At the end of March, I took a column to go through some words from the book A Word for Every Day of the Year, by Steven Poole, and I decided to do that again now, since I have three more months of words to pick from.
When I am reading the word for each day, I always like to see if I can figure out what it means before reading the little essay Poole writes each day. It wasn’t that hard with ‘defatigable’. Since I knew the word ‘indefatigable’ basically meant something couldn’t be fatigued or tired, I figured ‘defatigable’ had to mean something which could be tired, and I was correct.
What did surprise me a bit was to learn that in the written records Poole could find, ‘indefatigable’ actually predated ‘defatigable’, which doesn’t seem to make sense, but then he found a citation for the verb ‘defatigate’ from earlier still, so it all made sense.
One word whose meaning I could not construe just from seeing it was ‘backfriend’. I had a couple of ideas, perhaps it was a friend who you knew ‘back in the day’ but hardly saw anymore. No, it turns out that we didn’t really need the word ‘frenemy’, which has become popular recently, because a ‘backfriend’ is, by the definition of Dr. Samuel Johnson in his great dictionary, “a friend backwards; that is, an enemy in secret”.
Not perhaps the same exact meaning as ‘frenemy’ but definitely the same kind of person, and to an even greater degree, not something you want to be known as.
When I worked in community newspapers, finishing with the Prince George Free Press, I prided myself on the ability to write my stories quickly and somewhat intelligently. The quickness part meant I was a practitioner of ‘tachygraphy’, even if I didn’t know it at the time. The word does include things like shorthand as a means of writing more quickly, but I always found shorthand took me longer, so I didn’t use it.
Besides, ‘tachygraphy’, to me, means speed in writing the story, not in writing the notes.
The White Queen in Alice in Wonderland (a book I still like to read every couple of years) told Alice at one point, “I can believe six impossible things before breakfast.” Whether she could or not, that was a fine example of doing something in an ‘antejentacular’ way, which is a long word to say before breakfast.
Some people consider it a fine start to the day if they’re at least possibly awake in an antejentacular way; others, like the White Queen, are much more industrious early in the morning.