Printer Friendly

PETER BREAKEY.

IT must be almost 10 years since I sent The Times some of my writing about words, tentatively entitled "Travels through my dictionary".

After a decent interval I rang them up to see what they thought and had a brief but amiable chat with a certain Michael Gove. He was largely complimentary but steered me gently in the direction of The Spectator magazine which he thought might be a more suitable home for that sort of material. All these years later I have still to get round to writing to the Spectator. (Who needs the Spectator when The Journal will publish me and for no charge!) If and when I do I shall certainly either be name-checking the now much more celebrated (perhaps not quite the right word as far as some are concerned) Mr Gove and/or beginning my letter with the story of my delay in writing and explaining how it beautifully exemplifies the meaning of the word dilatory.

At least that was the plan. My recent research suggests however that dilatoriness may more properly refer to a deliberate delaying tactic as opposed to the more prosaic, chronic procrastination by which I have been beset. (I have long admired the creator of the T-shirt slogan "Procrastinate now". I suspect he or she has not enjoyed either the fame or riches they deserved. Probably never got round to doing anything about it) The idea behind 'Travels through my dictionary' was to take interesting or unusual words which had cropped up in the broadsheets and then consider their dictionary definition. This would usually be the springboard to some other interesting word or historical fact or might present me with an opportunity to wax lyrically on some topic at least vaguely related to the word in question. Recently I have been dismayed to realise that I can recall only a small handful of all those words in which I invested so much time and effort. A few have stuck with me. Chiaroscuro and coruscating are two, the latter not to be confused with excoriating, a mistake which I was disturbed to see even the venerable Private Eye make on one or two occasions.

Most of them however I have completely forgotten. Looking back I can see that there was a rich seam amongst the 'e's with effrontery, effete, epicene, effulgence and (quite nearby) grummet all featuring in one section. Elsewhere harbinger was a favourite. Anomie and accidie which were also mentioned are, I fear, surely doomed to extinction.

Despondent at my forgetfulness and in what is, almost literally literally, a midlife search for meaning, I have decided to become more methodical.

There are around 1,700 pages in my 2006 Concise OED. If I can manage to average 300 a year I should have reached the end of 'S' by 2020.

Even if I slip to a paltry 200 pages a year I should have considered almost every word in the English Language by the time I reach what should perhaps have been Zaeger and Evans' starting point of 2025.

Which is all by way of an extremely long winded introduction to my report - written especially for your exclusive delectation (sic) - on my recent visit to page 1 of the great tome. Frankly, page 1 is not the OED's most inspiring page but I think it does offer scope for a reasonable University Challenge starter question, where the first to buzz in gets the points.

Paxo (in customary haughty tone): "To what do the following descriptions all relate?" The human blood type con-|taining the A antigen and lacking the B The sixth note of the diatonic |scale of C major An abbreviation for 'against' |which shows goals or points conceded The first letter of the alphabet | Perhaps clue 1 would be too easy for the scientists. Personally I wouldn't be confident about buzzing in until 4, which I think might be several light years too late.

There is not too much else to say about page 1. When I was a schoolboy it was a truth universally acknowledged that aardvark was the first word in the dictionary, but it seems to have been displaced by 'aa', which is a form of basaltic lava.

My guess is that this word is used by Scrabble players more often than it is by geologists.

Initially I had felt very sorry for whoever had been given the task of explaining the indefinite article 'a' but the definition given seems to be quite simple and completely apt. It's uncanny how the skilled exponents of any art or sport seem to be able to make it look supremely easy. Aargh! (1) Peter Breakey is a senior lec-|turer in law at Northumbria University and a Liberal Democrat councillor for North Jesmond. All opinions expressed are personal.

(1) "An expression of anguish, |horror or other strong emotion." In this case anguish, tinged with envy and frustration and perhaps the merest hint of ennui.
COPYRIGHT 2015 MGN Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2015 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Aug 25, 2015
Words:826
Previous Article:New system of court charges is criminal in itself.
Next Article:Bra-vissimo! We've been told countless times, but many of us are still wearing the wrong size bra. Let Katie Wright hook you up with some expert top...

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters