Thursday, 29 November 2012


08:00:00 Posted by Damp incendiary device , , , , , 5 comments
When this theme arose last year, I imagined a dessert island.  It was a good place to get stranded.  There was custard and, legend has it, rhubarb crumble.  This year I am feeling, sadly, a little less pudding.  My partner in cake is no longer around and I'm off my tea loaf.  But enough of my soggy semolina...

I would want only one title with me on the desert island.  Currently it runs to 20 volumes, contains 22,000 pages, and weighs 140lbs.  Behold, the mighty tome which is the Oxford English Dictionary!

Blackpool Library Service has signed up to give every one of its members online access to the OED online and I feel that this fact should be advertised more often.  For me, it is worth joining the library for this feature alone.  Hours and days can be happily resigned to history while dallying among nykins (sweethearts) and babbarts (hares), kichels (small cakes (damn, they snuck in again)) and stushies (disturbances).  It's like getting to know loads of interesting people without having to feign an interest in their preoccupation with cake...

Behind every word is the story of its origin (as far as it can reasonably be traced) and a selection of uses.  To support the historical context and usage, there are excerpts from diary entries and newspaper clippings, novels, novellas and scientific journals.

For a poet, what more could you possibly need to while away your remaining days?  To take a random example, below is the partial entry for a single word, nonced into life by the exquisite Charles Dodgson:

nyctograph, n.

Pronunciation:  Brit. /ˈnɪktə(ʊ)ɡrɑːf

A device invented by Charles Dodgson (‘Lewis Carroll’) with which a person can record ideas (esp. those remaining after sleep) at night in bed without fully waking up.

1891   ‘L. Carroll’ Diary 24 Oct. (1953) II. xiv. 486   Today [sc. 24 Sept.] I conceived the idea of having a series of squares, cut out in card, and devising an alphabet, of which each letter could be made of lines along the edges of the squares, and dots at the corners... I shall call it ‘The Typhlograph’. (24/10/91. Instead of ‘typhlograph’ I have adopted ‘Nyctograph’ at the suggestion of Warner).

And here is what I make of it:


Nyct slips stars behind my peepers
Locks them under heavy lashes 
If I write before I wake
Those stars quick Nyct is sure to take

Straight lines to fish
Round spots for bait
Square box to store
Starlight I'll make.



Ashley R Lister said...

Interesting choice. Did you see this article earlier this week?

vicky ellis said...

OMG! That's scandalous (and not very surprising considering the tiny, elitist cultural pool which supplies the OED editors).

Adele said...

Sounds a little like the Mayan vigesimal counting glyphs. Very appropriate considering the long calender is nearing conclusion.

I keep a dream notebook but only in case I have any predictive dreams. Naturally it helps keep imaginative story ideas stored for future reference.

The OED is truly amazing. I miss the college library so much.

vicky ellis said...

Adele, you miss trying to read while listening to performing arts students singing hits from the shows and being constantly tempted away by the smell of bacon? You miss the whispered conversations, which are much more distracting than full volume conversations, in the 'quiet room'? You miss the queue for the photocopier and sitting beside kids having a conversation about skirts?

The thing I remember least about the college library is the books :)

Lisa McFleeca said...

What, the hub is for reading... Who knew! I believed it was for badly played acoustic guitar while the hopes and dreams of hormonals were crushed by their peers ;-) I'm staying away from you with pms for fear of flying dictionaries...

Loved the post x