On Thursday, May 27, 2010, Phil Cousineau read from his latest book Wordcatcher: An Odyssey Into the World of Weird and Wonderful Words (Viva Editions, 2010) at San Francisco's Green Arcade Bookstore (recently awarded the Best New Bookstore by SF Weekly's annual poll). Phil started off by explaining that the book brought together two of his passions: words and baseball. But he added that Wordcatcher wasn't "just a book written in amber; a book that has been preserved and washes up on the beaches of the North Sea, which is where amber comes from. Every day I'm looking for new words. Every day I'm alert to them and they jump out at me. So, in a sense, this book continues to do the old accordion move, like Proust's manuscript. If you saw that movie about Proust, 2,800 pages begin spreading sideways, then up and down as he's adding and taping pages on and on and on."
The other day while waiting for his acupuncturist, Phil picked up a science magazine—unusual for him; he usually picks up literary magazines—but he opened it up to a story about what happens to whales once they die. "Have you ever thought about what happens to whale carcasses? Who ever thinks about that? But, these scientists have been exploring the ocean floor and they've discovered thousands of whale carcasses, which—as they're decomposing—then become food for thousands and thousands of other fish. So now a whole new science is arising around the phenomena of whale fall. What a fantastic phrase! Whale fall."
The previous Saturday Phil was promoting Wordcatcher on West Coast Live and told Sedge Thompson: "Sedge, this doesn't end with just yesterday's dictionaries or Samuel Johnson's 1753 dictionary, it goes on if you're alert every day." Phil told Thompson how he'd encountered the term whale fall and by the time he got home from the radio station he had an email waiting for him from a musician who—after listening to Phil's conversation with Serge—decided to name his new band Whale Fall.
Phil recently came across a "stupendeous statistic" that the American language has just crossed the 1,000,000-word threshold, as reported by the Global Language Monitor. Though the BBC reports this statistic remains controversial, the 1,000,000th entry to the dictionary is "Web 2.0". "Not the most mellifluous," Phil admits, "which comes from the Greek meli for honey—so it's 'words as sweet as honey'—but, it is topical. In some ways it does make perfect sense."
In order for that statistic to become vivid, Phil suggested the French language by contrast. "In all the years I've lived in France," Phil said, "I'd have these debates with my French friends about what's the most beautiful language in history and the French, of course, will defer to no one in terms of the beauty of the language; but they've also said, 'There are far more words in French, it's a sophisticated and more historical language.' " But, by contrast to 1,000,000 American words, the French language only has 250,000 words, according to the Académie française who, Phil guaranteed, "will resist whale fall because it's way too English." Words like "hot dog" and "laptop" have been kept out of their language and require French translations. If you put up an English sign in a Paris window, for example, police will take it down and replace it with something written in French. German has roughly a half million words. Chinese has 86,000 words. "So this gives you a sense of the width and the breadth of the language and the fact that immigration—despite the ongoing debate, which is not new, we've had this debate for at least 150 years—has fed the language like tributaries into a river." English has been fed by words like toboggan, which comes from the Algonquin language, and amok, which comes from Malaysia (and which Amir Muhammed orginally brought to my attention). Inversely, Wordcatcher includes a whole section on untranslatable words; words that require a full paragraph to explain in English.
In The Unbearable Lightness of Being Milan Kundera used the word litost for a depth of sorrow that reaches down through the ages, down into history—not just personal sorrow—but a deep, historical sorrow that comes from the ground up. Phil relayed that the Czech say Americans are too young to feel this; but, as Urban Dictionary suggests, Americans can certainly afford to wear the word.
As expansive and liberating as all these nuances to words might be, when Phil optioned Wordcatcher he was contractually bound to reduce the 1.2 million words of the English language down to 300 pages. Even if that averaged out to 300 words, "where would you start?"
The question of where to start, where to begin, reminded Phil of a painter friend John O'Brien who—after painting for years and years and years in complete anonymity—turned 40, secured his first exhibition in Baltimore, and sold two of his paintings to Baltimore Oriole Cal Ripken. At the reception he noticed a beautiful young woman who began flirting with him—"Flirt is a word in the book," Phil mentioned as an aside, "from birds that 'flit' from branch to branch to branch to branch"—and this young woman came up to O'Brien and said, 'John, how long have you been painting? You're such a wonderful painter.' He looked at her and he said, 'I just turned 40. I've been painting for 40 years.' "
That's an old answer, Phil qualified. Writers will say that, if you're 50, you've been writing for 50 years. "In other words, you've been paying attention to the art form for as long as you can remember." When this young woman heard O'Brien say that, she responded, "I think I'll do abstracts." Which is to say that she didn't want to put in the requisite 40 years of apprenticeship.
