17 February 2012

That word you keep using

'How thankful little Phil will be when all this examinating is over.'
'Examinating? I never heard such a word.'
'Well, haven't I as good a right to make a word as any one else?' demanded Phil.
'Words aren't made - they grow,' said Anne.
  -- Anne of the Island, LM Montgomery
Mark Forsyth is a man who knows a lot about how words grow. And a lot of what he knows is delightfully unexpected. His fabulous Inky Fool blog is full of musings about how one word is related to another word is related to another word is related to your cousin by marriage. Seriously, the connections between words are as convoluted and interesting as your family tree, only you don't have to invite any of them round for Christmas lunch.

We are deeply indebted to Mr Forsyth, as he has given us a name for a condition that is a perennial problem in the House of Onion. You know how when you repeat a word too often, or think about it too much, the word dissolves entirely into its component parts and you can't make it mean anything anymore? Well Mr Forsyth knows, and he calls it a lapse of meaning. From his list of other terms we quite like cortical inhibition, mostly because we can imagine a stricken editor reclining on a psychiatrist's couch, talking gibberish, while the psychiatrist writes cortical inhibition on her notepad and underlines it three times.

So, you can imagine how excited we were to learn that Mark Forsyth's wordy goodness now exists in book form! Hurrah for The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll through the Hidden Connections of the English Language. Hurrah!

Here in the House of Onion we are viewing this as an important Tool of Trade. It will stand with us, shoulder to shoulder with our Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable and the Macquarie Dictionary, in our ongoing wrestle with the Inigo Dilemma.

And, in very pleasing news: there will be laughing, for Mark Forsyth is funny (and being funny about etymology is not easy). He is also, it seems, something of a dish.* So in that spirit, we share this video even though it is not Christmas.**

* The Macquarie is silent on the etymology of 'dish' used in this manner. Does it just allude to a person looking good enough to eat? When did it come into vogue? Would you ever use it about someone who wasn't British?
** It is, however, Friday and a cocktail would not go astray.


Celine said...

Great post! I believe 'dish' as in 'attractive' came from 'tasty dish' and I think it goes back to the twenties. BUT I'VE BEEN KNOWN TO BE WRONG!!!!

Anonymous said...

Would yo not pay money to see Mark Forsyth and David Astle go mano-a-mano word for word?

missjane said...

The OED (free online access with an SLV membership) takes dish's double meaning back to the 1600's, citing Shakespeare a few times. He was rather fond of using said double meaning, as when Benedick (being a little ungentlemanly) says of Beatrice: "O God, sir, here's a dish I love not: I cannot endure my Lady Tongue."