Shall e’er revirginize that brow’s abuse
May 10, 2013 3:05 PM   Subscribe

51 words in the Oxford English Dictionary, including couchward, extemporize, fringy, revirginize and chappelled have quotes from the same source, a mysterious book published in 1852 called Meanderings of Memory, written and published by Nightlark, a "well-known connoisseur". There are only two evidences of the book's existence. If you happen to have a copy of Meanderings of Memory sitting on your shelf, please contact the OED [previous OED mystery].
posted by elgilito (43 comments total) 46 users marked this as a favorite
Revirginize sounds fringy couchward.
posted by Mblue at 3:11 PM on May 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

The comments on the "please contact the OED" link are uniquely amazing, for internet comments. Lots of sleuthing going on.
posted by muddgirl at 3:15 PM on May 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Oxford English Dictionary is appealing to the public for help after being unable to trace a mysterious, possibly pornographic, 19th-century book from which a number of its quotations are derived.

Did they check in the woods?
posted by Sys Rq at 3:18 PM on May 10, 2013 [19 favorites]

Clearly another lost work by A. D. Harvey.
posted by Sonny Jim at 3:20 PM on May 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

Couchward is obviously a sophisticated word for referencing cardinal directions in my apartment, e.g., "Please move the coffee table couchward". But in light of the "possibly pornographic" nature of the work cited, I suspect there may have been much different actions performed in the direction of the couch.
posted by kiltedtaco at 3:31 PM on May 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Redditors have already ransacked 16 independent used book stores in their quest for the time. A rumor that it might be in the New York Public library forced added security earlier today.
posted by humanfont at 3:32 PM on May 10, 2013 [5 favorites]

Does "chappelled" refer to "disappearing at the height of one's popularity?"
posted by ShutterBun at 3:37 PM on May 10, 2013 [16 favorites]

Time to write a book by that name, put it up on Amazon, and cash in!
posted by miyabo at 3:39 PM on May 10, 2013 [8 favorites]

A friend of a friend of mine has a copy on his bookshelf next to an unexpurgated Necronomicon and first edition The King in Yellow [in the original French!]
posted by Renoroc at 3:47 PM on May 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

Can't they just ask Sotheby's who put up for sale and bought the book listed for auction in 1854?

I'm half joking, but weirder things still exist than 159 year old auction receipts.
posted by Jehan at 3:54 PM on May 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

I can't imagine a word I could support a popular comeback for more than "couchward" or less than "revirginize."
posted by MCMikeNamara at 3:58 PM on May 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

i for one have no reason yet to use that latter
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 4:10 PM on May 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

One of the things I most miss about working for Oxford University Press is accessing to "Incomings," the vast citations database of citations found by volunteer and paid readers. Really the most extraordinary private database I've ever seen.
posted by Mo Nickels at 4:22 PM on May 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Anyone got an ISBN for it? Totes would help, thanks.
posted by basicchannel at 4:26 PM on May 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Can't they just ask Sotheby's who put up for sale and bought the book listed for auction in 1854?

I'm half joking, but weirder things still exist than 159 year old auction receipts.

You'd probably have to be top bidder on the '54 at the next auction of the Sotheby's Collection of Historic Auction Receipts. Just can't make it out from the catalogue alone.
posted by monocyte at 4:34 PM on May 10, 2013

Huh. I read about this book in the Anglo-American Encyclopedia, which is itself a literal if inadequate reprint of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Oddly, the article appears in some copies of the Anglo-American Encyclopedia, but not others.
posted by LionIndex at 4:41 PM on May 10, 2013 [7 favorites]

My favorite song is "Couchward Bound" by Simpson and Garfinkel.
posted by symbioid at 4:43 PM on May 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Plus - isn't revirginizing all the rage amongst weird disturbing cultlike Christian families, the kind of families where Dad's take their daughters to purity proms and shit?
posted by symbioid at 4:45 PM on May 10, 2013

