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Depraved and Insulting English

This book, by Peter Novovatzky and Ammon Shea, is compendious in more than one way, since it not only brings together several hundred obscure terms with which to charm and entertain you, but combines within its soft covers two previous hardcover books by the authors with the titles Depraved English and Insulting English.

The cover of Depraved and Insulting English

The authors claim that every one of the terms it contains is a real English word. This is presumably for some special value of real, since few dictionaries contain ozoamblyrosis, the loss of sexual desire due to the unpleasant body odour of one’s partner; martext, a blundering preacher; klazomaniac, a compulsive shouter; psaphonic, seeking fame or fortune for oneself; liffy, to seduce a woman with promises of fidelity, and then desert her; insiliarius, an evil advisor; groak, to stare silently at someone while they are eating, in the hope that they will offer some food; or apophallation, among slugs, the practice of chewing off a partner’s penis following sex.

As we know from other compendia of weird words, such as Jeffrey Kacirk’s Forgotten English, trawling ancient lists of defunct dialect words can turn up some gems. And the pace of word invention is such that there are thousands of jargon terms and hopeful creations that never make it to the mainstream, let alone to the pages of a dictionary. I leave it to the philosophers of language to determine whether these are really words.

However, though rare, many other terms in the book have found their place in the pages of the Oxford English Dictionary, such as the invaluable and unjustly neglected egrote, to feign sickness in order to avoid work, and nihilarian, a person with a meaningless job. Others with some track record are gubbertush, a bucktoothed person; snivelard, someone who speaks through their nose, a whiny person; boodler, one who happily offers or accepts bribes; and syndyasmian, pertaining to promiscuous sexual pairing, or the temporary cohabitation of couples. And the title is not wholly correct, as not all the terms are insulting: for example, you will encounter callipygian for a person with nicely shaped buttocks.

You should use the words in this book with some care, not only because of their subject matter, but because you run the risk of being accused of making them up. The definitions given for those words that I’ve been able to find in the big Oxford English Dictionary seem sometimes to have been enhanced to give them a sexual or condemnatory spin not present in that work.

It’s definitely not to be taken seriously. But it’s an entertaining listing, with each entry accompanied by a paragraph of text that often includes an illustrative quotation (in each case invented by the authors, it would seem from internal linguistic evidence).

A fun book for an idle hour ...

[Peter Novovatzky & Ammon Shea, Depraved and Insulting English, paperback, pp256, published by Harvest Books (an imprint of Harcourt Inc, New York), ISBN 0-15-601149-2. Publisher’s price, US$13.00.]

Page created 15 Feb. 2003

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Last modified: 15 February 2003.