drunk - the dictionary

Friday, November 13, 2009

Now here’s a wine book that does not have any intention of taking the snobbery out of wine – yet does so perfectly. Calling itself “The Definitive Drinker’s Dictionary”, “Drunk” was conceived and written by lexicographer Paul Dickson of Merriam Webster. Dickson has put together a collection of 2964 synonyms describing – (to put it delicately) – inebriation. A sampling: blitzed, roasted, on the sauce, whazood, whiskey frisky, and (a particular favorite) Boris Yeltsinned.

Illustrations by former New York Times art director Brian Rea accompany 60 of the entries. The result is a perfect stocking stuffer/bathroom book – a collection that will keep you chuckling even as you search your brain (most likely in vain) for a drunk descriptor that Dickson has missed.

Not just a dry (forgive the pun) listing of words, the book has its share of obscure and deliciously entertaining trivia. How else could you learn that 30 years after the term “plastered” entered the drunk lexicon, the Arizona Lath and Plaster Institute would protest the use of the term? Here’s the inside story: “You don't say a person is 'shingled', 'painted' or 'landscaped,'” the institute's executive secretary told the New York Times in 1956. “Then why say he is 'plastered'?”

The author opens this mini-opus with a compelling question. The English language (he asserts) includes more synonyms for drunk than for any other word. That in itself gives one pause (and calls for another round, if you are launching into this topic with a group of friends). Why should this be so? Well, among several theories posited, Dickson says that we get drunk for many different reasons, and react in many different ways. The language simply does its best to catalog and enumerate the complexity of drunkenness.

For me, the most intriguing aspect of the collection is this. It contains, notes the author, three mountweazels. And what is a mountweazel, you might wonder? Quoting here: “a mountweazel is a term for a bogus entry in a dictionary or encyclopedia as a means of entrapping violators. It dates from the 1975 edition of the New Columbia Encyclopedia and its entry for Lillian Virginia Mountweazel – ‘a photographer born in Bangs, Ohio, in 1942 only to die at age 31 in an explosion while working on assignment for Combustibles magazine.’”

Who will be the first to find and name all three mountweazels? Seems to me there should be a prize.

Drunk: the Definitive Drinker’s Dictionary
MelvilleHouse Publishing
224 pages | hardcover | $20


1 comment:

Josh said...

I'm trying to remember the last time I was mountweazled. Once again another fun post.
Josh Wade

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