Morning C hristmas. I must have been young. All of my family's gifts were being exchanged by my grandparents. They came to me, and my grandmother gave me a huge object. It was large and heavy. I opened it and found a hardback illustrated children's edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.
I'm pretty sure most kids would roll their eyes. Enthusiasm would have been feigned and the book would have been put to one side in favor of a Nintendo Game Boy. This was a perfect gift for me.
I became so enamored with it that I became obsessive. I sat and read it for a day or two. All the words I came across that I didn't know, starred and highlighted all the ones I liked, and made lists of all the strange ones, were written down. It is incognito. It's flummery. It's hullaballoo. There is a canoodle
I don't know why I became enamored so quickly. There is no denying that the gift made a huge difference in my life. Over the years and decades that followed, I took that interest and ran with it. After studying the history and psychology of our language in more detail than ever before, I decided to take a postgraduate linguistics course. I hated it because it should have been so interesting.
It was at the end of my course that I realized there was nothing joyful about it. I lost everything I loved about language. It felt like the most interesting parts of it were being kept behind glass, like objects that no one will ever see again. I wanted to let everyone know that I was learning and discovering, but it was locked away in rooms and classrooms that only those who already found language interesting would think to enter. It was tiring and frustrating. I told my tutor I was done and went back to waiting tables. My friends referred to me as the most qualified waiter in the city.
It was a new start. I realized that what I really liked was taking what I had learned and repackaging it in a way that anyone could appreciate it and find it fascinating. One of the few things found in every culture is language. I decided to open this wonderful subject to everyone regardless of their background or experience.
I read the dictionary cover to cover, as you would a novel
I combined my two interests and started writing about words. Ten years later, I have created a career for myself that is perfect for a seven-year-old dictionary enthusiast. I post the most interesting words I find online and write about their histories.
boun was rediscovered when I looked up Christmas-themed words. To boun, decorating a home with evergreen branches is listed in the English dialect dictionary. It's an old word. In Middle English, boun means to prepare or make ready and is the origin of the wordbound. Dressing or decorating was one of the more specific senses that was used later in the 1800s.
There are even more forgotten gems in the dustier corners of the dictionary. The EDD is a great place to celebrate Christmas. A hogamadog is a ball of snow that you roll through a snowfield to start a snowman. That is a word that began life as a local name for the shell of a snail.
A toast to a house given at Christmas is one of the useful festive fayre listed by the EDD. A last-minute rush of work is needed to get the bull down. If you don't do that, you'll end up with a yulehard, a corruption of "yule's jade", used of someone who leaves work on Christmas Eve.
The act of bestowing a gift can be called oblation. A toe-cover was a pointless present in the 1940's. Since the 1300s, money given in place of a gift has been known as present-silver. Pourboire (borrowed from the French in the 1700s) is one of the things that can be referred to as a propine.
After all the indulging, a swadge and a yulehole may well be needed
The act of spending too much money on food and drink is referred to as abligurition by one 18th-century dictionary. You may need to swadge (to relax after a large meal), and be in dire need of a yulehole, which is a term defined by the Scottish National Dictionary. The Scots word pang can be used to mean "to force an unwanted article on someone". It's the perfect word to describe Boxing Day or all the Bounty bars left in the tub of Celebrations.
An argument can be made that rare and forgotten words are not always forgotten. They should remain curios, dangling on the fringes of our language, while the rest of us use more familiar terms. Dropping a word like boun or fyole or hogamadog into a casual chat with friends isn't going to make the conversation flow and goes against the purpose of language as a tool for clear communication. We would use them if they were better known. They could have been saved from obscurity if they'd had some money to be in a dictionary.
Obscure words can also be used for other times of the year. Imagine how much our discourse would be expanded with terms like flapdoodler, roorback, adullamite, and grantism.
As a writer eager to expound my love of language, offering up a juicy linguistic morsel, like hogamadog, is a great way of piquing a reader's interest, and using it as a gateway to explain some wonderful etymological connection, It is also a wonderful word. I would have liked it.
There is a question. You can get everything about the origins and oddities of language you never thought to ask at guardianbookshop.com.