Thursday, August 16, 2012

"Go Get The Dictionary...!"

I'm not sure that I've ever mentioned this before on the blog, but the title of this blog post was a familiar refrain heard at many a family dinner in my house growing up.
It was often to settle a dispute about the correct usage or pronunciation of a word among family members that prided themselves on making the most of our glorious language.
The phrase was most often uttered by my father, and if the dictionary proffered did not agree with his stance, he insisted that the complete Oxford English Dictionary (a set of two volumes) be removed from its slipcase and examined with its included magnifying glass (I kid you not! In order for it to fit into two volumes, the print was MINISCULE!) for the definitive answer to the question at hand.
In our house we rely on Mr. Webster most of the time, but last weekend a dispute broke out that I feared would not end well.
It centered around the definition of one word.
Two members of our family had definitions for the word.
The two definitions were WORLDS apart.
Who was right?
The definitions:
  • A suitcase
  • A word derived from combining two different words
So who was right?
They both were!
I wonder how such a word can have two such divergent definitions.... chortle.... (that's a portmanteau, by the way.... chuckle+snort)


BLD said...

a type of Mushroom

G6 said...

BLD - you lost me on that one...

Maya Resnikoff said...

This is one of the things I love about my marriage- my husband will get out the dictionary at the slightest prompting. It's a lot of fun (and amuses our shabbos guests pretty often, I think).

efrex said...

The lexical meaning of "portmanteau" comes from the same person who created "chortle" - Lewis Carroll, in Through the Looking Glass (see here for the original citation).

Naturally, if you had your OED, you could have looked that info up right away, since the OED tries to include first citation of every word.

Speaking of the OED, there's an incredibly fascinating book on its creation called The Professor and the Madman which I recommend highly, if you haven't already read it.