In similar ways Wordcatcher began in Phil's own childhood growing up throughout the 1950s-60s in Detroit in a house where books were read outloud. Though his own 14-year-old son Jack would find this incomprehensible, when his family's old B&W Philco television broke down, they wouldn't fix it for two or three years. They didn't need it. There were only three stations anyway and one was from Windsor, Canada. They had the radio and they read books outloud. If Phil or his siblings heard a word they didn't understand, their father encouraged them first of all to admit it and then directed them to look it up in their "hefty edition of The Random House Dictionary, whose covers were always open like the wings of a giant bird." Paying attention to words got into Phil's bloodstream early.
Phil has taken notes in the back of virtually every book he's ever read, averaging 150-200 books a year, consciously listing unfamiliar words and then looking up their definitions in the dictionary. Then he tries to use the word. Brenda Knight, Associate Publisher at VIVA Editions, asked Phil one night over drinks at Toscas in North Beach what he wanted to write next? Phil already knew that it would be a book he had in a sense been writing his entire life: a book on words. That first night Phil went home from Toscas and wrote 40 pages, simply by dipping into a couple of journals where he'd listed delicious words he wanted to write about. But it wasn't just the etymology of the words that Phil wanted to write about. Most reference books are fairly dry when they go into the Latin and Greek etymologies and—though some reference books engage the most eccentric and strangest words in the language, which can be quite fun—he wanted to do something a little different. Each entry in his book begins with his own italicized definition because after reading many reference books, he's learned there's not a lot of consensus between them. He would have thought there would be some professional convention where everyone got together to reach a compromise; but, then again, that really wouldn't make any sense. Compare Websters to Johnson's, for example, there's a world of difference between those two dictionaries. Webster made an ardent attempt to separate American English from British English, changing spellings as well as intonations, alert to the slight changes in definition that had already been around in America for 100 years. Now we'd probably need to throw out half of Websters' definitions for being racist or limited. The point being that the English language is constantly moving and in flux.
It's dawned on Phil during his book tour for Wordcatcher—22 events over six weeks—that, "if we're going to save good, independent book stores, if we're going to save newspapers and magazines and radio stations, it doesn't begin with the abstract, 'you gotta love books'—that's a little too abstract for me—it begins with words. Kerouac once said that a writer is someone who likes to hang around words. Ezra Pound once said, 'A great book is like a ball of light that you hold in your hand.' Where does the light come from? The light comes from the beautiful words inside."
Phil tells a story in Wordcatcher of poet W.H. Auden who refused for decades any offer to teach poetry. He didn't want anything to do with the Academy. He didn't like being in public. All he wanted was the private life of his writing. Finally, he agreed to teach and had hundreds of supplicants, so to speak, clamoring to enroll in his class; but, he could only choose 20 out of all them. Later he was asked how he came to his decision. Did these young writers provide samples of their poetry? No, Auden answered, he chose the 20 who clearly loved words. Phil admired the elegance of Auden's response. Someone who teaches writing can work with a young writer who maybe doesn't quite have their chops just yet, is still working on craft and technique, but who begins with a passion for hanging around words. A teacher can do something with a student like that, in contrast to someone who may have a God-given talent but doesn't really like words, like certain would-be authors in unnamed North Beach cafes. By "not liking words" Phil means those "bass-ackwards" writers in North Beach cafés looking for book deals without having written a book. He's overheard litanies of conversations among writers in North Beach that completely revolve around who's getting book deals and who isn't. Or who won't bother with rewriting because "it doesn't matter anyway." These are not people who love words.
Phil admitted he's probably one of the last of a generation for whom having his knuckles rapped with a ruler is not a metaphor. He went to a French Catholic school where students were actually rapped on the knuckles if they mispronounced a word or weren't prepared with their homework. Such a severe discipline nonetheless generated a respect and a love for words, books and storytelling, which is what Phil hopes to pass on through Wordcatcher. Phil's son Jack is about to graduate from eighth grade at Cathedral School for Boys and it's of particular pride to Phil that one of the other fathers suggested that all 34 boys in Jack's graduating class be given a copy of Wordcatcher as a gift to send them off into high school, into life. "Isn't that beautiful?" Phil beamed. "It's a fantastic thing that he's offered to do. Some of them might just throw it into the back of the station wagon, we don't know, but at least some of them will remember for the rest of their life that someone thought enough about words and books and the fact that you do need to communicate no matter what field you go into: business, computers, religion, sports, whatever it might be. It behooves you to know how to use delightful words."
