Monday, November 20, 2017

A New Word and An Old Book

by Ruth Dell

Discombobulated has long been my favorite word, simply because I love the way it captures perplexity and confusion by its very sound and look. But then I came home from Ireland last week with a delightful new word in my vocabulary. Discombobulated now takes second place and my new favorite is vellichor.

Vellichor.  A magic word carpet, with its intriguing definition of being "the strange wistfulness of used bookstores",  flew out of cyberspace  How could I resist a word which caught me up and instantly transported me to my happy place—a used bookstore!

I soon discovered that this word, although gaining popularity in the digital world, was not in conventional dictionaries, although I suspect it may well be at some time in the near future. It was coined by John Koenig and its full meaning is given in his site, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, as follows:

"the strange wistfulness of used bookstores, which are somehow infused with the passage of time—filled with thousands of old books you'll never have time to read, each of which is itself locked in its own era, bound and papered over like an old room the author abandoned years ago, a hidden annex littered with thoughts left just as they were on the day they were captured."

Two days later I got to experience my new word firsthand when I visited Zozimus Bookshop in Gorey, County Wexford. And it was there that my sister bought a wonderful old book which we pored over once back home.

The Irish Press Cuttings Album
It's shabby and battered, but once opened it reveals a treasure—an Irish Press Cuttings Album c 1855 to 1865, including detailed reports of the laying of the Atlantic Cable. Unfortunately the dates of the cuttings and the names of the newspapers are missing.

Further examination reveals that book originally belonged to a painter, who hung wallpaper and installed windows in addition to painting. He used it to keep records of his clients, work and accounts. The days and months have been noted, but, in most cases, not the year, although I did find one entry dated 1846 and another 1911. The press cuttings have been pasted close together over the work records in the first part of the book. The font is very small and it seems white space was not an option in those days.

Painter's Record 1861
 The cuttings include opinions about many subjects, news, anecdotes, social events, funeral notices, obituaries, matrimonial matters and a wide range of trivia which capture a world very different from today's. Here are two excerpts which I particularly enjoyed and have earmarked for a novel. Note the spelling and punctuation are copied from the cutting.

THEORY AND PRACTICE.—A droll story of a discourse between a French barrister and his client is going the rounds of the Halles.  A man was recently accused of robbery, about which there was no mistake, and his advocat had an interview with him. At the end of it he said, "I cannot see that you have any defence. You had better, in my opinion, plead guilty at once; frankness is your only remedy."  The accused drew himself up with dignity. "Silence, sir!" he exclaimed.  "You may know the theory of the law, but I am acquainted with it practically. You have but read and pleaded, I have been many times accused and condemned."

Isn't that delightful?
Press Cuttings
Here's another gem:
OBTAINING HUSBANDS UNDER FALSE PRETENCES.—A law which passed the English Parliament in 1770, enacts, "That woman, of whatever age, rank, profession, or degree, who shall, after this act, impose upon, seduce and betray into matrimony any of His Majesty's subjects by virtue of scents, paints, cosmetic washes, artificial teeth, false hair, iron stays, bolstered hips, or high heeled shoes, shall incur the penalty of the law now in force against witchcraft and like demeanours; and the marriage under such circumstances, upon conviction of the offending parties, shall be null and void.

Oh my, doesn't this make you sit up and wonder? Isn't your imagination running wild with stories?

Now it's your turn. Please leave a comment telling me about your favorite words or any old books that you have come across.


  1. Hi Ruth, what a lovely post that brought a smile to my face. Discombobulated is one of my favourites too. And vellichor - how peculiar and what a strange definition.

    Thank you for sharing it with us.

    1. Thank you, Ian, I'm glad you enjoyed my post. Aren't wrods fascinating?

  2. Wonderful, Ruth! I can't wait to share this with my husband. Words are his hobby. If you need old newspapers for research services, here is a fabulous source!

    1. Hi Donna. Thank you for the useful link for research. I tried to find a word for a person who ENJOYS/LOVES studying and finding out the meaning of words, but no success (etymologist doesn't have the meaning I'm looking for).Please ask your husband if he knows of any such word.

  3. Thanks for the fun post, Ruth. We inherited a family Bible (not from our family) which sadly, we had to part with when we scaled down. It was a huge volume, beautifully illustrated with full-page colored paintings. They were done using a technique I'm sure isn't used today, as the colors were more vivid than any printed pictures I have ever seen. And this was on a very old book!

    1. I would have so loved to see that beautiful old Bible. It must have broken your heart to part with it.