Dear reader, life is too short for crap books.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Precision of Language

I recently heard about Ammon Shea's new book coming out this August, Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages. In it, Shea documents the most bizarre, obscure, and lovely words and definitions to be found in the behemoth dictionary.

Today, I stumbled upon one myself. A patron called the library to ask whether the word "handsome" could be used to describe a girl.

"Yes," I said. "Well, you probably wouldn't use it to describe a girl. You could use it to describe a woman, though."

"Why?" he asked.

I couldn't exactly put my finger on that part, so I turned to the OED, and found among the definitions one that explained the connotation perfectly:

Handsome: "beautiful with dignity."

"So, that wouldn't apply to a girl?"

"Not usually," I said.

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