Chambers Humorous Definitions

D G TALLIS writes

Gordon Cuthbert (Crossword number 131) lists half a dozen words which have amusing definitions in the current (1988) edition of Chambers. However, the list is much longer than that, particularly if one goes back to previous editions. I know of 21, and I doubt if the list, culled from the last four editions, is comprehensive:
1952 1972 1983 1988
Charity begins at home      


+ + +
Eclair + - + +
End-reader + - - -
Ghost-word + - - -
Hag-weed + - - -
He-man + + + +
Illustration + + + +
Jaywalker + + + +
Leal, land o' the + - - -
Lunch + - - -
Middle-aged + + + +
Nice + - + +
Noose + + + +
Ozone + + - -
Perpetrate + - + +
Petting-party + + + +
Pict + - + +
Pock-pudding + + + +
Restoration + + + +
Runyonesque ND + + +
Sea-serpent + + + +

(ND = not defined)

There are thus at least six words which were amusingly defined in the 1952 edition, but whose definitions have not survived. Four others were expunged from the 1972 edition, but were reinstated in the 1983 at the request of readers, as Betty Kirkpatrick noted in her preface to that edition. Interestingly, the amusing part of the definition of 'ozone' was not omitted in 1972, but was omitted subsequently.

For those who do not have the 1952 edition here are the six missing definitions. They will find a comparison of these definitions with those in the 1988 edition instructive.

End-reader one who peeps at the end of a novel to see if she got him.

Ghost-word a word that has originnated in the blunder of a scribe or printer - common in dictionaries -.

Hag-weed the common broom- plant - a broomstick being a witch's usual aircraft.

Land 0' the Leal the home of the blessed after death - heaven, not Scotland.

Lunch a restaurateur's name for an ordinary man's dinner.

Ozone an imagined constituent in the air of any place that one wishes to commend.

In 1970 the late Egma used some of these words as the basis of an entertaining puzzle in The Listener (No 2101), which he called 'Fun in the Alveary', and I think that Ximenes had done something similar before him. 'Alveary' was defined in the 1952 edition as 'a hive of industry, hence a dictionary'. Some might therefore like to include 'Alveary' in the above list.

NORMAN C GODDARD went straight to the horse's mouth and got the 'official' 1988 list from Catherine Schwarz at Chambers. Apart from the words listed above, this consists of the following:
abloom         madame          
baby-sitter man-eater
brains trust misrepresent
double-locked not to mention (at mention)
emerods non-smoker
fan-dance picture-restorer
flag-day road-hog
fish v.i. rock-salmon
old girl (at girl) Ruritania
horn (n. def 7) sea-cook
throw the handkerchief (at handkerchief) Spatangoidea
isabel (etymology) table-turning
Japanese cedar taghairm
knick-knack temperance hotel
lead out under the table (at table)
literally waist-line

To these NCG wishes to add Ainu, cachou, eye¹ (etym.), second-sight and Welwitschia.

A long list from TED HUNT includes additionally:
de- (prefix) much used in civil service jargon in coining words expressing undoing or ridding.
Havana cigar a fine quality of cigar, named from Havana, the capital of Cuba, fondly supposed to be made there.
hike n. a walking tour or outing, esp. of the self-conscious kind.
live adj (final def)
shiver my timbers
a featherless bird of prey
Extra gems are included in STUART WOODS'S list
new woman
a name humorously applied to such modern women as rebel against the conventional restrictions of their sex, and ape men in their freedom, education, pursuits, amusements, clothing, manners and sometimes morals [1901 ed only]
odour of sanctity

Opinion is offered by DON MARTIN and kazoo by A REYMOND. TIM MOOREY likes the etymology of moggy and this writer that of she-oak.

Thanks to Kevin McDermid for supplying this information. This article was first published in The Crossword, the magazine of The Crossword Club. For further details of The Crossword Club write to The Crossword Club, Coombe Farm, Awbridge, Romsey, Hants SO51 0HN, United Kingdom.

Other words worth checking in earlier editions of Chambers are: a priori, bull, pigeon's milk, says I , scowl, scrum (all 1956 edition), Agapemone, bunkum, Hermes. lady-killer, & prig

In his February slip Azed added the following comment on the 1998 edition:-

Many thanks, especially to Tony Beaulah, for the response to my appeal for further research into the humorous definitions in Chambers. It appears that editorial policy has wavered somewhat over the years, and that although the lexicographers have been encouraged to restore and add to the gems expunged from recent editions, their courage has failed them in the case of; for example, END READERS, FLOOZIE, GRAND CONCERT, ILLUSTRATION, LUNCH, MADAME, NICE, NOOSE and PICT, whose witty definitions have now been dropped. You may, however, still enjoy the following:


The following humorous definitions are in the 1998 edition.

abloom middle-aged
bachelor's wife misrepresent
bafflegab mention (see not to mention)
bikini (etym.) (S O'Boyle) nineteen to the dozen
double-locked perpetrate
fan-dance petting party
flag-day picture-restorer
girl(see old girl) restoration
grammaticaster road-hog
handkerchief (see throw the h.)         second-sight
he-man rock-salmon
isabel (etymology) Santa Claus
Jacquard loom sea-serpent
Japanese cedar taghairm
jay-walker tityre-tu
knick-knack waist-line
lead out Welwitschia