) and  its superlative form, “erst” (= “most before” i.e. “earliest”), despite their obvious similarities. Fascinating, eh? Well, er, it was to me. 



What the Dickens! By this point, I was beginning to wish I had studied German rather than French at university. Again, I had pretty well worked out the meaning of “strafe” from the context, though I could never have come up with such a beautifully precise definition.



When they say, “RARE having well-shaped buttocks”, I suppose they mean that the words "callipygian” and “callipygous” are rarely used, rather than it is rare to find somebody with a beautiful rear. Still, that could make a good discussion point for my next class, I suppose. Don’t you think “callipygous” is a great word to slip into your next conversation by the pool?



I already knew “gintonic”, of course; abuse of which may well have catatonic effects and catastrophic results.



And here’s another great word! In fact, I got something of a shock, as my hitherto working definition – “as bald as pie; be that apple, rhubarb or steak and kidney; rather similar to ‘as bald as a coot’, whatever a coot might be when he or she is at home” –, despite serving me well for the past 50 years or so, proved to be rather at odds with the actual pie in question. Never had it occurred to me that this particular “pie” had wings!


Well, whatever, I hope you’ve enjoyed my ersatz definitions and piebald photos, and that you weren’t offended by my ribald comments on your callipygian features, in which case I apologise most sincerely for having left you in a state of total catatonia, and strongly urge you to feel free to strafe me, as I can take the flak. Time to stop, I think. I’m talking total bollocks again IJ


-----------------------------------------------------------

Indeed, one of Colin’s dreams was to see the word “dayrealing” make it to the Oxford dictionary one day …

‘Mr. Raphead?’
‘Listening.’
‘We decided to include “dayrealing”. Just before “dayrise”.’
‘Before dayrise? Surely you didn’t get up that early?’
‘I mean, “dayrealing” will go before “dayrise” in the dictionary, you twat. And don’t call me “Shirley”.’

dayrealing, Chapter 25, “Dream Catch Me”

4 comments:

  1. Hilarious and entertaining as ever, Mike!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're too kind, Gerry. Thanks for reading and commenting x

      Delete
  2. Mike, as ever, your sense of the ridiculous makes your Blog a pleasure to read :-)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Cheers, Reggie. I thought of you as I wrote those lines: "I bet Reggie knows all these words; even 'callipygous'!"

    ReplyDelete