Wordcatcher: An Odyssey into the World of Weird and Wonderful Words by Phil Cousineau
|Wordcatcher: An Odyssey into the World of Weird and Wonderful Words by Phil Cousineau|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: A very American, and very individual, look at several odd and wonderful words we might (or might not) choose to use.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 202||Date: June 2010|
|Publisher: Cleis Press|
I formed a new, close friendship recently, and one of the first things I subtly dropped into things was the fact that I might use a different dictionary to other people. Probably there was a subconscious thought forming that it would be better to make it known, in case I trod on any toes, said anything that didn't go down quite as well as I had planned. But that's nothing compared to what Phil Cousineau has done here, for he has written his own dictionary, and got it published in a very nice, glossy, browsable form. Alright, it's nothing like a complete dictionary, but everything is here in his own personal style - 250 main words, definitions, derivations and examples of use. Oh, and some modern-ish artworks as well.
So, I'll adumbrate... This is a depository for some of the quirkier, livelier, more interesting words - some everyday, such as love, some certainly not, as in "skylarking", or "floccinaucinihilipilification". Yes, I had to check my typing several times for that one. The words swerve from the ancient, with roots millenia old, to newer slang entities - from the cant (included here) of those with their own unwritten dictionaries. They and the quotes they're settled in range from Portuguese to a nice line in Appalachian soundbites you won't find many other places.
Throughout there are snippets of trivia to take out and, well, probably forget. I didn't know that jaded was what a knackered horse was, specifically. I didn't know teetotal was just a plosive mix from a stammerer asking for "t-t-t-total abstinence".
There are also some raised eyebrows. He suggests Shakespeare invented the word "ladybird", and in looking up what it might have been before then, I found he didn't. He suggests "daymare" does not come from the obvious two nouns, but something else instead. One minute "skedaddle" is from the American Civil War, then a line later it's Mediaeval. Perhaps the biggest proof this is a very personal dictionary is when his definition of "cruise" includes the ridiculous phrase to "search for love trouble".
His tics carry on, with his own definitions being a tad unhelpful for the novice when they include words like "apotheosis", or "solitudinous". He has a glut of obscure north American sports references to cite, which will probably mean anyone my side of the Atlantic will wish to deduct marks from the Bookbag rating, just for them.
But bypass those, and this does remain an enjoyable browse. He takes us deeper into words than the standard dictionary format, allowing each one to prove its merit with his eloquence. It remains a book for those who can linger, on the loo or elsewhere, on a theme for the length of the page, as Cousineau does - learning things, enjoying the sounds, history and constant variety of our tongue.
It's certainly not one for ploughing through beginning to end, although he decides to use an abbreviated term for the middle two-thirds, only defining it at beginning and end. It amuses, if not quite delivers glee, to use two more of his main words. I wouldn't put the kibosh (another one) on you buying it, although it might well be too singular, too American, too high-falutin' for all.
I must thank the kind people at Viva Editions for my review copy.
My favourite book about this language of ours remains Damp Squid: The English Language Laid Bare by Jeremy Butterfield, with Toujours Tingo by Adam Jacot de Boinod still superlative for the fan with memories enough to learn more new words and phrases.
You can read more book reviews or buy Wordcatcher: An Odyssey into the World of Weird and Wonderful Words by Phil Cousineau at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Wordcatcher: An Odyssey into the World of Weird and Wonderful Words by Phil Cousineau at Amazon.com.
Like to comment on this review?
Just send us an email and we'll put the best up on the site.