Chambers Dictionary sprinkles humorous definitions among its entries, a practice dating back to its first edition, in 1901. A typical example is éclair – a cake, long in shape but short in duration. Usually the word defined is a familiar one—else, how would you get the joke?—but not always.
This week we'll enjoy some of the definitions which Chambers has presented over the years.
alveary – Chambers: a hive of industry, hence a dictionary
["real" definition: 1. a bee-hive; hence: 2. an early name for a dictionary; 3. the part of the ear where ear wax is found]
– The Independent, July 31, 1999
Chambers Dictionary sprinkles humorous definitions among its entries, a practice dating back to its first edition, in 1901.
I'd say there was a history of this going back to Samuel Johnson's dictionary. For example:
Many more here.
—Ceci n'est pas un seing.
A great favorite of mine - "chrestomathy." Phrases rather than individual words, but still a pleasing term.
Today's word comes from crew lingo in 19th century fishing-ships of the frigid Northern Atlantic. Chambers preserved it. The giggle is in the word and its meaning, not in the Chambers way of putting it.
mallemaroking – boisterous and drunken carousing – with a sexual edge
[perhaps from Dutch mallemerok romping woman (or foolish woman), though the earliest-known English usage looks quite a bit different]
– Punch (1958)
While they were mallemaroking with some females from the village, someone had entered the experimental station and released the mink.
– Neil Astley, The end of my tether (2002)
Not to be confused with the similarly boisterous "mafeking."
See, for example, http://www.reference.com/browse/wiki/Back-formation (last paragraph).
I've usually seen that spelt "mafficking".
Build a man a fire and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire and he's warm for the rest of his life.
Any parent will understand today's definition.
tweenager – a child who, although not yet a teenager, has already developed an interest in pop music, fashion and exasperating his or her parents
[Wordcrafter note: a tweenager is also known as a tween.]
– The Australian, May 2, 2009
Another friend is weary with nay-saying his tweenager daughter's constant pleas for a mobile.
– Scotsman, Apr. 12, 2009
skivvy – 1. Brit. informal: a low-ranking female domestic servant 2. a person doing menial work
Not to be confused with skivvies – an undershirt, or underwear (particularly men's cotton underwear.)
rosbif – a contemptuous term applied by the French to any person who has the misfortune to be British
OED claims that this usage is "rare".
– Times, Sept. 10, 2006
– Los Angeles Times, Apr. 29, 2001
Rosbif, biftek, le weekend, shampooing, le smoking...
Rather like Monte Python's Holy Grail: "English with an atrocious French accent."
I believe that "le smoking" is what the French think the English call semi-formal evening wear - the black outfit with a black tie.
In fact no proper Englishman would ever dream of wearing a "smoking" - any more than he would dream of wearing a "tuxedo". The item of dress is known as a "Dinner Jacket" or "DJ". Full evening dress wear - white tie and tails - is properly called that - but these days such apparel is relatively rare. The highest level of formality that most gentlemen will aspire to is a Dinner Jacket for evening wear and a morning suit (grey or black jacket, grey trousers and a top hat), for formal daytime occasions (usually to get married!).
Speaking of getting married ...
Today's word, pantagamy, was born in ambiguity.
gam means "marry" (as in polygamy), and the prefix a- means "not" (aseptic; atheist). Hence agamous is "unmarried", and agamy is the state of being unmarried (or, of a society, not-recognition of marriage).*
The prefix pan-, pant-, panto- means "all; universal" (as in panacea cure-all; pantheism; pantomime). Now panta- might be another form, but if so, the final a in panta- could be confused with the prefix a- "not". For example, does pantaphobia mean panta-phobia "everything-fearing; fearing all things"? No, that word is pantOphobia with an o, while pantAphobia means the direct opposite, pant-aphobia "everything not-fearing; fearlessness".
Similarly, today's word pantagamy ought to mean pant-agamy "everyone unmarried; no marriage". But it was created as a word to mean panta-gamy – everyone married to everyone else. The original 1904 OED called this "‘an illiterate formation", and Chambers put it this way:
pantagamy – Chambers: a word that ought to mean universal bachelorhood, applied with unconscious irony to the universal marriage of the Perfectionists, in which every man in the community is the husband of every woman
In other words, pantagamy means "free love".
Also agamospecies – a species that reproduces only asexually.This message has been edited. Last edited by: wordcrafter,
regift – Chambers: to give (an unwanted present) as a gift to another person, in a process which is likely to continue almost indefinitely.
– CBS4 (Miami), Jan. 3, 2008 (ellipses omitted)
Those gifts are for trading!
Old story of two friends on the commodities market Their job was to trade fish.
Prices swung wildly. Buying and selling. Making and losing large sums of money.
Finally one day, one of the men was hungry so he opened a can of sardines and took a bite. "Hey", he exclaimed, "these fish are rotten!".
"Those aren't for eating," his friend explained, "they are for TRADING!"