If you’re a wordsmith or a wordsmith wannabe, here’s a book for you. Bust my buttons! It’s the cat’s meow, an indubitable lollapalooza — and that’s no codswallop (nor is it flapdoodle, claptrap, tomfoolery, shenanigans, malarkey, or even blarney). You need to find yourself a copy by hook or by crook, or you may find yourself feeling a bit woebegone. (I can try to not pepper this post with words and expressions from the book, but it wouldn’t be as fun, now would it?).
Chronicle Books released this little gem of a book this month, developed and compiled by Molly Glover with additional text by Kate Hodson. It’s called L is for Lollygag: Clever Words for a Clever Tongue (geared officially at ages ten and up), and — as someone who has always loved a good, juicy word — I am all atwitter about this title. This is for you word-nerds, like me, who feel a bit of ennui with your typical dictionary or even your typical alphabet book — you must go and take a look-see. This is a world in which “A” is for alakazam, “B” is for boondoggle, and “C” is for catawampus. (Amusingly enough, “X” is for nothing, since — as the book points out — “X can be a lot of fun: X marks the spot, X-ray vision, planet X, generation X, X-Men, signed with Xs and Os . . . and you can’t play Tic-Tac-Toe without good old X. But most of the tongue-tickling X words don’t actually begin with X.” Lisa Graff would be happy. And, though I’m seriously digressing here, I have to add that my favorite adaptation to that pesky letter is when They Might Be Giants make up a country called “West Xylophone” in their “Alphabet of Nations,” one of their children’s songs, which I’ll add to the bottom of this post — appropos to very little, but just for fun.)
So, yes, they’re all here, words that are deliciously fun, tripping off one’s tongue: hoi polloi, flibbertigibbet, fussbudget, loosey-goosey, mizzenmast, jittery-skittery, kit and caboodle, snollygoster, and spindle-shanked (I’ve always wanted to be spindle-shanked myself). The definitions are concise and full of swagger, brief and often amusing. The book’s design by Tracy Sunrize Johnson is appealing: The illustrations, created by Melissa Beck, are quirky and spastic, and the book is also filled with old-fashioned images in grey-scale. Observant eyes will see things like the “enigmatic elephant” and the “parachuter with panache.” The book’s typeset (Perla, Futura, and Felina Serif) is handsome as well. All-around it’s an attractively designed book.
And there are not just word definitions here either: You’ve got your word lists (such as, fun interjections, exclamations, and expressions — Dagnabit!, Goody gumdrops!, and olly ollly oxen free!, anyone?); moments of “Word Play” (including an impressive example of a sentence containing the at least six accepted pronunciations of the letter combinations “ough”; a reminder that there are no words in the English language that rhyme with “orange,” “silver,” “vacuum,” “pizza,” “chimney,” or “month”; the fact that the word oxymoron itself is an oxymoron, coming from the Greek words oxo, or “sharp,” and moros, or “dull”; and how no one is sure of the origin of Pig Latin, yet rumor has it that Benjamin Franklin used a version of it in some of his writings); and random fun trivia, including some about Edward Gorey (I had no idea he wrote under many pseudonyms that are anagrams of his own name: Ogdred Weary, Mrs. Regera Dowdy, and Dogear Wryde), Lewis Carroll and the delicious language of his nonsense poems, and J.K. Rowling (“While making reading fun for a whole new generation, her books also offer hungry linguists wonderful new words like horcrux . . . Muggle . . . and quidditch . . . although you won’t find them in any real dictionary—yet!”).
And here’s a conundrum for you word-lovers out there, one that is included in the book: What occurs once in a minute and twice in a moment, but never in a hundred years? Don’t have a conniption if you can’t come up with the answer. I’m not a wisenheimer who will refuse to give you the answer; I have the wherewithal. Gadzooks! I won’t leave you hangin’.
Okay, this post is verging on obnoxious, huh? For serious, my friends, I heartily recommend this fun book, which would make a great gift for your word-loving friends and/or family (I think I finally have a gift idea now for my hard-to-shop-for father, who also gets all agog over an exciting word). The book closes on a tempting note, appealing to child readers to start their own lists when they hear a word that makes them smile. “You can even try inventing your own quirky words. Hey, if Shakespeare could do it, why can’t you?”
Fare-thee-well for now! I’ve gotta 23-skiddo.