Wordcatcher begins with an epigraph by essayist Lewis Thomas who wrote a book on word origins called Et Cetera, Et Cetera: Notes of a Word-Watcher. Cousineau quotes Thomas: "Every word, without exception, is an enchantment, a wonder, a marvel...." Right away Wordcatcher is into one of the most mysterious aspects of words and language. Thomas uses the word "enchantment" but another word for enchantment in old Scottish is glamour. Originally, glamour meant "spell" (where it's used as such in the recent vampire mythos of the Twilight and True Blood franchises). The raison d'état, the motivation, behind 99% of contemporary advertising is about casting a spell—not about telling the truth—about the product they're about to sell us. Phil sources the word glamour to grammar because grammar was a talent and ability practiced and known by very few people up until the rise of mass education with the Germans in the late 18th century, followed by the English, then the French. Up until that period the only people who knew how to read and write were the clergy and the scholars; a miniscule portion of any population. Those who could read or write had an ability to enchant everyone else. Out of the aura of learning came grammar and the subsequent elision that evolved into glamour, which comes down to us as a word that accompanies marketing: something must be made glamorous in order to help sell it.
Phil describes his book Wordcatcher as being written in a discursive way, as if the reader were riffling through the pages of a dictionary. Phil gave one of the first printed copies to his mother Rosemary and—when she read his description of how his father Stanley used to pull down his favorite books from the family's oak book shelves to read aloud—she recalled how for the 17 years that they lived in that house her sisters and neighbors criticized her for "showing off", feeling the book shelves were ostentatious. They suggested the books be hidden away in the hallway closets. Though disturbing to consider in retrospect, Phil is at the same time proud that his parents refused such advice and kept the books on their shelves. These were books that weren't just there for show.
Phil's friend Eric Johnson, who designed Deadlines (Phil's first volume of poetry), used to be one of the buyers at Black Oak Books in Berkeley and he told Phil that at least once a month he would get a phone call from an interior designer who would say, "Eric? We need five yards of books." Five yards! Because they were building book shelves in someone's home who didn't care what the books were as long as they had nice looking spines. These were books that were meant to be looked at and never read; but, in the Cousineau household, books were actually read. Phil's father's knowledge of words was encyclopedic—made up of the Latin cyclo, "circle", and paideia, "learning" (pedagogic comes from the same root)—referencing a "well-rounded learning", not just an intellectual learning that makes you smart as a whip. The word encyclopedia reminds Phil of the anecdote told by the sons of the famous ballplayer Yogi Berra who—when asked for an encyclopedia—didn't know what his sons meant but picked up on cyclo and thought they were asking for a bicycle. He responded, "I had to walk to school and so do you!"
Another category of words in Wordcatcher are the TBR words, i.e., "to be revived". One such word, which Phil first heard when his parents took him to see a performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream in Stratford, Ontario, was seeksorrow: someone who looks for trouble or sees sorrow everywhere. Phil considers seeksorrow "one of the top ten words that need reviving. Who hasn't felt oneself to be one's own worst enemy? We've all know someone, perhaps a co-worker, who seems to go looking for trouble, but one word is swifter than five." Certain words have disappeared for a while because we haven't needed them; but, they come back when they're needed again.
Another such word would be bedswerver, which Phil encountered—again—in Samuel Johnson's dictionary. He forgot about it until the recent media flurry around a certain famous golfer in our culture who had been accused by a dozen or two dozen women of—as the euphemism goes—philandering, which is an okay word that has its own fairly noble origin; but, philandering is such a dull word to describe what was actually happening. Shakespeare's bedswerver, on the other hand, doesn't mince meanings whatsoever. Originally, the word referred to women who behaved this way; but, Johnson tracked down its male equivalent: bedpresser, a word that allows you to almost see the indentation in the mattress.
Then there's lucubrate, a word Phil found early and has loved all his life. It has the same source as the word lucifers, one of the great old words his grandmother used for matches. It comes from the Latin lucere, "to shine" or "to bring forth light" and refers to people who work by candlelight. An admitted "nightcat" his entire life, prone to writing when others are asleep, lucubrate still applies to Phil even though he hasn't worked by candlelight since he lived in Ireland without electricity. Lucubrate falls within the domain of someone who "burns the midnight oil." So before Thomas Edison invented electrical lights in the 1890s and before we could flip a switch, people lucubrated.
