Thursday, January 11, 2007


One customer today, and he didn't even buy a book

Twelve degrees out this morning as I walked to work. Brrr. Still no snow. Nothing happening at the shop (other than my obsessive and gleeful sorting of a large batch of newly-arrived booksellers' tickets - to the senders of which I say thankyouthankyouthankyou) so I am reduced to speaking of the weather. And the Hs in The Reader's Encyclopedia:

hack. Originally, short for "hackney." A horse let out for hire; hence, one who hires himself out for literary work. Lowell wrote: "Dryden, like Lessing, was a hack writer..." (p.471)

halcyon days. A time of happiness and prosperity. Halcyon is the Greek for a kingfisher, compounded of hals, "the sea," and kuo, "to brood on." The ancient Sicilians believed that the kingfisher laid its eggs and incubated for fourteen days, before the winter solstice, on the surface of the sea, during which time the waves of the sea were always unruffled. (p.473)

Harvard, John. (1607-1638). English clergyman, son of a butcher. He settled at Charlestown, Mass., and became the first benefactor of the college at "New Towne," bequeathing to it his library of 300 volumes and half his estate, valued at £800. The college was renamed Harvard College in his honor in the year of his death, the third year of its existence. (p.483)

hay. A rustic dance. The word, of uncertain origin, has nothing to do with cut and dried grass. Cf. Antic Hay (1923), title of a novel by Aldous Huxley. (p.487) (See below.)

honorificabilitudinitatibus. A made up word on the Lat. honorificabilitudo, honorableness, which frequently occurs in Elizabethan plays as an instance of sesquipedalian pomposity, etc. (p.514)

Huggins and Muggins. Two characters of popular legend who personify vulgarity and false pretensions. They were frequently introduced in comic literature of the 19th century. The phrase may be a corruption of the Dutch Hooge en Mogende (high and mighty) or may possibly be derived from Hugin and Munin, Odin's two ravens of Scandinavian myth. (p.523)

Hugin and Munin. In Scandinavian mythology, the two ravens that sit on the shoulders of Odin. They typify thought and memory. (p.524) (This reminds me of the New York Library 42nd Street branch literary lions, Patience and Fortitude.)

humble pie, to eat. To come down from a position you have assumed; to be obliged to take "a lower room." Here "humble" is a pun on umble, the umbels being the heart, liver, and entrails of the deer, the hunstman's perquisites. When the lord and his household dined, the venison pasty was served on the dais, but the umbles were made into a pie for the huntsman and his fellows, who took the lower seats. (p.526)

Other entries of note, today, too long to do more than mention here: heaven, heraldry, and horse. The trouble with many of these entries is that they lead to looking even more words and phrases up, elsewhere. This project is causing many forays into the etymological dictionaries in the reference bookcase behind me. Hay, for instance. The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology gives this, about hay: "grass cut and dried (OE)," "hedge," and "winding country dance." I wonder if I should read this dictionary next. Best finish the project at hand before hatching any other grandiose schemes (of sesquipedalian pomposity), I suppose. I'm a third done - only seven hundred more pages to go. Goodness me.

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