Just An Online Minute... OED Online Relaunch Leaves Guests Twitterpated
Oxford English Dictionary (OED) Online Relaunch Party, Oxford University Press, New York
January 6, 2010
I have always been a book nerd -- well, until my adult life robbed me of my time to hunker down and lose myself in a thick volume of wonderful, new-smelling pages (excuses!) I remember being yelled at for ignoring my mom, but she, and everyone else, didn't understand that when I read, I literally (literarily) could not hear anything except the movie playing out in my head. Along with a nearly insatiable appetite for reading came the need to look up words like nefarious, masticate, and obfuscate. I imagined people who had those huge dictionaries in their homes with the thin slippery pages were wealthy geniuses. You can see why I was nerdily excited to attend the launch party for the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) online, then, right?
A dictionary party is exactly as you would imagine it. Men with grey floppy hair gesturing like Shakespearean characters, bowties pert and persnickety, tweed caps and vests, brunettes in rectangular framed glasses, and the whole crew guffawing loudly at the latest etymology snark. And while it may sound so, none of this was pretentious. It was just pure word nerdery.
The first people I found were two men leaning on a round table with empty black plastic plates bearing the crumbs of cheese and crackers past. There stood Andrew Zibell, who works for Borders, Corporate and Education Sales. His favorite word is "chiffon," and he hates the word "spit." Do not spit on his chiffon!
Andrew was manning the table with Daryl Mattson, Borders Marketing Manager for NYC. His favorite word is "flummox." Flummox sounds like a big, fat, round furry creature and I like it. It would also describe what one guest did to me when he asked what my favorite word is... and my answer embarrasses me still. More on that later. Daryl hates "skid" -- and I support that.
I skidded past the cheese table, noticing the smell of hot butter (similar to what you'd smell at Luke's Lobster as they sizzle their rolls) yet also noting nothing appeared to be wearing hot butter. I found Christian Purdy, Director of Publicity for OED, whose favorite word is tintinnabulation, the ringing or sound of bells, which I do believe signifies an angel getting his wings ("Mary! Mary!!" - George Bailey). The word Purdy hates most? Well, he had a hard time limiting it, but rising above "whatever" and "like" (and they way they're uttered) was "unique." "Anyone who puts 'unique' in their cover letter has no chance of being hired by me," Purdy declared. Unique is one of those thesaurus words used when someone wants to use a word more unique than the original. Heehaw.
Purdy introduced me to Ben Zimmer, the On Language columnist for The New York Times. Poor Zimmer was on the way to the restroom when I ensnared him in my net of wordplay. Seriously, who better to scoop vocab from than someone from the NYT devoted to language? Zimmer did not disappoint. His word of choice? "Ucalegon," of course. Its meaning? An ancient Greek word meaning "Neighbor whose house is on fire." Let's hope you never have to use it. Although, it may be with luck that you do. Zimmer, a true word nerd, could not choose a word to hate. He has a hippie mentality when it comes to them, noting that "I can't blame the word" when it rubs him the wrong way, it's usually the way a person uses them. So, words don't hurt people, people hurt people.
I released Zimmer to the toilets and bopped over to the table occupied by Katherine Martin, Senior Editor of the new word section of the new OED.com. I imagine she is the recipient of the nerdiest hate mail. I fact, before I arrived at the party, I checked Twitter to see if I would know any other attendees and stumbled upon this gem. People are passionate about their words! Katherine Martin's inbox must be filled with letters of discontent regarding the destruction of the English language. Blame "Jersey Shore"! Katherine's favorite word is Schadenfreude, the pleasure derived from the misfortune of others. So, when you giggle when that aggressive Trader Joe's shopper's bag explodes in a rain of clementines and Jo-Jos, that's what's up.
Katherine Martin was keeping a table warm with Matt(hew) Kohl, whose favorite word made my spine attempt escape: twitterpated. How sad is it that Twitter-isms are killing real words for me. In case you aren't aware, twitterpated made its debut in the movie "Bambi," describing what Flower the skunk was feeling all over his insides around the female variety of his skunky kind. How much do you want to bet there is a whole generation who thinks "twitterpated" is a word derived from a certain microblogging tool. Tragedy! The word Kohl cannot stand? Diaspora, which strangely enough is also the name for social networking software. It was a real word first! Fiona McPherson joined us to offer her favorite word: mondegreen, "a word or phrase resulting from a misinterpretation of a word or phrase that has been heard" (from dictionary.com, sorry OED!).
Before heading for the exit, I found Erica Motley, whose favorite word's existence is up for debate: Imperfectionist. Motley is currently reading "The Imperfectionist" and highly recommends it. Casper Grathwohl, who would be privy to Motley's recommendation explanation once I left their space, offered his least favorite word, "moist," to balance out Motley's favorite word.
With the relaunch of OED online, your experience is meant to be enhanced, with the team particularly proud of their linking to The Historical Thesaurus of the OED, so you're actually taken on a journey through the life of your word and language. It's all very romantic -- the way OED Chief Editor John Simpson and really the entire editing staff wants you to experience words and language. You can get all smart-like on their relaunched site.
Oh, and the stupid embarrassing word that I gave as my favorite, when so flummoxed I could have spit moist chiffon while others grimaced with Schadenfreude? "Booger." That's right, "booger." I wanted to skid down the stairs on my face. So not unique, but, like, whatever.