That’s the maddening magic of words, and that’s why artists continue to be drawn to them: words are slippery, they refuse to be fixed, they tell stories that are open to infinite readings.
We tend to think of words as the exclusive raw material of writers. But this has been a season of sparkling reminders that artists from many camps — cubism, conceptualism, minimalism, realism and pop — have used words to fashion some of the most inspired art of the past century.
It takes about 10 years for a new word to pass through the fine-mesh editorial process to publication.
I used to keep a notebook in my pocket in case I came across new words. That worked until I put my trousers in the washing machine.
Fun Fact: British radio and television presenter Alan Partridge (a fictional character played by Steve Coogan) is referenced in not one, not two, but seven entries in the Oxford English Dictionary. Oh, you cheeky Brits.
"The phrase [‘wine-dark sea’] is alluring, stirring, and indistinctly evocative. It is also, strictly speaking, incomprehensible … In what way did the sea remind Homer of dark wine? And of the myriad ways to evoke the sea, why compare it to wine at all?”
A Winelike Sea by Caroline Alexander
Jonathan Dent offers a fascinating look at one of J.R.R. Tolkien’s most challenging assignments for the Oxford English Dictionary. Apparently as a young philologist, Tolkien was tasked with tracing the etymology of “walrus” – a tricky word “of disputed origin that had all but entirely replaced the earlier English name morse since its first appearance in English in the late 1600s.”