I love dictionaries. I really do. They’re almost porn to total word nerds such as myself. All those lovely words. I used to read them (along with the encyclopedias) when I was a kid. An excessively weird kid. As I’ve discussed previously.
Anyway, today I was flipping through the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) to pass the time while my students were working on an in-class writing assignment. Eventually I intend to read the definition of every single word in the OED. I know, how very Malcolm X of me. Yet, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to achieve this feat since the unabridged version of the OED is comprised of several thick volumes that are revised and updated regularly. This is because the English language is the most dynamic language in the world, and new words are being added to it all the time.
There are several words in the A section that I feel are particularly noteworthy. Aardvark is worth mentioning because it’s the first actual word in the OED. It’s apparently a large nocturnal burrowing animal that lives in South Africa. The word itself is in Afrikaans, which is a South African dialect derived from the Dutch language.
The next word that I was a bit taken aback to see in the OED is “Aargh!” You know, the sound people make when they are frightened, angry or frustrated. This is an example of an onomatopoeia, a word which is the spelling of a sound. Other examples include: meow, beep and plop.
Finally, there is the word abreast . It’s normally associated with walking side by side, as in, “The stroller pushers were walking three abreast on the sidewalk, so I was forced to walk into oncoming traffic to get around them.” (Yes, this actually happened.)
Despite its pedestrian definition, this word is the subject of oh so many bad puns and jokes for obvious reasons. It’s one of those old-fashioned words that nobody ever uses anymore because speaking it aloud would cause everyone in the area to titter like teenagers in a sex-ed class. Now that I think about it, the word titter also causes people to titter in the same way.