'There's a Word for it' -- logomania

'There's a Word for it' -- logomania

I've found some wonderful books in the Little Library boxes that decorate my neighborhood -- the red one behind the nearest school, the one that looks like a gingerbread house outside the bakery, and the psychedelically painted one on the way to my alternate bus stop.

The idea of these little "book immobiles" (as opposed to the Bookmobiles that visited us in elementary school) is that you can pick up a book and keep it as long as you like, perhaps forever, and you can leave books behind that need a new shelf to call home. (Does the tone give away which one I find harder?)

Well, the problem is that some books -- even the ones that seem to have my name on them but don't, at least yet -- can be duds after all. That's happened to me with this week's discovery, "There's a Word for It! A Grandiloquent Guide to Life," by Charles Harrington Elster (1996, Pocket Books).

For a while, the thought of "Oh, there's a blog post in this one!" was a happy thought, but it has faded. The next time I take a walk past one of the local book boxes, I'll leave it behind. Yes, dear reader, it's happened -- there's a book about words that's not for me.

I guess I'm too Serious about words to be a logomaniac.

Here's how Elster starts his introduction:

"If you're looking for a sane, sedate, even-tempered treatise on improving your command of the English language, I advise you to look elsewhere immediately, for what you're about to read (if you dare) is a work of the utmost intellectual incontinence written by a man who is plumb crazy, stark raving mad, and out of his grandiloquent gourd about words.

"In a word, I am a logomaniac (LAGH-uh-MAY-nee-ak), a person obsessed with words (from the Greek logos, word, and mania)."

I should have stopped right there, since "sane, sedate, even-tempered" sounded downright Serious to me (and, therefore, more my speed). Also, I would pronounce the word Low-go-maniac. No "uhs," please.

But I went on, just to see what was there. Just for you.

But Chapter 1, Dr. Elster's Verbal Health Center, was more than enough. Words for diseases and conditions of the body struck me as either made up (rarely admitted) or poorly attributed, except for a few things I remember doctors actually using.

A quiz at the end of the chapter, "Body Language," was the last straw. I'd never heard a doctor refer to my big toes as halluxes before, nor the half-moon shapes on my nails as lunulae. But then came the "extra credit word" (without a hyphen -- ugh), oxter.

Elster got it right, the oxter is the armpit. But he didn't bother mentioning that the origin of the word is Scots, as I already knew.

I've seen enough. Maybe a neighbor (who hasn't read this review) will enjoy the book.

Margaret Serious has a page on Facebook. 

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  • Oxter is truly an inelegant word. I prefer the medicalese, axilla. Or just let it go at 'armpit'. Interesting post as always, my friend.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    Thank you, my friend. I don't mind an inelegant word for an inelegant place (nor an excuse to use "inelegant" itself). Axilla is a fine choice, too.

  • There is a reason why Taber's Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary was published.

    I also wonder why so many legal and medical books are cyclopedias.

  • In reply to jack:

    Hmmm.... watch this space.

  • Sorry it was a dud, Margaret!

  • In reply to folkloric:

    So am I, thank you, folkloric. On the other hand, I did get a post out of it, after all.

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