Wednesday, July 14, 2010

WNW: Words, Words, Words

I came across two different pieces of fun online this week. (The first I stumbled on via Maya Reynold's blog, and the other one, Melanie J sent my way, knowing I'd love it.)

I couldn't pick between the two, and since they both deal with vocabulary and words in general, I'm using both today.

I learned a new word this week: Mountweazel.

A Mountweazel is a word or entry in a book (like a dictionary or encyclopedia) that is deliberately fake, allowing the creators to track copyright violators who copy their work. If someone uses their book and the fake entry shows up, it's pretty obvious that it's a) not original and 2) they got their information from a specific source.

The term came from one such entry, in the 1975 New Columbia Encyclopedia (NCE), an entry about a non-existent woman named Lillian Virginia Mountweazel.

Her supposed bio read:

Lillian Virginia Mountweazel (1942-1973). Her biography claims she was a fountain designer and photographer, best known for her collection of photos of rural American mailboxes, "Flags Up!" She was born in Bangs, Ohio, and died in an explosion while on assignment for "Combustibles" magazine.

In 2005, The New Yorker took the name and used it to describe the concept. You can find that article HERE.

That article is fascinating in its own right. An unnamed investigator took the job on himself to figure out where the Mountweazel was in the New Oxford Dictionary. A leak claimed that the made-up word began with E. He went through all the Es and whittled them down to six viable candidates then took those words to a group of pros.

While the lexicographers weren't in agreement, the majority did pick the fake:

esquivalience—n. the willful avoidance of one’s official responsibilities . . . late 19th cent.: perhaps from rom French esquiver, “dodge, slink away.”

Read the full article to see how they figured it out.

The second fun bit is a long poem with a bunch of crazy vocabulary words.

"The Chaos," a poem by G. Nolst Trenite (Charivarius) has homophones as well as the opposite: words next to one another that are spelled similarly but pronounced totally different.

From the fourth line: "corpse, corps, horse, and worse"

It gets really crazy. Read it aloud and see if you can do it 100% correctly. I've got pretty decent-sized vocabulary, but I didn't quite make it. Two words I didn't know at all, and a couple I looked up quickly to see if I was pronouncing them right.

One word I can thank Dr. Oaks for teaching me:

VICTUALS is not, like many (and I used to) think pronounced like "VIC-TOO-ALLS."


Check out the whole poem HERE. It's a riot.

Reading it reminded me of those spelling protesters. They'd have a field day.


Kristina P. said...

I really do love learning new words.

Elisa said...

I am going to use Mountweazel in every single conversation today.

Susan Anderson said...

Okay, that poem rocks!


TisforTonya said...

while the poem loads, this reminds me of the reading lesson I used at the beginning of last year using The Tough Cough Ploughs the Dough... I think I'm going to have to save this poem for this years' students :)

Erin said...

I love stuff like this too. Thanks for sharing!

LisAway said...

That poem is supremely awesome. Oh my goodness. Thank you so much for sharing. Off to email the fam about it. . .

Heather of the EO said...

I think I might actually BE a mountweazel. :)

InkMom said...

Love love LOVE this stuff. You provide such a fantastic public service, Annette. What would my brain do without you?

Kimberly Vanderhorst said... literary sensibilities are tingling after that. What a delicious post!

Meggen said...

That poem is awesome! Thanks for stimulating my brain today! ;o)

The Damsel In Dis Dress said...

I adored that thing about the made-up word to find the cheaters. Sweet!

The Damsel, aka The Grammar Hammer

Lara Neves said...

Eating humble pie.

Joel and I JUST had a disagreement last week about the word victuals.

And he was right. I'd love to know the reasons behind the pronunciation because it seems so strange!

Gina said...

Wait, so you are telling me there could be fake words in the dictionary? That doesn't seem fair! What if I learned and memorized the fake?!?!?!

Annette Lyon said...

Gina, I KNOW! Here we go there for information and end up not knowing if it's real?!

Unknown said...

Havent been here for awhile. Love the new look!

Melanie Jacobson said...

Mountweazel is my favorite thing I've learned this month.

And that poem is fun, huh?


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