Read The Horologicon: A Day's Jaunt through the Lost Words of the English Language Online

Authors: Mark Forsyth

Tags: #etymology, #Humour, #english language, #words

The Horologicon: A Day's Jaunt through the Lost Words of the English Language

This electronic edition published in the UK in 2012 by

Icon Books Ltd, Omnibus Business Centre,

39–41 North Road, London N7 9DP

[email protected]

ISBN: 978-184831-430-6 (ePub format)

ISBN: 978-184831-484-9 (Adobe ebook format)

Text copyright © 2012 Mark Forsyth

The author has asserted his moral rights.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form, or by any means, without prior permission in writing from the publisher.

Typeset in Minion by Marie Doherty


Title page

Copyright information

About the author


The Inky Fool blog




Chapter 1

6 a.m. – Dawn

Alarm clocks – trying to get back to sleep – feigning illness

Chapter 2

7 a.m. – Waking and Washing

Slippers – looking in the mirror – self-loathing – lavatory – shower – hair – shaving – brushing your teeth

Chapter 3

8 a.m. – Dressing and Breakfast

Clothes – make-up – breakfast – preparing to depart

Chapter 4

9 a.m. – Commute

Weather – transport – car – bus – train – arriving late

Chapter 5

10 a.m. – The Morning Meeting

Staying awake – listening – arguing – yes, no, who cares? – mugwumps – keeping quiet

Chapter 6

11 a.m. – Taking a Break

Coffee – gossip – incredulity – cigarette

Chapter 7

Noon – Looking as Though You’re Working

Effortlessness – sales and marketing – emails – approaching bankruptcy – asking for a raise

Chapter 8

1 p.m. – Lunch

Where to eat – who pays – The Free Lunch – eating – eating turtles – indigestion

Chapter 9

2 p.m. – Returning to Work

Nap – phoning family members

Chapter 10

3 p.m. – Trying to Make Others Work

Finding them – shouting at them

Chapter 11

4 p.m. – Tea

Chapter 12

5 p.m. – Actually Doing Some Work

Panicking – deadlines – giving up – stealing from your employer – leaving

Chapter 13

6 p.m. – After Work

Strolling around – arranging your evening

Chapter 14

7 p.m. – Shopping

Disorientation – ecstasy in the supermarket

Chapter 15

8 p.m. – Supper

Dietary requirements – seating arrangements – making conversation – avoiding conversation – hogging the wine – finishing supper – avoiding the bill

Chapter 16

9 p.m. – Drinking

Persuading others to – choosing a bar – opening the door – approaching the bar – ordering – drinking – the results of drinking – empties – forms of drunkenness

Chapter 17

10 p.m. – Wooing

On the prowl – observing your target – the chat-up – dancing – kissing – making rash proposals of marriage – fanfreluching – rejection

Chapter 18

11 p.m. – Stumbling Home

Setting off – getting lost – falling over – attempts to sleep outdoors

Chapter 19

Midnight – Nostos

Making too much noise upon returning – attempting to work – undressing – arguing with spouse – falling asleep



Paralipomenon – The Drinker’s Dictionary

Dictionaries and Idioticons


The Etymologicon

The Etymologicon Audiobook

About the author

Mark Forsyth
is a writer, journalist, proof-reader, ghostwriter and pedant. He was given a copy of the
Oxford English Dictionary
as a christening present and has never looked back. In 2009 he started the Inky Fool blog, in order to share his heaps of useless information with a verbose world. He is also the author of the
Sunday Times
No. 1 bestseller
The Etymologicon
, published in 2011 by Icon Books.

The author would like to thank Jane Seeber and Andrea Coleman for their judicious advice, sensible suggestions and peculiar patience.

This book is the papery child of the Inky Fool blog, which was started in 2009. Though almost all the material is new, some of it has been adapted from its computerised parent. The blog is available at
which is a part of the grander whole

Therefore doth Job open his mouth in vain; he multiplieth words without knowledge.

Job 35, verse 16

For my parents


once wrote that:

Words, like Nature, half reveal

And half conceal the soul within.

This book is firmly devoted to words of the latter half. It is for the words too beautiful to live long, too amusing to be taken seriously, too precise to become common, too vulgar to survive in polite society, or too poetic to thrive in this age of prose. They are a beautiful troupe hidden away in dusty dictionaries like
A glossary of words used in the wapentakes of Manley and Corringham, Lincolnshire
or the
Descriptive Dictionary and Atlas of Sexology
(a book that does actually contain maps). Of course, many of them are in the
Oxford English Dictionary
(OED), but not on the fashionable pages. They are the lost words, the great secrets of old civilisations that can still be useful to us today.

There are two reasons that these words are scattered and lost like atmic fragments. First, as already observed, they tend to hide in rather strange places. But even if you settle down and read both volumes of the
Dictionary of Obsolete and Provincial English
cover to cover (as I, for some reason, have) you will come across the problem of arrangement, which is obstinately alphabetical.

The problem with the alphabet is that it bears no relation to anything at all, and when words are arranged alphabetically they are uselessly separated. In the OED, for example, aardvarks are 19 volumes away from the zoo, yachts are 18 volumes from the
beach, and wine is 17 volumes from the nearest corkscrew. One cannot simply say to oneself, ‘I wonder whether there’s a word for that’ and turn to the dictionary. One chap did recently read the whole OED, but it took him a year, and if you tried that every time you were searching for the perfect word, you might return to find that the conversation had moved on.

