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A romp through the world of words from Sue Butler, lexicographer-at-large

August 11, 2020

A romp through the world of words from Sue Butler, lexicographer-at-large

Rebel without a Clause by Sue Butler is a fascinatingly idiosyncratic romp through the world of words from a lexicographer and former Editor of the Macquarie Dictionary coming on 29 September 2020.

The English language is changing constantly. We invent new words and phrases, we mash up idioms, we mispronounce, misuse, and misappropriate. Sue Butler has heard it all and this book is a collection of what she has observed since she handed over the reins of Macquarie Dictionary to the new Editor, Alison Moore.

Butler looks at obsolete words as being similar to pre-loved clothes. It’s tempting to adopt them because they look lovely but you might appear to be rather daggy. Her favourite old word is the Scottish curglaff for the shock you feel in bathing as you plunge into the cold water. You might really need this word for swimming but it won’t work for you in common usage.

Inventing new words is harder than you might think. Butler reflects on the popular method of blending two existing words. That’s how we came up with babelicious. Or the popularity of acronyms – yuppies and SNAGs. We also borrow from other languages recently taking hygge from Danish. In English the easiest method is to stick two existing words together to make a new compound, as in break room.

For all fellow word nerds, dive into Sue Butler’s new book and explore conundrums like: If nonsensical, why not sensical? If bemused, why not mused? If dismayed, why not mayed?

Check out other work from Sue Butler and Macquarie Dictionary below.

Rebel Without A Clause

Macquarie Dictionary Eighth Edition

Macquarie Aboriginal Words

Macquarie Atlas of Indigenous Australia: Second Edition

The Aitch Factor