It’s a brand new dictionary, to be pored over, and even pawed over, for the linguistic treasures within. Trouble is, dictionaries – even those frustratingly abridged editions – are horribly expensive.
There are several on the shelves chez Godson (the beloved is as big a word nerd as I am). There’s his battered Oxford, which has accompanied him across continents and through numerous newsrooms, my Oxford Illustrated and – a more recent acquisition – my abridged Collins.
I’ve always thought of Collins as a bit of a bland upstart. Getting one didn’t alter my opinion.
I’d always been an Oxford girl but that had to change when I joined the Daily Dispatch, whose rules dictate that Collins is the “house” guide to English. What I didn’t know – until I took ownership this week of a brand, spanking new edition – is that I’m really a Chambers girl at heart.
The beautiful book – all 1,904 pages of it – is a quirky delight. First published in 1872, Chambers’ original aim was to appeal to everyone. As the UK Independent says in its review of this one: “Its 12th edition still has no truck with word snobbery, and boasts more entries and definitions than any other single volume English dictionary.”
And indeed it does – 620,000 words, as opposed to the Concise Oxford’s 240,000.
No starchiness here, either. The academically correct definitions and derivations are often accompanied by a wry description, as in the case of (chocolate) éclair, which it describes as “long in shape but short in duration”.
A special “red section” singles out such delights as “words that never were”, “extinct words”, “words that merit rescue”, and “insults”, as well as crossword code-breakers, indispensable two-letter word solutions, top-scoring Q and Z words for Scrabble lovers, etc.
Weighing in at around 2.5kg and costing some R500, I’d have really had to think twice about buying it, but – lucky me – I didn’t have to. It cost me just one word – mellifluous.
Well, one word and a tweet.
You see, among the “Twitterers” I follow is @FoxedQuarterly – tweeted by the dedicated bibliophiles who run independent London bookstore Slightly Foxed, started several decades ago by novelist Graham Greene’s nephew.
Send us your favourite word and its meaning, they tweeted in early December, and you could win a Chambers Dictionary.
So I did. The first one that popped into my head, in fact: “Mellifluous – flowing with sweetness and honey.”
The Foxed Quarterly folk answered immediately: “Very nice,” they said. “Here’s another: “goluptious” (delicious, voluptuous).
“That’s mellifluously goluptious, I’d say, wouldn’t you,” I tweeted back.
The flurry of competing tweets that followed put me in the doldrums. They were so odd that mellifluous – always a favourite of mine for its feeling on the tongue and its delicious descriptiveness – began to feel decidedly ordinary.
There was, for example, “tuftaffety” – taffeta with tufted pile, apparently. And “hornswoggle” – to trick and deceive.
When “callipygous” was tweeted, I knew all was lost. Who, after all, could resist a word that means “having beautiful buttocks”?
As I’d guessed, the Foxed Quarterly folk couldn’t. Happily, though, there were two copies of Chambers to be won, and the other one was mine.
Happily, too, my London-based daughter stoically lugged the weighty beast along with her when she came to visit me in South Africa this week.
What a mellifluous start to my new year! – Stevie Godson
(A version of this column first appeared in the Daily Dispatch