Friday, September 10, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 219 (9/10) -- Gallimaufry by Michael Quinion

At some point, we all have to accept that we are the people that we are, and not the ones that we wished or hoped to be. Well, I assume that must be the case, but I don't seem to have quite gotten there yet.

For example, I still think of myself as someone who would really like to read a book about odd and quirky words, despite the fact that my two shelves of word books have be sitting collecting dust (behind other thing, no less) for many years now. And so Gallimaufry -- a really neat, and exceptionally browseable, book of outdated and vanished words, from a British perspective -- sat in the smallest room of my house for many months, as I picked at it bit by bit, thinking over and over "this is a good book, but I'm not as interested in it as I thought I'd be."

It's disappointing to run up against one's shortcomings quite so bluntly, but there it is: old words are vaguely interesting, but I forget them almost as soon as I learn them. Books like this -- and this is an excellent book of old words, arranged by theme and published by the Oxford University Press (presumably under the auspices of the group responsible for the OED itself) -- are close to wasted on me, at least this year. (I may not have learned my lesson; I still have hopes that I'll get more interested in the deep mysteries of philology any day now.)

But, if you're less of a Philistine than I am -- and particularly if you're a medievalist, or perhaps thinking about committing a medieval fantasy trilogy -- this book is chock-full of interesting, specific words about things that people don't do much anymore...or have just worked up new and snazzier words for. It covers the entire scope of the English language, and isn't restricted to long-dead words, either -- the last chapter is about technologically obsolete terms, which range up to things like record player and typewriter and other words that make all of us feel terribly old. Really: it's clever and pleasant, but you do have to want to read about a bunch of old words to get full enjoyment out of it, and, for whatever reason, I wasn't as interested in them as I thought I should be.
Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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