I’m currently teaching The Scarlet Letter, which uses the insult “naughty baggage” in chapter 2. I told the students that I’d never seen the term before, but that it clearly meant “bad woman” (as a weirdly high number of English words do).
But then I remembered–I own a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary! A nearby library was selling it used last September for $20. I talked them down to 15. A 99% savings on the cover price.
Anyway, here’s part of the relevant entry for “baggage.” Note the definitions: “a worthless good-for nothing woman; a woman of disreputable or immoral life,” “trashy, worthless, beggary, trumpery, despicable,” among others. Also note that all of them are marked “obsolete!”
All uses of the #naughtybaggage hashtag are clearly people also reading this book. I encouraged my students to get it trending, but alas, no dice so far. Maybe you could help?
Doing some research this morning for an upcoming vocabulary assignment my classes are doing, I found that the Oxford English Dictionary has a delightfully logophillic blog, OxfordWords. The most recent offerings appear to be about invented languages, word origins, eponyms, and the persistence of cassette tapes.
Has this blog already been added to my link list? Yes, it has.
Here I am, whiling away the time as the last several students in this section of English 101 finish their final exam essay. In another hour, the semester will be over for me, nothing left of it but to wrap up grading the last few items and turn in my paperwork tomorrow.
As a few of the students come by the desk to shake my hand on the way out, I look up from the book I just started this evening: Reading the OED, by Ammon Shea. It caught my eye on the new release shelf as I was checking out a DVD of Oedipus Rex for my English II class. So far, it’s pretty good: clearly modeled on A.J. Jacobs’s The Know-It-All (where Shea’s book chronicles his year-long study of the entire Oxford English Dictionary, Jacobs’s similarly humorous memoir covered his year-long reading of the whole Encyclopaedia Britannica), it’s clever, accessible, and yet still just obscure enough to be nerdy fun.
Something in the first chapter reminded me of a great experience I had a couple of years ago. I was sitting in a chair at United Blood Services, giving blood and passing the time with the new issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. I came upon a story called “Brimstone P.I.“, by Beverle Graves Myers. Within the first paragraph, it was apparent that this was no typical procedural. The very novelty of it sucked me in.
It’s about a dead detective–in hell–who’s called upon by the devil to find out who’s been decorating the place with greeting cards and air fresheners. Continue reading →