The occasional ramblings of a freelance lexicographer

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Squidgy gunk

Working on a dictionary, you often find yourself dealing with a rather random selection of words, linked together only by alphabetical order. I’m currently working on an edit which sees me moving fairly quickly through stretches of the dictionary and makes for an odd lexicographic rollercoaster ride, working through entries from bull to burp, cow to crappy or latex to laxative.

It always strikes me though how some sections of the alphabet seem to have their own distinctive feel and character. Why is it that the combination of G and U seems somehow inelegant, dirty or otherwise unpleasant?

Think: guttural, guzzle, grunt, grunge, grubby, gunk, grumpy, grudge, gruesome etc.

Or then there’s always the soft, wet, unstable fun of SQU with: squash, squeeze, squelch, squidgy, squiggle, squirm, squirt, squish, squiffy

Many years ago, as a young Linguistics undergraduate, I did a project inspired by a section from Douglas Adams’ “Life, the universe and everything.” The episode involves a conversation between Marvin, the paranoid android, and a mattress. Over the course of a couple of pages, the mattress flollops, globbers, vollues and flurbles. It willomies, gups and glurries, flodges, quirruls, flurs, wurfs and finally almost lurgles in fear – all, naturally, in a floopy manner! I tried to analyse just why it is that we can assign meaning to neologisms that we’ve never encountered before simply based on the associations we have with certain sound combinations.

Rereading the chapter again though, I noticed Adams’ final sentence and wondered whether perhaps I should stop trying to be so analytical and just enjoy what the language throws up:

“He listened, but there was no sound on the wind beyond the now familiar sound of half-crazed etymologists calling distantly to each other across the sullen mire.”

Friday, January 19, 2007


My recent move prompted me to finally get round to setting up my own website www.juleswords.co.uk - it seemed a good idea to pass on the website address to everyone along with my new contact details. I’ve been thinking about it for a couple of years and have been along to a couple of courses at the local college. The courses initially encouraged me when I saw how easy it is to get started on creating a website, then completely put me off again when I realised just how hard it is to get it right! I kept dabbling then giving up in exasperation, but having a deadline did the trick in focusing my efforts.

The thought of having my own website originally stemmed from the mess that my CV was getting into. As a freelancer, you end up working on a whole range of projects, in my case, spread across several different areas of work. It’s what I love about working freelance, but it plays havoc with your CV. Making new contacts and keeping existing ones up-to-date is an important part of keeping the work coming in, so being able to pass on a simple web address for potential editors and other contacts to browse at their leisure seemed like a good idea.

After looking at lots of websites, I decided that keeping it simple was the way to go, especially for my first attempt. I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with computers - I love the idea of what they can do, but hate actually trying to put it into practice - so the process of putting the website together involved a lot of frustration and lots of swearing at my pc! As I got towards the end, I was at last feeling like I was getting to grips with the whole process and started to see how I should have gone about achieving what I wanted. By that time though I just wanted to get something up and running, and wasn’t about to go back and make fundamental changes so late in the day. I finally got something together just in time to send off when I’d moved into my new place at the start of the year. I’m far from completely satisfied with the final result (and have already discovered it doesn’t work properly on Macs - d’oh!) so there will no doubt be a second version to come. I think I need a break from it first though to let the pc rage subside and to come back to it with a new eye and fresh inspiration … perhaps in the spring.