"This is how my life as a wordcatcher began," Phil reads from his book. "Word by word, book by book, play by play, movie by movie, road by road, café by café, pub by pub, conversation by conversation, dictionary by dictionary." In that spirit it's as if Phil has been following out his ancestry, which goes back to the French voyageurs in Canada. His grandfather Charlemagne Cousineau used to travel by canoe six months a year up and down the great rivers of Canada, fishing for trout, and hunting wild fox and so on. In his grandfather's spirit, Phil looked up the word derivation, which he felt to be the impulse informing Wordcatcher. Derivation was coined by Samuel Johnson in his first famous dictionary of 1753 and it means "to follow back to the source." It goes back to the tradition of taking canoes upstream to a river's source (de, "from", rivus, "stream"). Dr. Johnson further defined derivation as "the tracing of a word from its origin."
Derivation also reminded Phil of Mort Rosenblum's The Secret Life of the Seine wherein Rosenblum went back to the source of the Seine and determined that it flowed from a bubbling spring in the southwest of France flanked by two stone goddesses. This bubbling spring is what becomes one of the mightiest rivers of France, the Seine, and serves as one of the metaphors in Wordcatcher. "Every word I've uttered in the last 15 minutes, every word you've uttered today, has a history and—if you want to get in a boat, paddle a canoe—you can go back to the origin and there will be a bubbling spring there. Often exciting. Sometimes the origin is lost in the mists of history; but, it will add to the depth of your understanding of language."
"In a word," Phil continued, "this book of weird, wonderful and wild word stories is a game of catch. When I throw a baseball around with my son Jack at the Joe Dimaggio Playground in North Beach, it's a game of give and take, each of us throwing the ball so that the other can actually catch it." This wordcatching is one of the most important ideas Phil is trying to get across in his eponymously-entitled book. After reading hundreds of word origin etymology books, Phil discovered some that were "so cleverer-than-thou"—or as Herb Caen used to say, "Berkeleyer-than-thou"—where one tries to one-up someone else: "Oh, you don't know this word? You moron." Or he came across those who were performing a stunt, like reading the whole Oxford English Dictionary over the course of seven years. Instead, Phil has tried to write these words as if he and his reader are playing a game of catch and making it beautiful and simple enough so that the reader might want to actually use some of these words, or at least recognize them with a certain amount of satisfaction and pride. "Call if the sport of a wordcatcher," Phil emphazies, "playing catch with the ball of language that's been thrown to me by all the writers and storytellers who came before me. ...No one captured this joyous jolt better than Shakespeare when he wrote in King John: 'Zounds! I was never so bethump'd with words!' "
Zounds is a funny word—it can make you laugh—but it also has a mysterious origin. There were centuries in which people could not publically pronounce the name of God. You had to come up with euphemisms or you would be in serious trouble with the Church. This is, of course, happening even now with another major religion of the world where a person can actually be killed for making cartoons of God, as happened to Dutch film director Theo van Gogh. One expression in the Middle Ages was "I swear by God's wounds", which became an epithet: "What I'm saying is so true, I swear on God's wounds." There came a time when you couldn't say that aloud anymore and "God's wounds" was truncated or elided down to zounds.
The same thing with gossip. You would say, "You'll never guess, but I swear that James Cameron has just inked the deal for the sequel to Avatar, I swear on God's lips himself." "God's lips" becomes gossip.
Along with the mysterious origins to such ordinary words, Phil has included some rather extraordinary words in his collection, namely floccinaucinihilipilification, which is the longest word in the dictionary by just a few letters over what he had been taught in his French Catholic school as the longest word: antidisestablishmentarianism. Floccinaucinihilipilification refers to something that has been considered a trifle, unworthy, or useless. Phil has actually seen this word in print a few times, used by such writers as William Safire. George Plympton used it once to describe an antique dealer who was selling trifles for great prices.
So there are musical words and there are fun words that you can bring out at dinner parties. When his son Jack hears people's stomachs gurgling, he says, "Pop, you can hear their borborygmi!" Borborygmus, the word for stomach growl, comes from Old Greek. And if you wonder how the word can possibly be used, consider Vladimir Nabokov who wrote in his novel Ada: "All the toilets and water pipes in the house had been suddenly seized by borborygmic convulsions." Maybe it was a challenge he set himself? Maybe a bar bet? But if you've ever lived in a brownstone in New York with all their old radiators, they do indeed sound like grandpa's stomach growling at Thanksgiving dinner.
