Thursday, 28 May 2009

What shall we do with the icebound sailor?

Working in the Marketing Department at Chambers, I find myself in a strange lexicographical position – I know exactly how words get into the dictionary but I have no say in whether they do (it’s certainly not a case of slipping the editors a tenner with my personal ‘missing word’ bugbear written on it). I know too that we get a lot – a lot – of mail asking for words to be added to the dictionary. The editors meet regularly to discuss new words. Our commissioned readers constantly trawl the media and we have a computer program zapping tirelessly through the internet in search of cutting-edge vocabulary. Dictionaries thrive on the addition of new words.

With all this pressure to put words in, I particularly enjoyed this piece by Robin Bloor on ‘words you don’t know that shouldn’t exist’ – it’s very rare that we get people demanding that we take words out.

One of the words in the list is ‘mallemeroking’. In my opinion, mallemaroking is a brilliant word. It’s a rare word meaning ‘carousing of seamen in icebound ships’, from the obsolete Dutch mallemerok, ‘a romping woman’, with the Dutch mal meaning ‘foolish’. There are few words to be found in English with this mal in their derivation, although there is mallemuck, ‘the fulmar or a similar bird’, literally translated from Dutch as ‘foolish gull’.

While admitting the word ‘mallemaroking’ is obscure – Michael Quinion over at World Wide Words points out that it is ‘the preserve almost solely of those wordsmiths who write about Weird Words’ – I have my own suggestion for easing this word into more everyday usage. Let’s make it into a simile: carousing like seamen in icebound ships. Think of the raucous behaviour of children on the bus home from a school trip that gets caught in traffic or snow or flooding – the holiday from school and parents nearly over, excited and tired, they snatch their extra moments of freedom by playing games, singing, shouting across the seats, smearing lipstick and ink on the faces of their sleeping peers. They are mallemaroking.

For the time being, mallemaroking will stay in The Chambers Dictionary. We take great pride in our range of historical and obscure words. After all, they’re the ones that you’re going to have to look up if you come across them. What’s more, we love words. We love them for their oddness or aptness, their meaning or euphony. It is no surprise that mallemaroking makes an appearance in Foyle’s Further Philavery by Christopher Foyle, a collection of words that are just wonderful for whatever reason.

Whatever your view of this word, it’s great to see people blogging about it and talking about it again. I predict a resurgence in its use, and mallemaroking may be here to stay.

Naomi Farmer

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Love it! :-)
Now I just need to find a chance to expand my vocabulary in that direction!!!! :-)

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