Tyro. That was what started it. I can’t recall exactly when I learned the word, but it was when I was much younger and thought I knew everything.
Nowadays, I have learned much more. Indeed, so much that I now realise I know hardly anything.
A tyro is a beginner, a new recruit. The thing that struck me was that it was a four-letter word I’d never heard.
I was quite uncaring that I didn’t know all the words in the dictionary. Who does? There are so many, and lots of long ones I didn’t even know I didn’t know (malneirophrenia, for instance, the disturbed feeling you have when waking from a nightmare).
But four-letter words? My greenhorn confidence reckoned I surely knew them all!
Of course I didn’t. Since my tyro discovery I have been collecting obscure four-letter words. Let’s get the jokes out of the way. Not swear-words. What sort of muck-spout needs to swear to express themselves?
No, I mean words like cade. It describes a young animal, of any species, abandoned or taken from its mother and raised by humans. Or stum, partly fermented wine. Or sike, a stream that dries up in summer.
I note them all down. Paik is to beat or drub. Rale is an abnormal clicking when breathing in. Cate is an item of food, especially a delicacy. To be yare is to be ready. Leal is loyal.
Sometimes they are alternative definitions of words I thought I already knew. A jade is a broken-down horse. In old Scots, the lift was the sky. A lune is shaped like a crescent.
Speaking of lune, it is also the leash for hawks in falconry. Indeed, common among my four-letter collection are names for things I hadn’t known had names. A bort is a poor quality diamond used in industry. The luff is the edge of a sail closest to the mast. Having the vert is the right to cut firewood in a forest. To curr is to make a noise like an owl.
Others I feel I should know, or might once have heard. Shim for a wedge. Rive, to split asunder. To pree is to sample or taste. A yark is a sharp blow with whip or hand.
There isn’t a name for an obsession with four-letter words. But the often contrary English language would probably give it 17 letters.
Word of the week
To roll into a ball. EG: “If you could clew all the words that Finan bloke knows, it won’t be a big ball.”
Read the latest Oh my word! every Saturday in The Courier. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org