Sunday, January 16, 2011

The trouble with "trynewoed"

For this week’s Globe column, I wrote about the revamped OED Online, which is celebrating its relaunch by opening its doors to all through Feb. 5. I had to go back to check the login instructions, and they were simple enough: For both username and password, enter trynewoed. Interesting word, I thought -- what could it mean?

Yes, it was a supremely geeky-moronic moment. I thought this was an Anglo-Saxon word – a compound that had some delightful ancient meaning related to language treasures. I had actually typed tryne into the OED search box before it dawned on me … right. Try new OED. Of course.

Since I'd already wandered so far off course, I went ahead and clicked "search," and I felt just a little bit less moronic when it turned out that yes, tryne did have a brief existence, centuries ago, as one of the spellings of treen “made of tree, wooden” (and also of the non-Old English-derived words train and trine). Woed was also in the OED, as a Middle English past tense of wade and also as one ME spelling of the obsolete word wood meaning “nuts.” So trynewoed MIGHT have meant “tree crazy" or "wood mad." It just didn't.

My dyslexic episode has a silver lining, though: It reminded me of Wishydig, a language blog I haven't heard from in a while. As blogger Michael Covarrubias explained in a 2007 post, the name really is (not just in my delusions) Old English. But like my fictional trynewoed, it can be divided more than one way:  
Wishydig is an Old English compound word meaning "wise thinking." The first word in the compound, wis, is clear. The second word, hydig, is a variant form of hygdig (adjective form of hygd, mind, thought) meaning heedful, careful, prudent. 
Ever since I read that, I've been trying unable to decide whether to (mentally) pronounce the word as wis-hydig or as wishy-dig -- and not succeeding. Thanks a lot, Michael -- if only I could hope that trynewoed would torment  you back! 


Kay L. Davies said...

Sometimes, if I'm typing with one hand, I won't bother with caps, or leave out punctuation, but seldom eliminate spaces, so I think I'd have been stumped for a minute by trynewoed, which looked like tryne woed. I love that it means Try New OED, though. Wonderful.
I have a habit of inventing new words from time to time, and some people get very annoyed with me when I tell them "People who work with the language are entitled to play with it, too."
Gosh, now why would that annoy them?
-- K

Kay, Alberta, Canada
An Unfittie's Guide to Adventurous Travel

Bryan White said...

Don't feel bad. There was a spicy sauce that the local grocery store used to carry. It was called, "Thai 'R' Cracker". I always pronounced it, tie-are-cracker. It didn't make much sense, but, hey, I didn't name it. Then one day I woke up, and my wife was cooking up some chicken fingers downstairs and coating them with the sauce. The smell came wafting upstairs. The very first thought that popped into head, as if out of nowhere, was "Tire Cracker." Oh, I got it now; like "Fire Cracker". Ah. I felt like an idiot.

Ø said...

At least one commenter at Language Hat confessed to the same cluelessness about "trynewoed" (taking it for a Welsh word), and at least one person (me) did not. I'm glad you dug into the roots of this non-word.

Thalia said...

That is so funny. I saw this post on the sidebar of another blog and had the exact same thought. Well, almost exact—I thought trynewoed was Welsh.

I like the definition as 'wood-crazy' though; kind of like bosky.

Wishydig said...

i can offer no advice. i pronounce it "wishy-dig" — and i honestly feel a pang of guilt every single time for imposing a modern english spelling pronunciation on a word that is still 'only' an Old English word.

mighty red pen said...

One of my favorite typos in the Boston Globe years ago was made of a mushed together word in a movie review. I could not for the life of me figure out what "Oldmangoes" -- which I read as "Old mangoes" -- referred to in the context of the film until I figured it out: The star of the movie was Gary Oldman, and he was going somewhere. The idea of "old mangoes" still makes me laugh.