Reading the OED

atechny (n.) A lack of skill; a lack of knowledge of art.

Reading through the dictionary, I am struck again and again by the fact that many words that describe common things are obscure, while many words that describe obscure things are widely known.  For example, everyone knows that word dinosaur, even though no one has ever seen or met one.  Yet, even though we are faced each and every day with artistic ignorance and lack of skill, very few of us know the word atechny.

That’s from Ammon Shea’s superb Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages

Astorgy is the lack of natural affection when it would normally be present.

Accismus is an insincere refusal of a thing that is desired.

Agathokakological means made up of both good and evil.

And those are just some of the A words.


Now, if only I could figure out how to pronounce these words...then I'd look smart, yes I would!

But my favorite etymology from the OED remains the etymology for "agnostic."

Only the editors of the OED could be so confident in their precision.

What is pretentious about 'atechny?' In the context of computer programming 'hack' is the wrong word when 'atechny' is what is meant.

This debate would require a knowledge of linguistics I do not have, but it strikes me that Shea's puzzle is partly and perhaps lagerly explained by the multiple meanings of the word "thing". And by the way:
polysemy (n.) The fact of having several meanings; the possession of multiple meanings, senses, or connotations.

There is a big difference between "dinosaur" and "atechny". The former denotes a material object; the latter an abstract quality. I doubt it is a coincidence that all four examples are abstract and conceptual. Are there also many tangible things that are commonly encountered yet whose name we ignore? Are they always sub-components and parts whose separate identification is crucial to the expert, but which the layman has no reason to consider separately from a greater whole?

When I was headed to the national spelling bee I made it through Webster's Collegiate. (And I was not, comparatively, a serious competitor: no tutors, no flash cards, and the dictionary-reading was mostly for fun.) I made an attempt at the Third New International, Unabridged, but I kept getting distracted by keeping my own notes on what was interesting, and I think I finally got tired of it around F or G -- this in junior high with loads of free time. I suppose a book contract would have been sufficient incentive to finish...

The Phrontistery is a good place to start if you just want to skip to the good parts, anyway.

I have a very small set of favorite obscure words that I occasionally use and introduce to others. The rest simply make me smile on the rare occasion I see them in the wild.

There is a word for dinosaur because when you get down to it it is a pretty complicated concept. To be a dinosaur it must be extinct, from a certain period of ancient time and 'reptilian'. To get that information across with a description is pretty tricky. On the other hand atechny is a really straight forward word meaning depending on context bad at art, or dumb about art. So basically a negative coupled with art. You don't need a word to codify that concept as much as you need word to codify the concept of a dinosaur.

Agathokakological is a similar sort of situation a concept that is easier to explain every time than to have a word for because the explanation is so simple. We don't need words for over ripe banana or abusive father or wooden fork because we can get everything we need to know about these concepts with very simple phrases. On the other hand the concept of magician, cartoon or vigilante are pretty complicated when you get right down to them so even though they don't come up that often they need their own words.

Accismus is not widely known because sour grapes is a commonly known phrase that codifies the same concept. I think Astorgy is one of the only words selected that I see a case for it being at least similarly useful when compared to dinosaur.

The merits of the book aside, Shea is 'struck' by some pretty trivial developments. Everyone knows 'dinosaur' because -- regardless of whether anyone has seen one -- it's a very relevant topic (I learn at least 1 interesting fact about dinosaurs a week) and because it's the only word available for the concept. 'Atechny' is in a very crowded space along with 'ineptitude', 'artlessness', 'ignorance', 'naïveté', etc all of which are fairly well known and used. Atechny just lost.

Dinosaur doesn't even show up in a thesaurus. It's your only option.

For the record, "sour grapes" (pretending not to want something you want but cannot get) is not a synonym of "accismus" (pretending not to want something you want), but only one particular kind of accismus - another kind being the refusal of something wanted and obtainable, typically out of (real or affected) modesty.

And, accordingly to, it is pronounced "ak-SIZ-muhs."

My favorite little-known word beginning with A is "aglet". An aglet is the little wrapping on the end of your shoelace that prevents the string from unraveling.

My favorite little known word overall is "illeism", the practice of referring to oneself in the third person.

It's worth noting that, several days later, this entry is the #1 google search result for "atechny."

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