Meanderings of Memory is just 1852 talk for "sniglets".
posted by themanwho at 4:48 PM on May 10, 2013 [6 favorites]

But a member of the public has since found another mention of Meanderings of Memory, in a Sotheby's catalogue from 1854

Hey, I'm that member! I saw this on Twitter and me and a few librarian friends have been trying to turn up more info, but not much luck yet. It's cool that this is getting so many eyeballs--if this is going to be found, that's how it will happen, I suspect.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 5:00 PM on May 10, 2013 [36 favorites]

Well done, Mr. Rumpole.
posted by Glinn at 5:16 PM on May 10, 2013

Meanderings of Memory? I've seen a copy of it. It was in the private library of an old friend, well when I say 'friend' I mean friend of the family. For some reason I associate it with the shoes I was wearing, which pinched at the toes, not so much when I put them on you know how your feet swell during the day, especially an unseasonably warm September day like that one was. The dogwood leaves had started to turn and I couldn't help thinking of the trees outside the little bistro where I'd had breakfast; the waitress had such a French look about her that no matter how often I dined there her pure midwestern accent always came as a surprise...
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:19 PM on May 10, 2013 [11 favorites]

TRUE FACT: When I was a kid, TV horror movie host Seymour (portrayed by Larry Vincent, also referred to as "Sinister Seymour" when you needed to make a point) on his "Fright Night" program, would address the audience as "Fringies", as in "Listen up, fringies, this is a big deal..." It's an outrage that he is not credited in the OED.
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:25 PM on May 10, 2013

Revirginize sounds fringy couchward.

I don't see why, it's a perfectly cromulent word.

(just getting that out of the way so discussion can proceed)
posted by uosuaq at 5:25 PM on May 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Revirginize? Yeah, me and my foul-mouthed little buddies were using that one in like 6th grade. It's pretty obvious once you start saying 'devirginize,' right? Don't try to tell me that's not officially a word!

(of course, we were all virgins and had very little idea what any of it might have entailed. Didn't stop us from talking about it though!)
posted by hap_hazard at 5:26 PM on May 10, 2013

I'd like to know what the rest of the words (sourced to Meanderings) are, and can't afford the OED.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 5:41 PM on May 10, 2013

So a pornographic book that makes an oblique reference to Philomela in the dedication written by Nightlark.

The story of Philomela is pretty well known Greek myth from Ovid's Metomophosis. It is sprinkled all thought western literature. Philomela was raped by Tereus. In order to prevent her from revealing what he did he ripped out her tongue. Philomela's sister Procne was Tereus's wife. In a rage she fed Tereus his children cooked in a stew. He chased them with an ax. As they fled the gods turned them into birds in order for them to escape. Philomela became a nightingale and Procne a Swallow.

The story shows the greek god's strange sense of humor or justice depending on how you look at it. Philomela was given back her tongue, but nobody can understand her. She is doomed to sing day and night about her cruel treatment at the hands of Tereus. Tereus was doomed to be reminded of his acts by the nightengale's song night and day for the rest of his life.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:06 PM on May 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

On the other hand, it would be awesome if the whole thing was a smaller version of the Tlön project by some bored word compiler back then, and it took this long to find out the fake.
posted by Iosephus at 6:08 PM on May 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

This might be my favorite thing ever.
posted by OmieWise at 6:27 PM on May 10, 2013

This whole thing sounds like an Umberto Eco plot.
posted by kiltedtaco at 6:43 PM on May 10, 2013 [3 favorites]

Prince Harry was enjoying the DC nightlife and the subject came up and he just blurted it all out. It seems the book is well known to the royal family. It is a selection of explicit sex fantasies written by Queen Victoria in the margins of her private diary. The pages of this diary were stolen and stories/poems were published as part of a French plot against her. The Royal family has attempted to recover all copies and destroy them. He claims that the 1992 fire in Windsor Castle was started when Prince Philip attempted to burn a copy of the book in one of the private chapels. Prince Harry boasts of having a copy and that he has completed each of the 23 distinct sex acts described in the book.

