Absquatulating snollygosters: the week in politics?

No, don’t worry – I’m not about to turn this blog political (well, maybe just a little bit). The political reference is because I’ve discovered a couple of marvellous web sites for anyone who loves words – old ones crying out to be saved and others that are simply weird and wonderful – and am dying to show off these riches.

Michael Quinion’s World Wide Words (how’s that for an enviable domain name?) defines absquatulate as “to make off, decamp, or abscond”, and snollygoster as “a shrewd, unprincipled person, especially a politician”. I wonder if there’s a special word for snollygosters wearing statement brooches?

Brooch - rocking the boat, as worn by Hazel BlearsThe brooch in question was designed by Nick Hubbard. It shows a cat and dog sitting in a boat cast adrift, surrounded by the words “Rocking the Boat”. When a tiny lever on the side of the brooch is operated, the boat rocks from side to side. It was made using oxidized silver, fine gold detail and a hand-painted background. Refreshingly, the brooch was not claimed on expenses but was a gift to Hazel Blears from her husband, and cost £135 (fashion detail courtesy of The Times).

But back to words and web sites. Michael Quinion writes “on international English from a British viewpoint”. He initially studied physical sciences (I so admire people who combine science with language skills!) but now concentrates on World Wide Words and on providing citations and advice for the Oxford English Dictionary.

His site has sections on Topical Words, Weird Words, Turns of Phrase, loads of articles and could be seriously addictive. Be warned.

Another dangerous site for language addicts is The Phrontistery (a thinking-place). The site is run by Stephen Chrisomalis, an academic specialising in Linguistic Anthropology and Numeral Systems and who describes himself as:

one of those “word people” who has an obsessive love for language. Whether you prefer the term logolept, verbivore, logophile, epeolater, or logodaedalus, to name only a few, I count myself among that odd crowd who takes great joy in the mere mention of a new or interesting word.

You could lose yourself for days in The Phrontistery. It contains A Compendium of Lost Words, a list of 2 and 3-letter Scrabble Words and sections on Lipograms and Numerals (Stephen’s research interests include numerals and numeration and ethnomathematics). My favourite section is Glossaries, which range from Adjectives of Relation to Words of Wisdom. Here are some examples to whet your appetite.

The Love and Attraction list begins, somewhat weirdly (until you read Stephen’s introduction), with aerophilately, collecting of air-mail stamps. Other words chosen not quite at random are: gynotikolobomassophile, one who nibbles on women’s earlobes, and Scotophilia, admiration for Scotland or the Scots (well, I would include that, wouldn’t I?).

Reading the list of Colour Terms is intoxicating – like diving into a Poussin or Howard Hodgkin, while Fabric and Cloth evokes the world of haute couture or the splendours of a Renaissance court (with the odd bit of drabbet or russet for the peasants).

Dip into these sites and enjoy. But set yourself a timer first, or warn your nearest and dearest to send out a search party if you’re not back in time for tea.

By the way, I got started on the Snollygoster trail through the “100 funniest words in English” post in Translating is an Art, Percy Balemans’ Dutch & English blog. Dangerous things, blogs.

By Marian Dougan

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