New dictionary

It arrived, and I sat it up in a chair and took its picture. It’s not in bookcloth, like my tenth edition (outdated, but the dictionary of record for almost all of the endearments thus far). It has that shiny paper-over-boards binding. I’ll try not to hold that against it.

The plastic shrink wrap with its silver sticker showing a cloud of new words and saying “defining the 21st century” is definitely not the dictionary’s fault either. The volume keeps its integrity in the face of gloss, whether in binding or in marketing.

webster's

I unwrapped it and opened it up—the pages are all still white, and still fitted against each other perfectly, never been thumbed through. This won’t last, but it’s nice.

The page to which I opened is the one with Markov’s principle as one of the headings, and with the little drawing of a desk, which accompanies the entry for marquetry. (Which, incidentally, shares ancestry with marketing.) As with Scrabble, with the endearments, the chances of a q are small. M is not so common either. It’d be nice to have both sometime.


Sugar plum

Any one of these endearments that has the letter u in it, I said to A recently, is gonna be kind of dirty. And this is true. The letter u ends up in lots of words that can cause a sweet little poem to take a piratical turn. Or sinister, maybe, or just gloomy. In the case of sugar plum, for instance, pus, glum, slump.

And then there’s surl, the only semi-made-up word I have allowed myself to use thus far. It came up in the anagram surl gap um, if I am remembering correctly, or maybe it was surl map ug (is ug a word? I can’t remember. But it sure is in the pirate camp).

In my mind, it was a short hop from surly to surl, which seemed like a more accurate way to say surliness. More like stuff, like a substance, than a quality. And this seemed useful. My Webster’s Collegiate does not have an entry for it. I had never had occasion to look up surly before, though, and this was surprising: its root is sir, as in sirly. Oh, that old i/u connection, so weird, so counterintuitive—except when we think of certain words. Which brings us back to dirty—it’s that u quality that makes it work so well as a word, and I think it’s why dirty came to my mind to describe the aspect a u can lend to an endearment. Lucky sugar plum also has an a in it to brighten it up, to open it.

Also: my mother used to call me “sugar plum.”