THE CABINET OF LINGUISTIC CURIOSITIES (2018)
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Every day since 10 December 2013, Haggard Hawks has brought you a daily Word of the Day over on Twitter. As a rule (as with all the words on HH), these tend to be lifted from the most obscure corners of the most obscure dictionaries, with the aim of bringing you a new word every day that you’ve hopefully never heard before. And now, we’ve an entire year’s worth of words to bring you—with an extra slice of historical trivia thrown in for good measure.
The Cabinet of Linguistic Curiosities is a yearbook of obscure and long-forgotten words. And throughout the year, from quaaltagh to handsel, each word is connected somehow to each date.
So you can celebrate JRR Tolkien’s birthday on 3 January with eucatastrophe, a word he invented. The date on which a brand new top hat caused a riot in central is marked with the story behind the word alamodic—a seventeenth-century word for something that is the height of fashion. And the date on which the entirely ice-bound Battle of Texel was fought in 1795 is commemorated with the story behind the word ice-legs, the ability to keep one’s balance on frozen ground.
Head to Amazon to open the Cabinet of Curiosities yourself, or read on for a taster of what’s inside.
quaaltagh (n.) the first person you meet on New Year’s Day
Proving there really is a word for everything, your quaaltagh is the first person you meet on New Year’s Day morning. If you think that word doesn’t look even remotely English, you’re right: quaaltagh (pronounced ‘quoll-tukh’, with a rasping ‘gh’ like the sound in loch) was borrowed into English from Manx, the Celtic language of the Isle of Man, in the early nineteenth century. Its roots lie in a Manx verb, quaail, meaning “to meet” or “assemble”, as it originally referred to a group of festive entertainers who would come together to gambol from door to door at Christmas or New Year singing songs and reciting poems. For all their efforts, these quaaltagh entertainers would be invited inside for food and drink before moving on to the next house on their route.
If, as was often enough the case, all of that happened early on the morning of 1 January, then there was a good chance that the leader of the quaaltagh would be the first-footer of each household. As a result, a tradition soon emerged that the identity of the quaaltagh could have a bearing on the events of the year to come: dark-haired men were said to bring good luck, while fair-haired or fair-complexioned men (or, worst of all, fair-haired women) were said to bring bad luck—a curious superstition said to have its origins in the damage once wreaked by fair-haired Viking invaders.
Eventually, the tradition of door-to-door New Year Day gambolling disappeared (presumably because everyone is feeling far too delicate the morning after the night before), but the tradition of the quaaltagh being your luck-bringing first encounter on the morning of New Year’s Day, either inside or outside your house, has remained in place in the dictionary.