Barker: I swear I am not demonstrating esquivalience

Why I love learning new words, even fake ones

I love learning new words.

This week it was esquivalience. According to the Second Edition of the Oxford American Dictionary this is a noun that means the willful avoidance of one’s official responsibilities. It dates to the 19th century and is perhaps derived from the French esquiver which means to dodge or slink away.

The greatest thing about this word?

It’s not a real one. It is a mountweazel.

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Mountweazels are fictitious entries in reference works such as dictionaries and encyclopedias designed as copyright traps for would-be plagiarists.

Since different dictionaries and encyclopedias generally have the same content, the existence of a made-up word or entry in a competitor’s volume is pretty good proof they copied yours.

Mountweazels can also be found on maps. Cartographers sometimes include fictitious places for the same reason.

Interestingly enough, mountweazel, although a word in common use, is not in any dictionaries, at least none that I consulted.

It comes from a fictitious entry in the 1975 edition of The New Columbia Encyclopedia.

Lillian Virginia Mountweazel was a renowned American photographer of rural mailboxes, the encyclopedia claims. She was born and raised in Bangs, Ohio in 1942 and tragically died at the age of 31 while on assignment for Combustibles Magazine.

Bangs, Ohio is a real place, an unincorporated community in the state’s Knox County.

Combustibles Magazine was an actual publication, an American weekly glossy known for its photography that went bankrupt in 1978.

On another note, my favourite real word of all time is floccipaucinihilipilification, the act of regarding something as worthless.

Apparently this word was coined and used by 19th century students of the British prep school Eton College derived from the Latin: floccus (“a wisp”), naucum (“a trifle”), nihilum (“nothing”) and pilus (“a hair”) plus -fication.

It really rolls off the tongue if you practice (a lot).

I just hope readers won’t be inclined to floccipaucinihilipilificate this column.

Thom Barker writes for Black Press Media baased out of Smithers. For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.


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