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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.

alvearyChambers: 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]
    What should one call a book full of words? Until the beginning of the 18th century, a number of terms competed for the privilege of attachment to these texts. Abecedarium - reflecting the satisfying order of the alphabet; alveary (literally, beehive) - to conjure the Babel buzz of language; ortus (garden) or sylva (wood) - to plant the idea of variety, plenty, and vigorous growth. Medulla - to suggest getting to the pith and marrow of English, or manipulus, to promise to hunker words up by the fistful. By 1800, however, lexicographers had settled upon one term: dictionary, from the Latin dictionarius, meaning a repertory of words.
    – The Independent, July 31, 1999
 
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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:
quote:
Lexicographer. A writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge, that busies himself in tracing the original and detailing the signification of words.

Oats. A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland appears to support the people.
Many more here.


Ceci n'est pas un seing.
 
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A great favorite of mine - "chrestomathy." Phrases rather than individual words, but still a pleasing term.


RJA
 
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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]
    Just because I had one gin before and a couple of glasses of claret during you thought I 'd been mallemaroking.
    – 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)
The word is extreme rare. That leaves scope for mis-reading it, and many learned statements of its meaning (and to a lesser degree, its etymology) strike me as nonsense. What I tell you above represents my best judgment.
 
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Not to be confused with the similarly boisterous "mafeking."

See, for example, http://www.reference.com/browse/wiki/Back-formation (last paragraph).


RJA
 
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quote:
mafeking

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.
 
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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.]
    Suddenly I heard something terrifying: my mother came out of my mouth. "I'm not your slave!" I remember Mum standing there in the hall when I was a tweenager, her four self-absorbed daughters running riot. "I'm not your slave!" she'd yell, more a plea than an accusation. Sometimes she'd say: "I'm not your skivvy." … I now realise she meant the old-fashioned word for maid.
    – 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
Bonus Words:
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.)
 
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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".
    The French have clearly tired of taking it on the chin. A new book about the British socio-economic "model" strikes back at les rosbif, calling them vulgar, aggressive and unprincipled “consumerist zombies” with no understanding of philosophy, beauty or art. It is the latest salvo in a “Brit-bashing” barrage as France struggles to defend its identity against what many fear is the inexorable advance of "Anglo-Saxon" free market ideas and globalisation.
    – Times, Sept. 10, 2006
mullet – a hairstyle that is short at the front, long at the back, and ridiculous all around
    A mullet lets you have it both ways. From the front, you conform. You hold down a job. You pay the bills. But from the rear, a mullet sends out an unmistakable message: Here walks a rebel, a head-banger, a major party animal. As mullet fans are fond of saying, "Business up front, party out back."
    – Los Angeles Times, Apr. 29, 2001
 
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Rosbif, biftek, le weekend, shampooing, le smoking...

Rather like Monte Python's Holy Grail: "English with an atrocious French accent."


RJA
 
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Rosbif, biftek, le weekend, shampooing, le smoking...

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!).


Richard English
 
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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:

pantagamyChambers: 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.

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regiftChambers: to give (an unwanted present) as a gift to another person, in a process which is likely to continue almost indefinitely.

Think "fruitcake".
    Do you feel guilty about passing along unwanted Christmas gifts to others? Do you think regifting is totally tacky? According to a new survey, more than 40-percent of respondents have regifted and that number is rising. A separate survey found that 60 percent of Americans think regifting is no longer gauche. One in four people think that's because it's a way to save money while 14 percent say it's a form of recycling. "One man's trash is another man's treasure."
    – CBS4 (Miami), Jan. 3, 2008 (ellipses omitted)
 
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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!"


RJA
 
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