Word Ways


A. Ross Eckler


Modern recreational linguistics, as codified by Dmitri Borgmann in "Language on Vacation" (Scribner's, 1965), primarily views words as collections of letters to be manipulated in various ways, and secondarily as combinations of sounds and carriers of meaning. As in other branches of scholarly inquiry, this narrow focus has enabled today's logologists to see relationships more clearly, to ask new questions, and in general to elucidate the subject to an extent their predecessors could not even comprehend. Yet with such advances come myopia - one sees the individual trees, but no longer the forest. It is extremely instructive to look at the field of recreational linguistics through the eyes of two practitioners of a century ago, back when the emphasis was on collecting literary curiosa of all sorts rather than following up with new investigations. Thanks to Gale Research Company, two of the greatest works in this field are once again in print: Charles C. Bombaugh's Gleanings for the Curious form the Harvest-Fields of Literature (Harford 1975), available for $54, and William S. Walsh's "Handy-Book of Literary Curiosities."