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You should look this good at a hundred

A venerable centenarian arrived at the house this week: the Concise Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford University Press, 1,682 pages, $35), which turns one hundred this year.

The Oxford University Press has many mansions, and its various dictionaries occupy several of them. The Concise is not the same thing as the Oxford English Dictionary. It is the one about which people wrote recently because it included bromance and some other novelties. (No doubt all those novelties are also slowly accumulating in the strongrooms of the OED, which, even though I know it is all electronic I prefer to think of as possessing heavily secured vaults like the gold repository at Fort Knox.)

The Concise is what it claims to be, a reduction of the vast OED to current essentials, most obsolete and obscure words stripped out, etymologies simplified, definitions made compact. It’s a desk dictionary, not a research dictionary.

Still within those 1,682 closely printed pages the little devil has a wealth of information. I almost called it a little bugger, but thought to look that up. Bugger as a verb is rude. As a noun, it means “a contemptible or pitied person” or “an annoyingly awkward thing,” and the Concise is neither of those. The entry does include a short etymology, which is always part of the serendipitous benefit of looking up words. Bugger comes from the Old French bourgre, “heretic,” and from there traces back to the medieval Latin Bulgarus, “Bulgarian.” You get heretic out of Bulgarian because the Bulgarians were Eastern Orthodox.

And the next entry is Buggins’s turn, a happy British expression for appointments or awards by rotation rather than merit. Buggins’s because Buggins can represent “a typical surname.”

The Concise is like a jar of smoked almonds. Once you read one entry, it’s difficult to stop reaching for another. Happy birthday, and many, many more.

 

 

Posted by John McIntyre at 2:06 PM | | Comments (1)
        

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I have my father's, which must be about 40 years old. He used to refer to it as the "Concise Ox."

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at john.mcintyre@baltsun.com.
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