The leisure hours of a wordwright

Vaccinated, I decided to risk a visit to a charity shop at Boländerna, on my to visit list for a long time. I fantasise that the quality of donated books in this most academic of cities must be quite something but I was disappointed – I am evidently not the only book black hole here – they don’t easily escape my clutches. I did find a couple of treasures hidden among the froth: Barrons 501 Hebrew verbs and Lost Beauties of the English Language by Charles Mackay.

Realistically it will be a while before I can tackle Hebrew – I need to get to grips with Bengali, Ancient Greek, Latin, Old English, Welsh and Provencal first so there is a queue  and for health reasons only a limited quantity of languages are allowed to enter my brain at one time (Mephistopheles are you paying attention……?).  But I am not going to feel properly educated until I at least have an idea of how Hebrew works and in the meantime, it’s cheerful to catch a glimpse of my book of Hebrew verbs alongside my Yiddish dictionary (as competitors at least in Israel, they probably regard it as philistine that I’ve bundled them together like this).

I was quite excited about the Charles Mackay book which is a long list of fine archaic words. It’s a strange volume though, obviously a reproduction of a book from long ago but it contained no details of either author or the book’s history apart from the publishers name Bibliophile Books and that Mackay had an LL.D.

My interest quickened when I saw that Amazon knew about the book and wanted 53 US dollars for it, considerably more than the 25 kronor I parted with for my copy. Looking up Charles Mackay on the net revealed his dates as 1814 to 1889 and the original date of publication of my book as 1874. However, his list of works published included his authorship of the three volume Memoirs of Extremely Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds  as well as a number of works on disparate topics.

His collection of archaic words in “Lost Beauties” was fine but the etymological details are often sparse.

I thought he was possibly an intellectual shipwreck (this is really a case of the pot calling the kettle black,,,,). I decided to give him the benefit of doubt and make a list of some of his words that obviously had Anglo-Saxon/Scandinavian origins and then check to see whether I could find these words in my big Webster. And lo and behold most of them were there appropriately clad in etymological detail.

I have been fascinated by words of Scandinavian origin which are English dialect words and have perhaps always been local or else dropped out of the national tongue at some point. I have fantasies about trying to make a long list of dialectical equivalents of Swedish words (for example, “garth” in Northern English (gård) and “grice” in Shetland dialect (gris) and see whether I could construct communications understandable on both sides of the North Sea.. I have dictionaries of the Orkney, Shetland and Yorkshire dialects which should be useful for this project but I think it has to wait until I isolate for a year or so in the next pandemic

I now also have Charles Mackay’s assistance in this project. Here are a few examples of my additions (perhaps not so enlightening for those that don’t understand Swedish):

brant (steep)

fleck (spot, Mackay)

mirk (dark)

moldwarp (mole)

neve (fist)

queme, quem (pleasant)

skelly (squinting)

skink (pour out) (waiter, Mackay)

spae-wife (female fortune teller)

speer (follow a track)

sweer (hard, difficult) (Mackay) reluctant (Webster)

swike (deceive, Mackay)

thig (beg)

thigster  (beggar, Mackay)

tholeable (endurable)

thorp (village)

thrall (slave)

toom (emptied)

toten (peep, Mackay)

wad (wager or bet)

wale (choice)

wanhap (mischance)

There were other words in Mackay which I liked but where I didn’t see an obvious Scandinavian connection:

noonscape (escape from work at noon)

snool (to dispirit by constant chiding)

spoffle (to make oneself very busy over a matter of little consequence)

tanglesome (quarrelsome)

thoughty (pensive)

ugsome (ugly)


wanhope (the waning and disappearance of hope)

These words I shall give an airing to from time to time and try to rescue them from Wordhalla.

I probably won’t go as far as painting them on the side of commuter trains but I’ll do whatever I can that is compatible with my dignity as a double blipping 70 + silver top.

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