(Roughly) Daily

A thinking place…


Stephen Chrisomalis (now a professor at Wayne State University in Detroit) collects “unusual” words. Since 1996, he’s been kind enough to share his collection on the web; his site, The Phrontistery*, the centerpiece of which (for your correspondent, anyway) is The International House of Logorrhea, “a list of 15,500 English words [so far], ranging from the merely uncommon to the extremely rare, nearly obsolete and just plain nutty”… and a delight.

It’s got pronunciation guides, subject area glossaries, word-finding tips, even a 2- and 3-letter Scrabble word list.  There’s a Compendium of Lost Words (a compilation of ultra-rare forgotten words), and many other glossaries, word lists, essays, and other language and etymology resources

The first compilation of English words was (probably) A Table Alphabeticall, a list of 2,500 words published in 1604 by Robert Cawdrey, a defrocked priest who’d become a schoolmaster.  (Cawdrey’s list didn’t include “dictionary,” though the word had been used as early as 1538 in Sir Thomas Elyot’s Latin Dictionary.)  The next major advance was (per last Wednesday’s post) Dr. Johnson’s Dictionary, which was the standard until 1884, and the introduction of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Chrisomalis and his fellow-travellers on the web– who include the OED and other traditional publishers– are moving lexicography into its next phase.

W.H. Auden once said that the book he’d choose for a desert island was a dictionary, as it “may legitimately be read in an infinite number of ways.”  Thanks to Chrisomalis, et al., infinity is getting even bigger and even more interesting.

* Phrontistery: A thinking place. n. [Gr. phrontisterion, from phrontistes a thinker, from phroneein, to think]

As we noodle on nouns, we might recall that on this date in 1789 “The Power of Sympathy, or the Triumph of Nature Founded in Truth”– the first novel by an American writer to be published in America– was printed in Boston, Massachusetts.  The first editions of the book did not carry the author’s name, but a later printing carried the name “Sarah Wentworth Apthorp Morton”– though most scholars attribute the book’s authorship to William Hill Brown.

The Power of Sympathy

Written by (Roughly) Daily

January 21, 2009 at 1:01 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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