Wonderful Words

I was much taken with Ammon Shea’s book, Reading the OED, a memoir of the year he spent reading the entire Oxford English Dictionary. In the Exordium (otherwise known as an Introduction) mentions that he has approximately a thousand volumes of dictionaries, ┬áthesauri, and assorted glossaries, and labels himself a collector or words. My own assemblage of such books is about one-tenth of his, but I know the feeling. I share his passion.

And so I will mention just one of my favorite words: quirk. For one thing, it sounds so much like itself, which always makes me smile. And for another, I like the four concepts it can label: a peculiarity of behavior, a trick of fate, a freak, a flourish in writing. But those are only the standard definitions. If you get into old usage, it could be a hollow in a molding. It also shows up as Air Force slang from WWI or WWII, meaning an officer in training–or any freak type or unusually designed airplane.

Just below quirk in the slang dictionary I happened to pick up (an old edition of Partridge’s A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English) I came across quirker, any odd little thing, animate or inanimate. It’s a real quirker, how reading dictionaries starts.

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