So though there are instances where such fancy words can occasionally be used, more often ordinary words are just as dazzling on another level. For example, a simple word like accolade, which refers to a few minutes of praise or—if it's at the Oscars®—minute after minute after minute after minute of backslapping. The origin of accolade comes from the Medieval custom of dubbing someone with a sword to turn him into a knight. Apparently in the dubbing ceremony—which is related to the Latin word for the neck, collum—the blade was supposed to nearly nick the neck. Not only does, let's say, Queen Elizabeth have the power to cut your head off, but she can dub you on the shoulder nearly nicking your neck and name you a knight of the realm instead. What's happened with the word accolade has been happening since "God was in diapers" (as Alan Watts used to say). The word can survive but very often the associations around it are no longer needed. We still needed a good-sounding word to describe praise but we didn't need the whole dubbing associations. Those dropped out even as we held onto the word.
The same thing happened with the word baffle, which is from about the same period in Medieval England. Baffle referred similarly to a knight of the realm who later betrayed the Crown. If he was found guilty of betrayal, the knight was hung upside down by his ankles in front of the Tower of London for a few days so that the rest of London could mock him as they passed by. This was called the baffling torture. It referred to being turned upside down. After a while when that form of torture stopped and one could actually criticize the Crown without being arrested and turned upside down, the word was kept because it still referred to something important. In all of the words that have survived there is a seed to the word that is needed generation after generation. Nowadays, we say something like, "I'm baffled; I don't understand how someone like George Bush was re-elected." Or: "I don't understand how Barry Bonds continued to play after taking steroids." Whatever it happens to be. When you feel turned upside down, there is something atavistic in there. You use that word baffle and immediately everybody knows what Roy Blunt calls "a sonicky truth to the word" where it rings true to the ear even if you don't quite know the dictionary definition.
As someone who loves mythology, Phil learned early on that—if you want to know the deep truths of the psyche—you need to go back to mythic antecedents. This plays into his love for the etymological roots of words, as well as his interest in where artists begin their creative lives. When did Van Gogh first want to paint? When did Beethoven first want to compose? Phil has always had an interest in the beginning of things. So it probably shouldn't be any surprise that he sought out the first published word. Over 25 years ago, he clipped out a small two-line bullet from one of L.M. Boyd's newspaper columns. Boyd was serialized in hundreds of newspapers across the country for years right up into the '70s, probably into the '80s, and was a great fount for assembled trivia—which, incidentally, comes from tri via, "three roads", and refers to what you talk about when you come to the crossroads—and he wrote that the first recorded word, probably in Herodotus, is bekos, not only the most famous Phrygian (later Phoenician) word, but some say the very first word period. According to Herodotus, bekos meant bread.
Another thing Phil does in Wordcatcher is to provide companion words for his main selections. Bridging from bekos to companion, Phil queries what the connection might be? Companion comes from the Latin com, "with others", and panis, "bread" and by extension "someone to share bread with." Phil grasped the breadth of this connection—bread, breadth, same word right?—in the late '90s when he was leading a tour in Paris. He had the opportunity to guide his group to one of the most famous bakeries in all of Europe and the oldest bakery in Paris: Poilâne's on the rue du Cherche-Midi. Lionel Poilâne was still alive then. His great great grandfather had founded the bakery and his father had baked bread for Picasso, Chagall and Matisse when they were young and couldn't afford a loaf of bread. They would trade him paintings for bread, which can be seen in the back rooms at Poilâne's. Lionel Poilâne led Phil and his group down into the bowels of the 16th century building that houses the bakery where they saw the tremendous ovens baking bread for people all around the world, including Barbra Streisand who has french bread flown in by FedEx every morning to her house in Malibu, as does Woody Allen in New York.
Inviting someone into your home for a meal frequently seals a friendship. To cook for someone is an important ritual of hospitality. And the placing of the bread on the table even before the first course is of utmost importance—something shifts in the friendship and in the entire room—as this intimate tradition which goes back many years is once again evoked. The intimacy remains in the word companion.
