Friday, November 19, 2010

Ha, Ha!

We’ve had a look in earlier blogs at the ugliest words in the English language as well as the most beautiful.  Now comes Robert Beard with a book called The 100 Funniest Words in the English Language. What’s next—the tackiest words, the nerdiest words, and the sleaziest words?  Go for it! 

Beard tackles the funny words in two ways: the way they sound and what they mean.  I’ve selected a few from his hundred that strike me as at least mildly amusing.  How about absquatulate?  From heaven knows what root words, it means to “depart” or also to “sit or squat.”  The Oxford English Dictionary says it’s a “factitious” word and sniffs further that it’s American in origin.  Webster’s New International cites the word in an Arnold Bennett quotation: “No, you take the armchair; I’ll absquatulate on the desk.”  Not on my desk, you won’t!

Callipygian comes to us from the Greek kalli (“beautiful”) and pyge (“buttocks”)—and that’s just what it means: having a pleasingly shapely derrière.

Codswallop appears in no dictionary I possess, but Dr. Beard says it means “nonsense,” and I’ll take him at his word.

A furphy, says Dr. Beard, is a portable water container, but my dictionary insists that it’s Australasian slang for a rumor—so-called from the Furphy Brothers, who made scavenger carts for use in an army camp in Victoria. 

Gazump is a useful word if you wish to buy something that has previously been promised to somebody else.  Again, my dictionaries are no help, so I’m not sure if gazump is transitive or intransitive: do you gazump the object you’re buying or the person from under whose nose you snatched it?  Or do you simply gazump?

In the same orthographic pew is gongoozle.  Once more I’m forced to take Dr. Beard’s word for its meaning—and even for its very existence—since I can’t find it in Webster or the O.E.D.  Supposedly it means to “stare at” or “kibitz.” 

When we get to mumpsimus, I’m on solid ground, for Webster not only defines it (“a custom or tenet held in error, or one who holds it”) but also tells the charming story of its alleged origin.  An aged priest for years had been misreading the Latin word sumpsimus (“we have taken”) in the missal as mumpsimus. When at last someone corrected him, he refused to change, saying he would not replace his old mumpsimus with a new sumpsimus.

To round out our short list of funniest words, how about snollygoster, “a person who cannot be trusted.”  As with many of the other funny words, the mainstream dictionaries won’t touch it—although, when I looked it up, I did come across another candidate for funniest word: slubberdegullion, which is a slob.

Well, anyway, after perusing all these funny words, I hope you’re ROFL.

As might be expected, the Bard of Buffalo Bayou wishes you to know that he can be funny, although he is usually just funny in the head.
            I hope that you’ll agree that it is not too late
            For every one who wishes to absquatulate,
            To get up off his callipygian rump,
            And show us that he’s able to gazump.
            Now should he chance to be a snollygoster,
            His name will never show up on our roster,
            And we’ll appreciate his firm refusal
            To sit around the house and just gongoozle
            Those who, like the famous writer Trollope,
            Have looked at life and said it’s all codswallop.          

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