Almost forty years ago I reported on insights that could be gleaned from examples used in books and articles on linguistics, examples that, unbeknownst to the exemplifiers, provided glimpses into “that Universal Discourse which is vouchsafed in whole to none but in part to many” (Pop 1971:181). Somewhat cold on the heels of that pioneering report, I can now with a modicum of pride disclose another source of clues about the ineffable unknown: lexicographic lemma headers.
Almost every dictionary is a mine, a fount, a cornucopia of this kind of knowledge. The 1969 Penguin English (PED), for example, has no header on page 1; but every almost every succeeding page bears a new header, starting with abject — abroad on p. 2 and continuing to zoic — zymurgy on p. 800. Many pairs of lemmata are abstruse, indeed impenetrable word-
A few tell an obvious story. The surreptitious — swain who was a swimsuit — sybarite (both PED) ended up not as a grim — groom (CPED) but as a spongy — spouse, indulging in many a timely — tipple, trying feebly to evade his wife’s tentacle — terrible, his silkily — sincere excuses bouncing off her tortoiseshell — tough (all PED) skin. In a fervid — fever he attempted an errant — escape from their higgledy-
Many are stand-
Some of these pairs were so inspiring that they aroused Erato and blossomed into doggerel:
With my gruesome kitchen mystery
Will I rival Agatha Christerie?
vitriolic — vol-au-vent (PED)
Excruciating! ... Emasculation
Prolonged by pure procrastination:
gonadectomy — goof-off (MW)
The male organs; what the Brits
So coyly call ‘the jiggly bits’:
figleaf — filler (PED)
PED = Garmonsway, George N. The Penguin English Dictionary. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1969.
CPED = McLeod, William T. The Collins Paperback English Dictionary. London: Collins, 1986.
MW = Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary. Markham ON: Allen, 1983.
Pop, Fom. 1971. “Fragments from the collective subconscious: a tentative reconstruction,” 179-183 in Arnold M. Zwicky et al., eds., Studies Out In Left Field: Defamatory Essays Presented to J.D. McCawley on the Occasion of his 33rd or 34th Birthday, Edmonton: Linguistic Research, Inc.
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