The world is, I am told, speeding up. Everybody dashes around at a frightening pace, teleconferencing and speed-dating. They bounce around between meetings and brunches like so many coked-up pin-balls, and reading whole dictionaries is, for busy people like you, simply not feasible. Time is money, money is time, and these days nobody seems to have much of either.

Thus, as an honourable piece of public service, and as my own effort to revive the world’s flagging economy through increased lexical efficiency, I have put together a Book of Hours, or
. In medieval times there were books of hours all over the place. They were filled with prayers so that, at any time of day, the pious priest could whip out his horologicon, flip to the appropriate page and offer up an orison to St Pantouffle, or whoever happened to be holy at the time. Similarly, my hope with this book is that it will be used as a work of speedy reference. ‘What’s the word?’ you will think to yourself. Then you will check your watch, pull this book from its holster, turn to the appropriate page and find
, or whatever it might be. This is a book of the words appropriate to each hour of the day. Importantly, as I have noted, it is a reference work. You should on no account attempt to read it cover to cover. If you do, Hell itself will hold no horrors for you, and neither the author nor his parent company will accept liability
for any suicides, gun rampages or crazed nudity that may result.

Of course, there is a slight problem with attempting to create an efficient reference work of this kind, namely that I have to know what you are doing at every moment of the day. This isn’t quite as hard as it sounds. I’ve consulted all of my friends and both of them have told me much the same story: they get up, they wash, they have breakfast and head off to work in an office. Neither of them is quite clear what they do there, but they insist that it’s important and involves meetings and phone calls, work-shy subordinates and unruly bosses. Then they pop to the shops, eat supper and, as often as not, head out for a drink. It is on this basis that I have made a game attempt at guessing your hypothetical life.

Some things I have, quite deliberately, ignored. For example, there are no children because they are much too unpredictable. I have included a chapter on courtship for reasons explained at the time. I haven’t quite been able to decide whether you are married – sometimes you are and sometimes you aren’t – although I am sure that you must possess a firmer opinion. Throughout, I have taken the liberty of imagining you as being half as lazy, dishonest and gluttonous as I am. You have to write about what you know. If you are a piece of virtue into whose wipe-clean mind sin and negligence have never entered, I apologise. This is not the book for you and I hope you have kept the receipt. And of course the nature of your job is a bit of a mystery and a sticking point.

Though most of this is being written in the British Library, as that is where the dictionaries are, the British Library is in fact very like an office, except that nobody is allowed to talk. It has
all the usual usualnesses – i.e. the lady on my left has spent the last hour on Facebook, occasionally chortling quietly – and it has all the usual eccentricities – i.e. the chap on my right has all sorts of behemothic tomes on the theories of post-Marxist historiography out on his desk, but is in fact reading
Sharpe’s Revenge
under the table, and thinks nobody has noticed.

I mean, I assume you work in an office, but I suppose I may be wrong. Though I have drawn on all the knowledge I could, I can never be quite sure that I’ve got you down to a T. You might not work in an office at all. You might be a surgeon, or a pilot, or a cattle rustler, or an assassin, taking a little break between hits to find out the lost gems and
hapax legomena
of the English language before heading out for a hard day’s garrotting.

You could do anything, anything at all. Your life might be a constant welter of obscenity and strangeness. For all I know, you could spend all day inserting live eels into a horse’s bottom. If you do, I must apologise for the arrangement of this book, and the only consolation I can offer is that there is a single eighteenth-century English word for shoving live eels up a horse’s arse. Here is the definition given in Captain Grose’s
Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue

. To feague a horse; to put ginger up a horse’s fundament, and formerly, as it is said, a live eel, to make him lively and carry his tail well; it is said, a forfeit is incurred by any horse-dealer’s servant, who shall show a horse without first feaguing him. Feague is used, figuratively, for encouraging or spiriting one up.

There are three instructive points to be taken from that definition.
First, you should never trust an eighteenth-century horse dealer. Especially if you’re a horse. Or an eel.

Second, the English language is ready for anything. If you were to surprise a Frenchman in the act of putting a conger up a mare’s bottom he would probably have to splutter his way through several sentences of circumlocutory verbocination. However, ask an English-speaker why they are sodomising a horse with a creature from the deep and they can simply raise a casual eyebrow and ask: ‘Can’t you see I’m feaguing?’

The ability to explain why you’re putting an eel up a horse with such holophrastic precision is the birthright of every English-speaking man and woman, and we must reclaim it.

Thirdly, and finally, you will notice that that definition is not from the
Oxford English Dictionary
. Though the OED is the greatest and heaviest reference work yet devised by man, it does not necessarily touch the sides of the English language. In the case of feaguing, the OED does actually quote Grose, but rather coyly mentions only the stuff about ginger. Other words have been grabbed from rural dialects and criminals’ dens. Any dictionary that I could find, I have used; from Cab Calloway’s
Hepsters Dictionary: Language of Jive
(1944) all the way back to the rainswept miseries of Old English. I shall probably slap together a list of all the works used and stick it at the back, just in case anybody reads that far.

If I have found a word in a dictionary, any dictionary, then it has merited inclusion. Wise and learned professors have asked what makes a word truly a word. I neither know nor care. Such questions I leave to my betters. I must be content to tootle my lexicographic kazoo and dance my antic hay near, but not in, the sacred grove of Academe.

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