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Stories behind Words: wayzgoose

Stories behind Words: wayzgooseI certainly understand why the Macmillan Dictionary is moving to online-only. It’s not only the sensible economic choice, but the correct environmental choice. And yet I felt a pang at the news, too (and not just because I’m the proud possessor of a Macmillan English Dictionary that I had Editor-in-chief Michael Rundell autograph, to his apparent astonishment). It’s because as a child, I used to page through the dictionary looking for words, much the way I’d sometimes idly pick up a volume of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (which has also moved online) just to see what I could find inside.

It was during a search of this sort, going through the W’s to see what might be there (and what might assist my Scrabble hand), that I met the word I now consider to be “mine” so much that I officially adopted it: wayzgoose. What a wondrous word! It sounds good. It looks good. And its meaning doesn’t disappoint: an annual summer outing, taken by members of a printing establishment, usually involving a picnic and a drive into the country. You couldn’t make that up if you tried! And where exactly it did come from, nobody really knows. But what we do know is that it marked the time in the autumn when printers could no longer work by daylight alone, and would have to start lighting candles. To mark the passage of the season and the change of the work style, the master printer threw his workers a celebration.

Over the years I’ve collected examples of the word. I have it on a coffee mug and a t-shirt. I have wayzgoose menus from the 1800s from Cambridge University Press. I have a photo of an old wayzgoose on a postcard. I even have a magazine from My Little Pony in which the ponies all go on “My Wonderful Wayzgoose.” Naturally, when I started my freelance career, I incorporated as Wayzgoose Inc.; and naturally, when I started publishing my own books (fiction, non-fiction such as David Nunan’s memoirs, and ELT guides for both teachers and students), I had to call my imprint Wayzgoose Press. In fact, if you visit that site, you can find on the homepage an exhaustive essay I wrote on the possible origins of the term.

Whether dictionaries are online or not, I strongly feel everyone should have a favorite word. It needn’t be an unusual one, or one you have to find through a serendipitous search; it can be one you choose because of its sound or its look or its meaning. Or if you’re lucky, all three.

About Dorothy E. Zemach
Dorothy E. Zemach taught ESL for over 18 years, in Asia, Africa, and the USA. She holds an MA in TESL from the School for International Training in Vermont, USA. Now she concentrates on writing, editing, and publishing ELT materials and textbooks and conducting teacher training workshops. Her areas of specialty and interest are teaching writing, teaching reading, business English, academic English, testing, and humor. She is a frequent plenary speaker at international conferences, and recently established her own publishing company called—what else?—Wayzgoose Press, which can be found on the web at:

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