For young word lovers, incipient linguaphiles and budding language buffs, there’s no fun like Fictionary, also known as Dictionary Game. You know how it goes: one player chooses an unusual word and copies out its meaning, while the others devise fictitious, but plausible definitions. Players who guess the correct meaning are awarded one point, as are those whose definition is thought to be correct by another player.
Being a reader of this blog, you’re likely to be good at it; indeed, chances are that you’ve already found people hesitant to play with you, for fear of being crushed. You may even have joined a group of advanced players (or ‘afictionarians’), made up of middle-aged word lovers, entrenched linguaphiles and seasoned language buffs, whose spare time revolves around Fictionary (unlike their office hours, which they spend surreptitiously solving cryptic crosswords).
If so, here’s a suggestion to take the game to the next level, which has a name of its own: Etymixionary. As the name suggests, it’s not unlike Fictionary, except that the players do not make up word meanings, but word origins. To give you an idea of the creativeness this elicits in the participants, I’ll quote five bogus definitions I recently heard.
Kingdom; also kingric (obsolete), kinrik (Scottish). Compound of kin ‘collective relatives’, best retained in the Scottish variety, and dumb (in kingdom) or rich (in kingric, kinrik). Originally a politically inspired slur, suggestive of nepotism, low intelligence and ill-gotten wealth, which was coined by petty noblemen who intended to cast an unfavourable light upon their feudal lord. It was neutralised when English monarchs adopted it as a synonym for realm, which it ultimately all but replaced.
Row (verb). Backformation of rode, past tense of ride, reanalysed as rowed. The phrase ‘he rode for Cambridge’ dates from the days when propelling a craft by oars was known as ‘riding’, an equine metaphor. *‘He rode for Oxford’ has not been attested. As the ford in the Thames initially hindered the passage of vessels of any description, the practice of rowing may have started there later. The bridge over the River Cam posed no such obstacle.
Admiral. From the Arabic al-emir al-ral meaning ‘the chief of the transport’. This transport consisting of a caravan of ‘ships of the desert’, the term was later transferred to the high commander of a fleet of sea ships. The form was influenced by admiration, which high commanders tended to set great store by.
Bugger. From Dutch bukker or Low German Bücker, both ‘male who bends down’. First attested in English in a maritime context. For the sound shift compare trigger, from Dutch trekker.
Manager. Compound of man (in the original meaning of ‘person of either sex’, as in mankind) and ager, agent noun from age ‘to become or make old’. Originally carried the suggestion of ‘making (workers) age before their time’. When premature senescence in employees became an understood thing, the negative connotation wore off.
Incidentally, one of the above definitions is not all that far off the mark. If you know which one, you’ll prove a redoubtable Etymixionarian.
Enjoy the game!