Dr Johnson’s House in London

June 2, 2017

On a recent trip to London I visited 17 Gough Square, better known as Dr Johnson’s House. Samuel Johnson compiled his great Dictionary of 1755 in this tall Georgian building, and I’ve always wanted to visit. As I’m currently writing a column on the subject (ish), the timing was apt.

On my way there I passed a Furnival Street and wondered if it was named after another lexicographer – but that Furnivall has two l’s in his name, so I guess not.

The house is ‘one of a very few of its age to survive in the City of London, and the only one of Johnson’s eighteen London homes to have done so’, Henry Hitchings writes in his terrific book Defining the World (aka Dr Johnson’s Dictionary). Here’s the plaque outside:

Circular plaque on the red-brick wall of 17 Gough Square. The plaque reads:

Upstairs, a stained-glass window of Johnson overlooks the square:

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The Old Ways and the old words

June 16, 2016

Find beauty; be still. —W.H. Murray

On a visit to Galway City Library last week I happened upon Robert Macfarlane’s book The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot (Hamish Hamilton, 2012), and promptly whisked it from the shelf. I had read Macfarlane’s The Wild Places a few months earlier and it’s already a highlight of my reading year.

Macfarlane is an English academic and author who writes about nature, travel, landscape and literature and how one influences or nourishes the other. The Old Ways takes pathways as its primary motif: the tracks we find and make across land and sea and how they signify and affect our relationship to place.

A few language-related excerpts follow. First, an entertaining note on the polyglottism of George Borrow, ‘the most charismatic of modern walker-writers’, who Macfarlane says ‘inspired the surge in path-following and old-way romance that occurred in mid-nineteenth-century Europe and America’:

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Selfcation: the self-catering vacation

September 3, 2010

The portmanteau word staycation is here to stay, it seems. Even in Ireland, where we say holiday(s) rather than vacation, staycation (stay + vacation) has established its niche sense of a holiday at home, near home, or at least somewhere on the island. It still sounds new or awkward to some people, but it’s been around a while: Word Spy has a citation from 2003, while Ben Zimmer found a hyphenated use from May 1999.

A daycation is similar, but happens in one day; see Macmillan Dictionary’s article for more, including greycation and naycation. This week’s Galway Advertiser has a related blend that’s new to me: selfcation, a self-catering holiday or self-catering vacation, presumably formed by combining self-catering with vacation (with a neatly overlapping /keː/).

Out of context, you’d be forgiven for thinking a selfcation might mean a holiday from oneself (cf. me-cation, a holiday for oneself), but the text makes its meaning clear. Here’s selfcation used in the article ‘Ten ways to enjoy a staycation in Ireland’:

Why not go on a selfcation and hit the sunny south east where there is a wide range of self-catering accommodation perfect for families who want to relax in the comfort of a home away from home. [surrounding text]

Maybe selfcation has been doing the rounds in travel writing, but this is the first time I’ve come across it, and it appears to be a recent coinage. Not only is there no entry at the Urban Dictionary — not yet, anyway — but there’s hardly any mention of selfcation anywhere online. Most of Google’s results for selfcation relate to cations, positively charged chemical ions (from Greek kata, down, + ions).

There’s a reference here (2001) to ‘selfcated flats’, but I don’t think this has anything directly to do with vacation or selfcation; it’s just a misspelling of, or shorthand for, selfcatered, i.e. self-catering:

Have you heard selfcation before? What do you think of it? Is it superfluous, unsightly, unobjectionable, useful, welcome?

Note: This post also appears on the Visual Thesaurus.