In the brief essays you’ll find on this site, I write about unusual English words and phrases, ordinary words and phrases used in odd ways, strange names, terms with a peculiar history, words which have never properly existed, slang, argot, cant, dialect terms, neologisms—in short, any bit of language about which something interesting might be said. People who do this sort of thing professionally, write about the meanings and history of words, are lexicographers. Samuel Johnson, of course a lexicographer himself, called them “harmless drudges,” but that is scarcely fair. Nowadays especially lexicographers are linguistic scientists, taxonomists of the language, and their great monument is the OED, the Oxford English Dictionary, for which I have the greatest admiration and to which I refer all the time. Myself, I’m not a professional, a scientist. I’m more an amateur natural historian following a wayward path through the thickets of language in pursuit of specimens. If you’re drawn to those thickets too, welcome . . .
Under “Words” on the right (or below this message, if you’re using a mobile device) you’ll find a list of all the items I’ve written about, in alphabetical order. Browse among them however you like. I’ll be adding new essays from time to time, so stay tuned–the most recent additions are given in red. (Why red? See red-letter.) And by all means, if you have a comment or a question about the website or its essays, please send me an email: email@example.com.
I am grateful to Deborah Keisch and Joe Bacal of Smith’s Educational Technology Services for help in the construction of this site, and to my daughter Margaret Hunter for its title.
Helen and Laura Shedd Professor of English and Film Studies, Emeritus