davidd (davidd) wrote,

Carked into Katabasis

Trekked up to the library today, found The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary.

I'm all the way up to page two when I run across a word I've never heard: louche.

Now, maybe you guys are all sophisticated, worldly, and smart as whips, but not me; so, I pull out the trusty Webster's Twentieth Century Dictionary: Unabridged, thinking maybe I'll try to educate myself as I work my way through The Professor and the Madman.

I'm sure you saw this coming: "louche" is not in the dictionary. At least, it's not in my dictionary.

Webster's Twentieth Century Dictionary: Unabridged is one monster dictionary. It has 1956 pages of definitions, plus several hundred appendix pages of maps, population statistics, historical timelines, and an essay on the history of Canada. It's five inches thick and weighs eleven pounds. Yes, eleven pounds.

Prior to the last couple of weeks, I have never had a problem finding words in this massive volume. From time to time over the years, I've amused myself by making up words just to see if I could find them in this dictionary. Often as not, my made-up words were actually real words.

Recently, however, I am encountering words like "dvandva," "uintjie," "semainier," and now "louche."

I did find "louche" (the approximate meaning I was able to fathom from contextual clues) at AskOxford.com. I would have been really irritated if Oxford failed to have a definition for a word used in a history of the compilation of the Oxford Dictionary.



• adjective. disreputable or dubious in a rakish or appealing way.

— ORIGIN French, ‘squinting’.

"Louche," like "semainier" and "grellier" (that one's in there), is another French word. Apparently, in order to speak English, I need to be learning French. Curiously, the preface to Webster's Twentieth Century Dictionary: Unabridged mentions specifically the ever-increasing number of words being adopted into the English language from the French, including poilu, aileron, escadrille, and barrage. Alas, no "louche."

The trachle of reading a simple book carks me into lypothymia. Soon I'll be exhibiting symptoms of phaneromania, kakidrosis, and canities. I feel like such a roturier.

On to page three.

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