Special to The Windham Eagle
It’s generally good policy to avoid judging a book by its cover. After all, no feathered creatures were harmed in To Kill a Mockingbird. There’s no mention of Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, Johnny Bench, or any variety of bread in The Catcher in the Rye. Tropical, dense vegetation had nothing to do with The Jungle, and The NeverEnding Story, well, ends.
But every rule has exceptions, and a slender paperback I recently acquired provides a perfect example. I actually did judge it by its cover, one which caught my eye thanks to an illustration by Roz Chast, a cartoonist whose drawings invariably make me smile, and often provoke out-loud laughter. Totally Weird and Wonderful Words should be judged by its cover, because the title is an exact description of what the book contains.
Talk about truth in advertising: Totally Weird and Wonderful Words is just that. The soft-covered volume teems with terms from “ablegate” (a representative of the pope who brings a newly named cardinal his insignia of office) to “Zyrian” (a former term for Komi, a language spoken by people living in northern Russia, west of the Ural Mountains).
Thanks to this book I now know that “brabbling” is a legitimate word that signifies “noisy arguing or hair-splitting;” “mundungus” (accent on the second syllable) is a term meaning “bad-smelling tobacco;” and a “colliby” (KAHL-ih-bee) is a little present.
The cover illustration features Ms. Chast’s renderings of five odd-looking individuals: a hodmandod, a pollinctor, a gammerstang, a mammothrept, and a batie-bummil. The drawings are chuckle-inducing on their own, but uproariously funny once the reader learns that the folks depicted are, in order, a strange person who resembles a scarecrow; someone who prepares a dead body for cremation or embalming; a tall, awkward woman; a spoiled child; and a useless bungler.
Each term listed comes with its derivation and phonetic pronunciation, which can be mighty handy. Without it, I might have foolishly mispronounced the pope’s representative by referring to him (or her) as an AY-bull-gate, when in fact such an individual is an AB-lig-git.
Prior to acquiring this book, I had no inkling I was bicrural (bye-KROOR-uhl), which means two-legged. Nor was I aware of how often I engage in deglutition (dee-gloo-TISH-uhn) which is the action of swallowing. I hadn’t previously known that an Epirot (ip-PYE-rut) is someone who lives inland, and not on a coast. For those planning a cross-country drive in the near future be forewarned: Nebraska, Kansas, and the Dakotas are full of such people.
Some weird and wonderful words are, once explained, perfectly sensible. For example, “fistiana” refers to anything of or related to the fists, or boxing; a “criticaster” is a minor or incompetent critic; a “zedonk” (accent on the first syllable) is the offspring of a male zebra and a female donkey, and a “rockoon” can be a rocket fired from a balloon, or a balloon carrying a rocket. Well, duh!
But not every word in the book means what it sounds like. “Crapulous” is a literary term meaning “relating to drunkenness or the drinking of alcohol.” It’s not a pretty term, but not nearly as unattractive as I had imagined.
Sadly, the vast majority of the 929 words included in this book cannot be found on any online dictionaries. Oddly enough though, one that can be is “cromulent” (KRAHM-yoo-luhnt), which means “acceptable or legitimate,” according to dictionary.com.
I really enjoyed this weird and wonderful book. And those questioning the value of spending time reading this sort of thing had best think again. It could make a cromulent colliby for one of their bicrural, non-crapulous friends. <