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A Rumbustious Writer's Defining Moment

(Page 2 of 2)



We, nowadays, have our own inventions, of course, like "herstory" for feminists with a past, and "advertorial" (which Johnson would have designated a "low cant word," I hope) for newspaper articles that appear independent but actually promote a sponsoring product. Low. Cant. Definitely.

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Incidentally, Johnson has the following to say about "nowadays": "This word, though common and used by the best writers, is perhaps barbarous." It's still going strong, not yet a thing of yesteryear, and who with any sensitivity wouldn't prefer it to today's "this moment in time"? This ugly redundant cliche of ours is infinitely surpassed by Johnson's single-syllable word for the same thing: "nick."

But what concerns me at this nick is the word "rumbustious." A glorious, wonderful, notable, promotable, old giant of a word! Go on, say it! Roll it round your teeth! I hereby propose that the English-speaking world should make a concerted effort to keep alive the word "rumbustious." Listen to it! Its rumbling sound speaks eloquently of its right and might to survive. Please, my friends, do not let "rumbustious" become archaic or obsolete.

Pardon? You don't know what it means?

You can't find it in your dictionary?

My friend, what you need is a copy of "The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition" (coming out today, courtesy of Houghton Mifflin). This dictionary is without question or debate the finest, most complete, most subtle, most thoroughgoing, and most catagmatick (see Johnson) of dictionaries. You will find, under "R," not far from "rumble seat" and "rummage sale," the word "rumbustious."

I quote:

rum.bus.tious ... adj. Uncontrollably exuberant: unruly: "Common to both his illustrations and his independent paintings ... and lurking below their rumbustious surface, is a sympathy for the vulnerability of the ordinary human being." (Christopher Andreae)

You see? Here is a magnificent arrangement of letters, a word worth fighting for, a word whose existence some lesser dictionaries do not even acknowledge (and some greater, too: surprisingly, Johnson himself did not, apparently, know of it). Yet the American Heritage Dictionary goes even further with this laudable, admirable, memorable word. It takes it into its extended forms as "adverb" and "noun": - rum.bus.tious.ly adv. - rum.bus.tious.ness n.

I've always liked this word. Nowadays I like it even more. But in the interests of absolute authenticity I should perhaps confess to two salient things.

First, I haven't any recollection at all from the passage quoted, what artist's work I was writing about or when.

And second, I can never remember how to spell "rumbustious." I always have to look it up ... in a dictionary.