Skip to content


by Jenna Weissman Joselit on January 19th, 2015

This week’s New York Times Magazine featured a fascinating article by Neal Gabler, “Call It What It Is,” that details the process by which products make a name for themselves. Literally. I learned that it takes a facility for language, a keen ear for sound and a lively imagination to come up with the likes of Viagra (a combination of “vigorous” and “Niagara”) and Accenture (a combination of “accent” and “future.”) English majors, take note!


Dictionary. Flickr/noricum

Much as I enjoy reading about the coinage of new words, I’m drawn more to antiquated, dated turns of phrase and, most especially, to words that have dropped from sight and out of current usage. The equivalent of a secret language, their discovery is one of the perks of my trade. Had I not been an historian, making my way through the sermonic literature of the interwar years, I would never have known the pleasure of the word “desuetude,” a particular favorite of the American rabbinate of that era. And now, one of mine.

The same goes for “oddment.” I had never, ever, come across this word until it appeared, a couple of years ago, in a review of one of my books. From the context, I couldn’t immediately make out whether it was used complimentarily or critically, which prompted me to make a bee-line for the dictionary.

“Odd-ment: (noun) 1. An old article, bit, remnant or the like. 2. An article belonging to a broken or an incomplete set.”


Still, I fancy the word. Or, more to the point, I fancy the impetus behind it, which is that of a curiosity, or what we today, much less elegantly, might term an “outlier.” Better yet, let’s think of it as a tidbit.

You can find lots of oddments in obituaries. Just the other day, an obituary for Samuel Goldwyn Jr., the producer of such celebrated films as The Madness of King George and Mississippi Masala, mentioned that, as a young boy learning the rewards of financial independence, he delivered newspapers. But his was no ordinary paper route. As befitting his status as the scion of a movie mogul, young Goldwyn didn’t make his way by foot or on a bike. He dispensed his duties while travelling in a chauffeured car.

Now that’s what I call an oddment!

From → language

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.