Sunday, March 15, 2009

Before We Turn to Ghosts

Writing about words gives one a certain amount of power, if only over those who read about words. If you write credibly enough, readers will begin to believe you, regardless of whether you back up your claims with facts. I’m not suggesting that Depraved and Insulting English authors Peter Novobatsky and Ammon Shea are occasionally pulling their readers’ legs, even if a certain degree of mischief wouldn’t be unheard of in people whose legacy is a list of words that exists at the exact cross-section of English’s most vile and most obscure. I will note, however, that some of the selections in their book are so obscure, in fact, that Google searches for them turn up little else besides mentions of these words as being obscure and appearing in Depraved and Insulting English.

This might queer these verbal obscurities for some people. Not me. I’m fine with them and I’m happy to take the expert’s word on the matter, so to speak. But this preface should be kept in mind when you consider this week’s word.
knipperdollin (nip-er-DOLL-in) — noun: a fanatical idiot.
This “surprisingly useful word,” as Depraved puts it, is an eponym — which itself is a useful word describing a thing that takes its name after the name of a person. Yes, knipperdollin allegedly gets to take its place with the likes of jehu and lamaze thanks to one Bernhard Knipperdolling, German leader of the M√ľnster Anabaptists and a principal agitator in the failed attempt to re-create the city as a theocracy. I’m not sure why Knipperdolling would be verbally immortalized for his fanaticism more so than his rebel colleagues nor why the end “G” in his name would have been lopped off. However, this is the case, or at least the version of the case that Novobatsky and Shea offer.

If it at all helps you imagine the events that led to Knipperdolling becoming knipperdollin, here’s what Wikipedia says the man looked like.

(It serves a dual purpose, I say: It both amuses me and it puts Knipperdolling in league with a great many notables whose Wikipedia articles feature photos that make them look dopey. (Speaking of which, has anybody else noticed Padma Lakshmi’s?)

Even more curious to me is Wikipedia’s note that the man would have also been known as Bernd Knipperdollinck, Bernd Knypperdollynck, Berndt Knipperdollinck, and Berndt Knypperdollynck. But I guess knipperdollin could easily represent a clipped form of any of these names. The page makes no reference to the eponym supposedly associated with the man.

I’d also like to note that knipperdollin was my back-up word. I’d initially wanted to use the word that’s either spelled kitthogue or kitthougue, but I found even less about it online. Not a guide to its pronunciation, not a note about its etymology — only barely a confirmation that it actually does mean “left-handed” or “left-handed person.” Oh well.

Previous words of the week:

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