The richness of the English language is indisputable, allowing enough nuance between similar terms to make one just right for the occasion. That’s why I’m always on the lookout for bon mots and why my sweetie gave me Jeffrey Kacirk’s “Forgotten English: A Merry Guide to Forgotten Words.” To her regret, for that’s where I discovered that “buttwife” was “a Middle English word for a boundless-tongued fisherman’s wife.” When they yelled out to sell their fish, the buttwives’ vocal powers were such that their patter became known locally as “earsores,” another grand word for the vocabulary. The public library owns a copy, for connoisseur’s of impressive and useful lingo.
Greg Hill’s Weekly Column
“You are only young once,” Ogden Nash once noted, “but you can stay immature indefinitely.” The woman I’ve lived with for forty years attests to that sentiment, but I maintain that it’s my boyish charms that keep her interested. Like so much in life, it’s a matter of perspective. For example, the excellent online comic Wondermark recently included a satirical list titled “Stuff to Make You Feel Old,” featuring statements like “The formation of the universe happened closer to the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundaray than to the present day,” and “The release of New Coke happened closer to Alaska becoming a U.S. state than the present day.”
When I admit to possessing a pronounced idiolect, I’m referring more to my lingering West Texas accent rather than my intellect. “Idiolect” is a term coined by linguist Bernard Bloch to describe the particular way an individual speaks. “Because each of us belongs to different social groups, we each speak a language variety made up of a combination of features slightly different from those characteristics of any other speaker of the language,” Thomas Klammer wrote in “Analyzing English Grammar.” “Your idiolect includes the vocabulary appropriate to your various interests and activities, pronunciations reflective of the region in which you live or have lived, and variable styles of speaking that shift subtly depending on whom you are addressing.”
“If it is a Miracle, any sort of evidence will answer” Mark Twain once observed, “but if it is a Fact, proof is necessary.” Your public library is at the forefront when it comes to figuring the reliability of information. Yet the library’s rife with concepts crying out for clarification. Within the past week my credulity’s been tested by topics ranging from tickling rats to how many Americans believe the country’s controlled by lizard people.
“A capacity and taste for reading,” Abraham Lincoln once observed, “gives access to whatever has already been discovered by others.” Having the taste leads to expanded capacity. That’s the point of the public library’s Guys Read program: help boys think of themselves as readers by exposing them to pleasurable books. Fourth grade boys, the age when many boys stop reading for pleasure and when reading scores plummet, enjoy books that are funny, exciting, outrageous, and have thin, undeveloped central characters into which they can project themselves.