Thursday, 25 February 2016

A celebration of lobsided, and why this writer needs a good editor

Lobsided: variant of lopsided.

There you have it. Merriam-Webster and my father's Third Edition of the Oxford Universal Dictionary (1944) both agree: lobsided is a real word, despite what others may tell you.

Why am I writing about an archaic variant of a word that no one uses anymore?

Because I'm a writer. And words that I learned early in my life are forever stuck in the messy ambergris of my brain.

Plus, I have a new book coming out, Everton Miles is Stranger than Me (a sequel to my Red Maple book, The Strange Gift of Gwendolyn Golden), which used this word. In the early edits, my wonderful, long-suffering editor*, who has been with me through 8 books now, pointed out that lobsided is really lopsided these days. And has been since the mid-1750s.

Which shocked me.

A writer is nothing if not the sum total of her grasp of words.

So, I gracefully accepted that he was right (after showing him the Merriam-Webster link above), but then I was intrigued: what other words do I have stuck in my  head from my childhood? So I set about to make a list of words that I grew up with, and which no one hears anymore. My parents were British (I was born there), and both from very small, ancient villages where words didn't change very quickly, certainly not as quickly as they change today. I love language, of course, and roll around gleefully in new words, emoticons and the 140 characters of twitter-speak all the time. Language is as old as Methusalah, as new as today's twitter feed, and infinitely fascinating. But old words have their wonders, too.

To honor them, here are a few wonderful archaic words and colourful phrases that both my parents used regularly, when I was a kid:

Cock-eyed:  gone a little crazy
Hay-up: move over
Give-over: stop it
Gob: mouth (as in, shut  your festering gob)
Collander: sieve 
White Rabbit day: (first day of the month)
Fey: a bit out of it
Don'tee (pronounce Doan-Knee): as in "don'tee cry", meant kindly to soothe a child
Bubba: baby
Wellies: Wellington boots, rubber rain boots
Brolly: Umbrella
Lummy: short for "Gor' Lummy" which is probably a very messed up "God Love Me"
Lord love a Duck: used for slight exasperation. Can only guess at the etymology of this!
The Dreaded Lurgy: whatever ails you (most often used for flu and common cold)
Off-Kilter: staggering or off balance, also for someone who's a bit out of it (see Fey!)
Char: short for charwoman, most often used when someone is feeling put out at doing all the housework, as in "Who do you think I am? The char'?"
I'll eat my hat: said in disbelief. "If you're right, I'll eat my hat."
Who's she? The cat's mother?: an attempt to reprimand for the use of impolite pronoun "she." 
If it was a dog, it'd bite you.: used to imply "that thing you're looking for is right in front of you."
You lying hound: a polite and endearing way of calling you a liar. More friendly than accusatory.
Steady on, Mate: whoa, take it easy!
That was nearly: you almost wiped out (or did something catastrophic, mostly refers to physical danger).
You'll come a cropper: you're going to wipe out (often preceeds the previous entry).
Grizzle: whine
wan or poorly: when you're sick and look pale and unhappy
Tiddly: slightly inebriated
Piddle: urinate, but a diminutive used for a child or puppy ("he piddled on the floor" for eg.)

There are a few salty ones, too. "I'll be damned" (also an expression of disbelief) is the only one I want to repeat here. There must be plenty more, which I may add as I think of them, but that's it for now. Oh, and lobsided!

* My wonderful editor is Allister Thompson, I highly recommend him. Whether substantive, broad-brushstrokes or final line edits, he's the best.

UPDATE (March 25/2016): Thank you to Canadian Literary Magazine, Agnes and True, for pointing out the wonderful book, Words in Time And Place (David Crystal, 2015); Exploring Language Through the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary. What a great read! 
The book is a tiny fraction of the dizzying collection of historical words taken from the mother ship for etymology: The Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary. Enjoy!


Anonymous said...

Interesting, Philippa! All those British words bring to mind Coronation Street, a show I loved and one that (in its early years) used so many colourful and distinctive words and phrases. Keep the posts coming!


Philippa Dowding said...

Thanks Monica, I have used "lobsided" my entire life, and so when I was told is was outdated, antiquated, archaic (and therefore incorrect for usage in a modern text), I went digging for more outdated words that always sounded right to me. However, please note I've never actually said "I have the Dreaded Lurgy" in regular discourse except once, to a very British boss about 25 years ago, and he laughed. Old language fascinates me!

Daniel Munson said...

This is fascinating! Thanks!

Philippa Dowding said...

Thanks Daniel, enjoy!