November 21, 2009

aardvark to zythum

[ard- vark] noun

[zeye-thum] noun

* .



*New Century Dictionary *

Like from a to z, its progenitorial synonym, from aardvark to zythum signifies

thoroughness in action, long suffering, or successful completion of a task or process.
From a to z, based on the analogy of the English alphabet, is a generic, uninventive phrase available for identifying any kind of continuum. From aardvark to zythum, on the other hand, with its intentional verbal (rather than alphabetic) content, gives it a particular aptitude for identifying continua that are of their essence verbal, including stories, essays and speeches in paper publications and hypertext displays — as in this example sentence from the OED:
You want to know the last time the Guardian..mentioned anything from aardvarks to zythum..then just a couple of seconds there it is: up on your screen. (1985 Guardian (Nexis 18 July).
As to the meanings of these two nouns — this is, after all, I remind myself, a blog about the meanings of words — the Century Dictionary identifies
aardvark as "the groundhog or earthpig of South Africa" &
zythum as "a kind of malt beer in ancient Egypt." [Hence this pronunciation suggestion for zythum:"Try some!"]
Most of us know that an aardvark is some sort of animal, many of us, even, that the word opens with a stutter of a's.

But ask anyone — except lexicographers and accomplished word mavens — what zythum means, and you get nary a word.

This is so, because, surprisingly, the definition of zythum is for most of us of less significance than is its location in many dictionaries, at the end. Preeminent among these lexicons is theOxford English Dictionary, where first we read its definition,

zythum — a kind of malt beer in ancient Egypt,
followed immediately by the reason most of us remember the word:

"Much of the word's continuing use is due to its status as the last word listed in several dictionaries."
For the record, here is the OED's sample sentence for the word zythum:

Synonyms: a to zed (British), top to bottom, top to toe, cap-a-pie, stem to stern, fore to aft.
For the thousands of years that the Egyptians were building pyramids they were brewing zythum to quench their thirsts, to satisfy their gods, nourish their appetites and to help them relax. (2001 Jrnl. (Newcastle) (Nexis) 8 June 28

"From aardvark to zythum" gives us a literary alliterative to the cliche "from a to z" or, as the Brits put it, "from a to zed.

It's a phrase that's available when we are looking for an arch effect in a sentence, without causing any undue confusion for the reader. Were you to yawn through a blind date with a person lexically oblivious to the meaning and causes of, say, the the word "vapid," you could report the next day to your best friend:
I brought up topics (as I put it) from aardvark to zythum, but all [Mort or Mona]
could say is "Don't know much 'bout that" or "No kidding" or "Say wha?
If you have an a to z situation at hand in which your topic relates in some way to language,ideas, or publications, try saying
"I investigated every word in Willard Wordsworth's notebooks, from aardvark to zythum," rather than reverting to the bromidic from a to z, as in "I know of a guy who read the entire Oxford English Dictionary, from a to z." Zzzz.

This is not to say I dismiss the opinion that deployment of aardvark to zythum might strike a grandiloquent chime in some auditor's ears. Use aardvark to zythum only in situations where you sense that your reader or listener is savvy to your word play.

AARDVARK TO ZYTHUM in the subtitle of Bennet Cerf's Good for a Laugh:

Bennet Cerf, television and book-world wit of the early 1950's, published a book titled Good for a Laugh, to which he added, for added kick (from animal or brew), this subtitle:

A New Collection of Humorous Tidbits and Anecdotes from Aardvark to Zythum.

I told you it was a literary word.

The elegant renditions of the letters A and Z at the beginning of this posting come from the Century Dictionary (1891), a historical lexicon that any logophle worth his or her bookmarks — paper or digital — visits regularly online, for its historical scholarship, comprehensive scope, and refined, sumptuous wood-engraved illustrations.

Wikipedia reports:

The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia was one of the largest and most highly regarded dictionaries of the English language. The first edition was published from 1889 to 1891 by the Century Company of New York, in six, eight, or ten volume versions (originally issued in 24 fascicles) in 7,046 pages with some 10,000 wood-engraved illustrations.


No comments:

Post a Comment