Authors’ and Printers’ Dictionary is a gem

In an age of tweets and txt messages, the finer points of the endlessly protean English language often get missed.

 So when I spotted the hardback Authors’ and Printers’ Dictionary by F. Howard Collins in the Mind shop at Jericho and a snip at £1.50, this, I thought was one I had to have.

And what a treasure trove it is. Published by the Oxford University Press, it describes itself as offering advice for printers – remember them? – authors and editors.

 I’ll do this at random – every page contains some miracle or other. On page 293 there are some gems. Parratt (Sir Walter) lived from 1841-1924; a parterre is a flower bed or garden; and parol means oral, not written.

On page 167 we find hebdomad, a week; haw-haw – not Lord Haw-Haw – use ha-ha; Headless Cross, in Worcestershire; and hazel-hen, whatever a hazel-hen is. I don’t know.

Pondicherry, in India,  was given back to India by the French in the 1950s but we learn the French name for it was Pondichéry.  In India it’s no called Puducherry.  I’ve been there in the last few years. Some of it still looks very French indeed.

Oxford University Press building in Oxford, courtesy WikThingHirdy-girdy is disorder in Scottish, yes, Scottish is a quite distinctive strain of English; if you’re going to blow up a subject beyond what it really is, the dictionary recommends hyperbolize and condemns hyperbolise. The question of whether a word like this should be spelt with an ‘s’ or a ‘z’ is still somewhat a matter of contention. Is this the reverse of the natural order of things? Try using hysteron proteron, a Greek tag that puts the cart before the horse.

We wonder if F. Howard Collins is spinning in his grave in the 21st century Tower of Babel of tweets, Facebook and bogs. We suspect the lexographer, the Lavengro would have had a bit of a problem. The depositary, a person, in  the depository, a place, would no doubt rack his brains attempting to text the right spelling to his m8.

Our Schluss is that Peter Sohoeffer (1425-1502), a printer would grab hold of his Schläger – a student’s duelling sword – and pop the Google boys in the guts with it.

Here’s some archaic stuff in the preface to this handy little book: “Typewriting is to be recommended not so much because it facilitates the compositor’s task as because it approximates more nearly than manuscript to the regularity and uniformity of print.”

You do find a better class of second hand book in charity shops in Oxford.