Posts Tagged ‘language hat’

My A-Z of Reading: W is for Words

December 20, 2016

I suspect everyone has a favourite word, or some favourite words, that they particularly like the sound of, or the meaning, or the shape… what are yours?

For some reason, I have always liked the word CONCATENATION. And ELEEMOSYNARY is probably my favourite of all, because of its bizarre etymology: it’s the adjective from the rather shorter English word ALMS…

As a child, I loved the nonsense words in Jabberwocky, which I can still recite (with glee!) And, as you’d expect, I enjoy Scrabble, when I can find someone who will play. I always find this a little unfair, as although I do have a decent vocabulary, the letters one gets in the game are random, and usually infuriating. I am a little proud of the fact that I once, many years ago, won a game of French Scrabble, against French opponents.

And then there is the internet, which has spawned a host of websites offering information about words. My favourite is still A Word A Day, to which I was introduced a very long time ago, in the very early days of the internet, by one of my students. You get a new word every day, usually on a theme for the week, its definition, pronunciation and etymology along with some examples of its use, and a random quotation that has nothing at all to do with the word, but is always worth reading. All in an e-mail, for nothing.

Finally a mention for another of my favourite sites, language hat, who blogs most days about words, language and reading, and has far more followers than I do. I come across lots of interesting things there.

Words, words, words…

October 20, 2014

As Hamlet put it. I have always loved words and been curious about them, no matter what language they were in. And so, I cannot imagine ever being without a dictionary. For many years, Chambers has been the one-volume of choice, and I think we are well on the way towards wearing our our third copy in this household. It succeeds most of the time, and is the dictionary of necessity for a crossword fiend like myself. But, it’s not big enough – doesn’t have enough words in it. The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary was my mainstay during my student years, though suffering from not being updated – the edition I bought in the 1970s dated from forty years previously…

And so to the greatest of them all – the OED itself. It does seem to have everything I want in it, definitions, pronunciations, etymologies and examples of usage through time. I bought a micro-edition, all twenty volumes in one, nine pages to a page and a beefy magnifying glass to read them. The school I taught in invested in the CD-ROM version when it was first published. And now, wonder of wonders, I have free online access to the latest version through my local public library. You can’t browse it as you can a printed book, but if electronic books were invented for any purpose at all, surely it was things such as this.

French is the only other language I feel (almost) fully functional in; at university we were ordered to move on from the limitations of bilingual dictionaries such as Harraps‘ (which I still have and is my first port of call) to the monolingual Petit Robert, which I still find to be the most useful and wide-ranging. When it’s not up to the mark, then there is the Littré online, which I rarely need to call on.

And then there’s my own personal dictionary, a notebook in which I’ve collected most of the words which have baffled me at some time, when I’ve either been not within reach of a dictionary or too lazy to get up and fetch it, so I’ve jotted down words to look up later, and kept them. Two of my favourites: aglet  (which ex-students of mine may recognise) and eleemosynary, which just looks so baffling…

The internet has spawned many websites offering to broaden our knowledge of language(s). One of the oldest, and one of my favourites, is language hat, who posts regularly on a very wide variety of topics, though sometimes with a little too much Russian for my liking, and A.Word.A.Day has posted thematically linked words and definitions for many years, too. This idea was too good to pass up on, so the OED now also delivers a new word to my inbox each day, as does Word Spy, who concentrates on neologisms. And, if you like vulgarity and are not too easily offended, then there’s always the Urban Dictionary.

I always used to urge my students to learn a new word everyday, and try to, myself. I’ll be dust long before I’ve exhausted the OED…

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