Spurious Words & Linguistic Mongrels


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MOMBLISHNESS getting the better of us this Monday morning? Feeling a little gofish? Perhaps it was much of a jumwiskee over the weekend that accounts for such phantomnations.

Ah yes, the spurious words, the linguistic mongrels, the freaks of language which have enjoyed their brief hour of respectability-courtesy of the fevered imagination of "scholars".

Now they are consigned to a supplement at the end of the Oxford English Dictionary- around 350 of them- a sideshow of words that never were.

Momblishness deserves a better fate. It is strong word, resonant and full of character, but it is guilty of imperfect pedigree.

It has been defined in various dictionaries as "muttered talk" but it is fact a corruption is the Old French name for the flower forget-me-not "ne m'oubliez mye"

Chaucer rendered it as "ne momblysnesse," and one Nathan Bailey compiling a dictionary in 1721, decided that it meant "muttering." And an excellent word for muttering it would be!

Gofish is also the progeny of Chaucerian misprint for "goosish" meaning silly or stupid. As a result gofish got itself fraudulently into three famous dictionaries being defined as "Scottish."

Event eh famous Noah Webster was prone to such a lapses. His 1864 English language defined phantomnation as "an illusion (obscure and rare)." It was an illusion indeed.

Pope's translation of the Odyssey contained a line: "The phantom-nation of the dead." A philologist called Jodrell, who for some reason was prejudice against hyphens, ran the two words together when he printed them in 1820.

He defined the result as "a multitude of specters." Varies copycats perpetuated the errors and even the great Webster was taken in.

There is no such fish as a dog-Ray which is explained in many dictionaries as dogfish. The word "dory" (John Dory) was misprinted "dorrey" in Holinshed's Chronicle and some later scholar turned this into dog-Ray.Subsequent Lexicographers copies mis-spelling and defined the dog-Ray as a kind of dogfish.

Jimwiskee is a corruption of Tim-whisky- a horse-drawn carriage so named because of its speed. It "whisked" along. But jimwiskee found its way into print and was pronounced to be a variation is Scotland's most famous exports.

The compiler of dictionaries responsible for that one must have felt a little gofish himself- if he never discovered his error.


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