Sunday, September 14, 2008


Erin Mckean really likes dictionaries and her enthusiasm is infectious. Just watch this video. Now I'm a tad stalkerish, so I signed up to follow Mckean's word a day on Twitter. It's fabulous. Here are two of my recent favorites. Preenacter: someone who enacts "historical" events that haven't happened yet, e.g., the first landing on Mars. Or, polinymous: having a personal name that is also a place name, e.g., a girl named Ann Arbor. But my favorite so far is mooreeffoc: relating to familiar things suddenly seen in a new and different way. What's the etymology of this wonderful word?

Though this word is rare to the point of never being used in its ostensible sense, but only as a keyword to initiate discussion, it has been keeping illustrious company, since its few appearances in print have been in works by G K Chesterton, J R R Tolkien and Charles Dickens.
Dickens invented it, if that’s the right word to use. He mentions it in his autobiography, when he describes his poverty-stricken youth:
"In the door there was an oval glass plate, with COFFEE-ROOM painted on it, addressed towards the street. If I ever find myself in a very different kind of coffee-room now, but where there is such an inscription on glass, and read it backward on the wrong side MOOR-EEFFOC (as I often used to do then, in a dismal reverie,) a shock goes through my blood."
In his biography of Dickens, Chesterton said that it denoted the queerness of things that have become trite, when they are seen suddenly from a new angle. Tolkien read more into it still in his work On Fairy-stories:
"The word Mooreeffoc may cause you to realise that England is an utterly alien land, lost either in some remote past age glimpsed by history, or in some strange dim future reached only by a time-machine; to see the amazing oddity and interest of its inhabitants and their customs and feeding-habits."

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