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Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Fancy a Cupertino?

'The girls have had lots of gin at the nursery party,' my daughter texted me the other day, leaving me a tad dubious about modern parenting skills.  Until she explained that the word she had actually used was not gin but 'fun.' The spell-check, the bane of our electronic age,  was up to its tricks again.

So if you've  ever had a Cupertino, or felt  scared of  sitting on public transport with nothing to read, you might need a copy of  Authorisms, a new book by Paul Dickson which takes a fascinating look at the origins some of our strangest words.

American lexicographer Dickson explores how writers from Shakespeare to Steinbeck have enriched our language with neologisms - those sayings that nearly but not quite got into the English language. Like alogotransiphobia (that's the one about reading on public transport - but then we all knew that, didn't we?)

When my children were small they made up their own words like binkaber for vinegar, gi-normous for huge while  firmly believing that clean clothes should be hung on the ' washing lion.' One even thought broccoli florets were sparrows,  but that's a story for another time.

Funniest of all was the child who sang 'Jesus wants a little wee' at the top of her voice when 'Jesus little ones are we,' would have been more appropriate at this particular Sunday school concert.

Hands up if you've spelt or said a word incorrectly for years before finding out the error of your ways? Or made up your own word and been firmly convinced it deserves a place in the Oxford English Dictionary?  Somehow our sins never seem so bad when they are out in the open.

In case you're still wondering about that Cupertino.  You won't find one in a French cafĂ© (Cuppa tea - no?) Or even in an Italian one, come to that.  A Cupertino is what happens when  a computer's auto-correct turns your word in to something that doesn't make sense.

 Finally I must just add that some of the braziest crooks (sorry, craziest books) I've ever read contain unintentional misuse of words. So over to you. With apologies to Mrs Malaprop. And a certain former American president, of course.

Authorisms - the blurb:

'William Shakespeare's written vocabulary consisted of 17,245 words, including hundreds that were coined or popularized by him. Some of the words never went further than their appearance in his plays, but others like bedazzled, hurry, critical, and anchovy are essential parts of our standard vocabulary today.

 According to the Oxford English Dictionary, Sir Walter Scott ranks second to Shakespeare in first uses of words and giving a new and distinct meaning to already existing words (Free Lances for freelancers). John Milton minted such terms as earthshaking, lovelorn, by hook or crook, and all Hell broke loose, and was responsible for introducing some 630 words.

....Paul Dickson deftly sorts through neologisms by Chaucer (a ha), Jane Austen (base ball), Louisa May Alcott (co-ed), Mark Twain (hard-boiled), Kurt Vonnegut (granfalloon), John le Carrè (mole), William Gibson (cyberspace), and many others. Presenting stories behind each word and phrase, Dickson enriches our appreciation of the English language in a book as entertaining as it is enlightening.'

Authorisms by Paul Dickson is available from Bloomsbury USA. (RRP £14.99)

Media of Authorisms



Francie...The Scented Cottage Studio said...

Started with a laugh because the first (and last) time I tried to text on my phone to my friend Christy it came out Dear Chestnut !
Would not take Christy no matter what so to this day she is "Chestnut". My family is good at making up, combining or changing words. Thanks for sharing the origin of many that we use.

Guernsey Girl said...

Now that really made me laugh, Francie! I wonder how many other people have names produced by text errors? There's a fiction group here called 'The Romaniacs,' who are part of the Romantic Novelists' Association. You've guessed it - Romaniac was an accidental version of Romantic - and much more fun - don't you think? Thanks for your comment.