Looking Up

Recently I was given a century-old copy of the immense Merriam-Webster International Dictionary of the English Language. This 1906 edition’s title page continues:

BEING THE AUTHENTIC EDITION OF WEBSTER’S
UNABRIDGED DICTIONARY, COMPRISING
THE ISSUES OF 1864, 1879, AND 1884
THOROUGHLY REVISED AND
MUCH ENLARGED UNDER
THE SUPERVISION OF

NOAH PORTER, D.D., LL.D.

WITH A VOLUMINOUS APPENDIX

TO WHICH IS NOW ADDED
A SUPPLEMENT
OF TWENTY-FIVE THOUSAND WORDS AND PHRASES

The book begins with a series of full-page color plates. Sadly, the first two are missing, but we still have the Great Seals of the United States and Territories, Coats of Arms of Various Nations, and several others, including the most necessary of all, Club Flags of United States Yachts.

This is a fantastic linguistic time-capsule, and I’m thrilled to have it. Particularly interesting is the Supplement, which is a listing of now-commonplace words that had only just entered the language, such as telegraphophone (an instrument for making a telephonic record at a distance), and bunting iron (a pontee). But best of all are the thousands of words I simply did not know, and the lost meanings of more familiar words. A sampling:

  • nullah-nullah: a kind of club used by the Australian aborigines.
  • oberration: a wandering about.
  • crimp: easily crumbled.
  • screable: capable of being spit out.
  • rabblement:: a tumultuous crowd of low people.
  • blobber-lipped: having thick lips.
  • axinomancy: a species of divination, by an ax or hatchet.
  • laughing-bird: the yaffle.
  • fulgurous: emitting lightning.
  • contratabular: existing or done against, or contrary to, a will or testament.
  • gumsucker: a white person born in Victoria, or, less exactly, in any part of Australia.

I could go on and on, of course, but it’s late, and I have a horrid day tomorrow. I’ll just have to sprinkle these about as the opportunity arises.

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One Comment

  1. MikeZ says

    Cool!

    – M

    Posted November 7, 2006 at 12:37 pm | Permalink