Words and phrases I’ve not taken the trouble to look up before

Reading on the bus, without a pen or with no internet connection, I often pass by new words without looking them up. But I don’t approve of this behaviour and struggle against it Below are the fruits of one such struggle.

Jejeune, rebarbative and nescient I’ve known for a long time without really grasping them, other than that jejeune was something negative. The definitions below are from the Concise OED with the exception of the phrases which are from the net.

Rebarbative: Unattractive and objectionable

Jejeune: Not intellectually interesting (derived from the Latin: jejeunus, which means fasting, barren, )

Nescienct: lacking knowledge, ignorant

Roturier: (French) commoner (not actually an English word as far as I know but I don’t mind knowing it, some of my favourite words are foreign).

A fortiori: Used to express a conclusion for which there is stronger evidence than for a previously accepted one.

De gustibus: Concerning (a matter of) taste

I found all these words in an article by Perry Anderson in “London Review of Books” on Anthony Powell.

A slang expression that has aroused my interest is “take a dekko”: I knew that this meant taking a look. It caught my attention as the word “daekha” in Bengali means to look at. Apparently, it’s similar in Hindi and according to COED, it came into English in the nineteenth century through the army. This sounds convincing although I had wondered whether there might also be a connection through Romany. When studying Bengali (studying is rather a grand word for what my 74 year old brain gets up to but I’m doing my best), the similarity between Romani and Bengali numbers struck me. I’ve just downloaded George Borrow’s “Romano Lavo-Lil – Word Book of the Romany, or English Gypsy [sic] Language” to my Kindle. According to this dictionary, there is a Romany word “Dic” or “Dico” which means to look  (Borrow gives the origin as the Sanskrit ” Iksh” meaning to look or see). I’ve found over 50 other close connections between Romany and Sanskrit or Hindi in the first four letters of the alphabet.

I wonder whether the minority/alternative status or non-recognition of Romany has led to it being neglected by the academic world as an etymological source (compared with Hebrew, Greek and Latin). It would be interesting to check what has been done! I shall start by trying to find out how often Romany is cited as an etymological source in COED (should keep me off the street for an hour or two…).

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