Another good con word would be contemplate, which means to build a temple inside of yourself. Right around the time of the Enlightenment with the rise of individualism came this notion that—not only can you go into the temple—but you can find the temple inside of yourself. The Greek gave one sense of this but it was lost during the Dark Ages. Harold Bloom quotes Shakespeare as the birth of the Western individual and writes that Shakespeare personalized so many different characters by way of their personal pursuits. So now it's not enough just to go to the cathedral, or the mosque, or the temple; now comes another injunction: you can build an interior life at home. You can pray at home. You can commune in your own way with whoever you believe is God. Out of that period comes the word contemplate, which is different than meditate. Meditation is about letting thoughts pass through your mind's attention without identifying with them. Meditation has more of an Eastern cast while contemplation is a more Western notion: "I'm going to contemplate my relationship with God. I'm going to deeply contemplate my relationship with my wife or my friends."
And then there's conversation. To define this word, Phil enacts an exchange with me: "Michael, we haven't seen each other for months. Let's not just go to a café again; let's take a walk in Golden Gate Park or let's take a walk along the Embarcadero." When you walk side by side with someone, maybe you might walk in silence for a while—there are people who are so close you don't even need to talk—but, generally speaking, over the millennia you walk shoulder to shoulder with someone and you talk. That's the origin of conversation: con verso, to make a round with someone. So you say, "Let's walk out to the waterfall and come back again. Let's walk to the next town and then back again." Out of that walking and talking comes our whole idea of conversation.
Phil ended his reading with "a good San Francisco word": shanghai. This was a word Phil had to look up when his father read it aloud from Jack London's The Sea Wolf. It means "to kidnap and secret away aboard a ship." Shanghai was a clandestine word conjured up in San Francisco's Chinatown and North Beach during the Gold Rush years. The story goes and goes and goes that ships docking in San Francisco Bay had usually been away at sea for many many years, leaving their crews depleted. Many of them died. Some of them just jumped ship in places like Argentina or Valparaiso, Chile—which is why we have a Valparaiso Street in North Beach; a reflection of San Francisco's connection to Chile, the last stop for boats from Boston around Cape Horn before they got to California—and the solution for having the crews depleted for many a captain was to walk from the wharf up Broadway to Grant Avenue through North Beach into Chinatown where they stopped at bars called deadfalls. In collusion with the bar owners, the captains plied sailors with free drinks, often with a "Mickey Finn" dropped in for good measure. These unsuspecting Jack-Tars (i.e., sailors) were then led to trap doors that dropped them into perilously dark basements, where they were bound and tied until the next morning. Then, usually still drugged, they were frog-marched (a great old word!) to the harbor. As if in a bad movie, the hungover sailors woke up days later to find themselves halfway to Shanghai.
Extolling the virtue of the writer who hunts out the right word, Phil recalled Mark Twain who said that the difference between the right word and the wrong word is the difference between fire and firefly. The word you want is the fire itself not the firefly that mimics the fire. The exact word gives power. Goethe once said that we could spend our whole life floating down river with just the words we need; but—once you find the word that you've been looking for—it's like a raft that appears to a drowning man.
One of the surreptitious agendas of Wordcatcher is the rescuing of so many Irish words that have never been given real credit. For example, words like phony or smithereens, if you look them up in traditional dictionaries—especially the OED—what you'll find is "o.o.o.", which means "of obscure origin." Either the English knew all along that these words were of Irish origin and they didn't want to admit it because of political reasons, or it just took several generations to ferret out these meanings. A simple word like phony goes all the way back to the tinkers—what they called "the traveling people"—in Ireland who would gather on O'Connell Bridge in the heart of Dublin to try to sell phony gold rings to Dubliners or the occasional tourist that came by. Many of these traveling people were forced to leave Ireland during the Potato Famine and ended up afterwards in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and so on, and some of them still had to try to make it in America so they continued to sell phony gold. Fáinne, ring, became phony.
There's a lot of great Scottish words in Wordcatcher as well. Phil offered an anecdote of when he was filming an architecture film in northern Scotland a few years back. He came down with pneumonia and ended up in a hospital near Findhorn, which was disappointing for him because they had been filming all over Scotland and he was really looking forward to visiting and filming in Findhorn. The film crew went out and shot for a couple of days; but, as they led him into his hospital room with a temperature of 106°, he overheard one of the nurses saying, "Aye, did you see the yank hurpling in this morning?" Hurpling? He had to ask. Hurpling is the Scottish word for "limp." The next morning in the local Edinburgh paper there was an article about 22 soccer players being admitted to an Edinburgh hospital for hurpling injuries.
New words? He's overheard his son mention zitcoms for teenage comedies. Or spendorphins to describe the anticipatory rush of going to the shopping mall. Digitalia is a disease where people's digits are constantly seeking out keyboards. The list goes on and on.
Cross-published on Twitch.