What’s in a Name?

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here. More on the very good reason for that later, but first I want to talk about names of book characters that have made it into the dictionary.

Any player of word games like Scrabble, Boggle or Countdown will tell you that Proper Names Do Not Count. They aren’t dictionary words, except for the few that are. Lately, I’ve been looking up examples of these. Here are some of my favourites.

I started looking into this after learning the word Pecksniffian, from the character Pecksniff in Charles Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewit. It’s an adjective meaning ‘affecting piety and moral principles’, because of the character in question’s hypocritical tendency to do the same. It featured in my office’s ‘Underused Word of the Week’ feature (because that’s how copywriters have fun).

Quixotic, aside from being a great scoring word in Scrabble, means ‘idealistic and impractical’. It comes from Don Quixote, though it’s pronounced so differently that you’d be forgiven for not making the connection if you only ever heard them spoken aloud.

Mrs Malaprop from the 1775 play The Rivals by Richard Brinsley Sheridan comes out with phrases like “she’s as headstrong as an allegory on the banks of the Nile”. I wonder if those allegories are any good at hunting wilderbeast though. In doing so, she gives us the term Malapropism for any mix up between similar sounding words.

I didn’t know until researching for this post that there is an alternative term for this kind of error, from a different theatrical character: Dogberryism, after the hopeless constable in Much Ado About Nothing.

Our watch, sir, have indeed comprehended two aspicious persons…

So, why the interest in names suddenly? Well, it’s for the same reason that I’ve not been online much lately, which I promised earlier to explain. Here’s the answer:

baby hands

I’ve been busy looking after this brand new little Proofreader In Training. And no, we didn’t call him Dogberry or Pecksniff in the end.

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