Back when we could wander libraries, I wandered past this beauty on the reference shelf of the Mechanics’ Institute. Ages ago, when I was in gradschool, I read the advice that a good way for a writer to expand their vocabulary is to find a pocket dictionary and underline those words you know but never use, because habit or other motivations never bring it to mind when you need it. I did this years ago but never took the time to make a list of such words, which is the only thing that makes this practice useful.

For the MacKay book, the job was more “underline those words that aren’t at least worse than the common words we now use instead of what like Chaucer or Spenser were writing”.

These are the lost beauties I love:

  • afeared – struck with fear (contra the French afrayer)
  • aftermath – the pasture after the grass has been mowed, a second mowing
  • alder – genitive plural of all; superlative prefix (Alder-Father = father of all)
  • bangled – beaten down by the wind
  • barm – yeast (from Ger. bier-rahm); hence “barmy”: yeasty
  • bedswerver – adulterer (from A Winter’s Tale)
  • birler – a pourer out of liquor; “birling” being to pour down
  • blashy – thin or weak, as tea or beer
  • brangle – dispute or quarrel (from be-wrangle); “brangled” means confused or intricate
  • branglesome – quarrelsome (Mackay also has “janglesome” and “tanglesome”)
  • brightsome – shiny
  • chancely – accidentally
  • chirming – low confused twittering of birds that huddle in a tree before a storm
  • dam(m)erel – effeminate man overfond of society of women and disinclined to society of men
  • dave – to thaw
  • daver – to droop
  • doly – mournful, melancholy, doleful
  • dorty – conceited, proud
  • eldritch – haunted by evil spirits, ghastly, unearthly, eerie
  • embrangle – to perplex (hence “embranglement”, perplexity)
  • feather-heeled – nimble, agile, sprightly (after Hermes)
  • feckful – powerful
  • flaunts – finery, gew-gaws (cf. “trantles”)
  • franch – to crunch with the teeth
  • hurkle – to shrug the shoulders
  • inwit – conscience (opposed to “outwit”: knowledge, info)
  • kexy – juiceless, dry
  • lowlyhood / -ness – humility
  • lugsome – heavy, difficult to drag along
  • mammer – to hesitate or doubt
  • plackless – moneyless
  • rindle – to sparkle like running water; a mountain stream
  • ro(a)ky – hazy, misty, nebulous, not clear (from French for hoarse, thick)
  • samely – monotonous, unvaried
  • snipsy – sarcastic, cutting
  • squintard – a person who squints
  • thoughty – meditative, pensive
  • tifty – quarrelsome
  • trantles – articles of little value, toys, petty articles of furniture (cf. “flaunts”) twisty contentious, ill-humored, capricious
  • wofare – sorrow, misfortune (the opposite of welfare)
  • wordridden – to be a slave to words without understanding their meaning; to be overawed by words rather than an argument
  • yonderly – shy, timid, retiring
  • youthy – having the false appearance of being youthful (cf. childish v. childlike)

There are a lot of words in this language for “quarrelsome”, which reminds me of fruit bats, who it turns out spend most of their squeaking hours complaining. But what I mostly took away from the book is that Charles MacKay[*] has a fundamentalist insistence on the Anglo-Saxon that would make even James Joyce roll his eyes.

That said, it takes a certain type to love at first sight “samely” over “monotonous”. “Monotonous” has suddenly become such a stupid word, all those dumb O’s, that stupid silent U. Call me wordridden, but “samely” is … I dunno it just feels honester.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Mackay? There’s not a single spot in the book where this name isn’t printed in all-caps so who knows?