I should point out that I have nasty head cold and cough which has necessitated taking a large quantity of medicine, so this could just be some fevered hallucination.
posted by humanfont at 7:06 PM on May 10, 2013 [8 favorites]

I've been couchward bound all evening. Finally made it, just now.
posted by maryr at 7:09 PM on May 10, 2013

Is it American? Was the -ize ending popular in England in 1852? We more generally use -ise.
posted by marienbad at 7:17 PM on May 10, 2013

We more generally use -ise.

True, but the Oxford boffins haven't got the memo.

(And, yes, as a matter of fact, the dominance in Britain of the -ise spelling is an alarmingly recent development.)
posted by Sys Rq at 7:25 PM on May 10, 2013

The "mi" in the Latin quotation appears to be a masculine identifier, which has some translators suggesting that Nightlark might have been the pseudonym of a gay man.

I guess "gay as a lark" was a thing once? Huh.
posted by misha at 7:47 PM on May 10, 2013

@humanfont: does Dan Brown know that you're publicly talking about the plot of his next book?

Seriously though, I'd probably read that...
posted by sbutler at 8:27 PM on May 10, 2013

I am inexplicably thrilled by the this. Either that it was a hoax that took this long to be exposed, or to a lesser extent, that it’s rare pornography that no one can find.
posted by bongo_x at 8:42 PM on May 10, 2013

Prediction: After a dashing and romantic adventure across Europe in search of this book, accompanied by its dad*, the OED will realize that the only meanderings of memory that really matter... are in the heart.

* Johnson, Samuel. A Dictionary of the English Language. London, 1755.
posted by No-sword at 5:05 AM on May 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

"Nightlark" is an odd term. Larks are associated with dawn, not night:
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate
A search on Google does indicate that there was some bird that was called a night lark, but the most frequent use of the term (and the only one known to the OED) is of a lark (i.e., an amusement) that takes place at night. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the teasing epigraph is a reference to something of the sort.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:04 AM on May 11, 2013

Can't they just ask Sotheby's who put up for sale and bought the book listed for auction in 1854?

The 'Distinguished Ambassador and Literary Character' whose copy of Meanderings of Memory was sold at auction on 13 Feb 1854 was Christian Charles Josias von Bunsen, Prussian ambassador to London. Bunsen resigned as ambassador in April 1854 and may have been selling his library in anticipation of his departure. It seems reasonable to suppose that the author of Meanderings of Memory was someone in Bunsen's literary circle.

According to Sotheby's marked copy of the auction catalogue, Bunsen's copy of Meanderings of Memory was sold for sixpence to a buyer named 'Holmes' or 'Hoolmes'. Holmes bought a number of other inexpensive lots, and may have been a bookseller attending the sale. Just possibly he was the antiquary John Holmes, whose own library was sold at auction on 15 June 1854. It might be worth checking Holmes's sale catalogue to see if Meanderings of Memory turns up again.
posted by verstegan at 7:20 AM on May 11, 2013 [9 favorites]

That's a great answer Verstegen, and I'm glad to see my idea wasn't as mad as I thought.

I suppose it gives two leads as you mentioned: one, find out if it was the Holmes you mentioned and where his copy went; and two, given that Bunsen was in England at the time the book was published and may have been an original buyer or recipient, read his memoirs for any clue. If the writer was otherwise well known his letters and notes might betray him. The style is distinctive and so is the handwriting on the OED slip, so they say.
posted by Jehan at 7:57 AM on May 11, 2013

Jeez, don’t you Holmes speculators ever quit?
posted by bongo_x at 9:16 AM on May 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

John Holmes

So it was pornographic!
posted by Sys Rq at 9:53 AM on May 11, 2013

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