Wordplay: from growleries to woots and beyond

Thu Aug 18, 2011 7:50am EDT
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By Alice Baghdjian

LONDON (Reuters) - Are you familiar with the brabble of cockyolly birds in the growlery?

Probably not, but now this forgotten terminology has been revived in a limited edition facsimile of the 1911 Concise Oxford Dictionary (COD), published to mark the centenary of the linguistic treasure trove.

The reprint appears alongside a new 12th edition of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary (COED), which contains more than 240,000 words, phrases and definitions, including 400 completely new entries.

Clad in an art deco cover, the 1911 limited-edition dictionary offers a glimpse into a world where a "jet" was a stream of water, and the words "cockyolly bird," "growlery," and "brabble" referred to a nursery phrase for a bird, a private room or den, and a noisy quarrel.

"The 1911 dictionary is a lot smaller than the latest version and is phrased more quaintly in some places, but my overriding impression of it is how good it was," Angus Stevenson, an editor of the 12th edition of the COED, told Reuters.

Unlike the vast, high-tech database of texts and articles used today to analyze language, the editors of the first dictionary used rather more laborious methods.

The first editors, brothers Henry and George Fowler, wrote letters to friends and experts and drew on the work done for the Oxford English Dictionary to compile the first concise version of the book from their cottage on the Channel Island of Guernsey.

"They tried hard to be as up to date as possible," Stevenson said. "They included the entry 'aeroplane,' even though the first flight had been made in 1903, and 'Duma', even though the Russian parliament had only been created in 1906 -- it was a very good dictionary."   Continued...