Editing with the OED

for Rita Bornstein

__Like a mental abattoir, the OED,
With brumous exactitude, looms over me
As my blue pen prunes my cachaemic prose,
Decorticating glut in orderly rows.
Excessive eikonology, they say,
May work for those who love facetiae
And frilly essays built of guipure lace,
Those tissues of words and thoughts with no halfpace,
No space to pause, reflect. No illeist I,
Though jackanapes perhaps, I modify
Each phrase and kettlestitch each paragraph
With care but know that some lochetic gaffe
Lies lurking in my path. Will my merisms
Now go too far, a nimiety of prisms?
Have my ideas begun obambulating,
Not Opus One but grapes now passulating?
Pure quatsch? Or something that might resonate?
__We dream of reboant words that echo and skate
Through time, of works that fill sacraria,
Of a tonant literary aria,
But fear a future in umbratic shelves
Ignored or mocked by careless, vafrous elves.
If this be truly whifflery not art,
I’ll seek a xenagogue to chart
My way to ylem’s distant edge, imbibing there
Its zymic brew and reveling in zoetic air.


A Cheat Sheet 

Abattoir (slaughterhouse)
Brumous (wintry, foggy)
Cachaemic (diseased or poisoned blood)
Decorticating (peel off, remove bark)
Eikonology (metaphor)
Facetiae (books of inappropriate or lewd nature)
Guipure (lace with no ground or mesh)
Halfpace (landing or broad step)
Illeist (one who refers to self in third person)
Jackanapes (impudent child, conceited)
Kettlestitch (a stitch at the head and foot of a section of a book)
Lochetic (waiting in ambush)
Merisms (rhetorical device of contrasting two parts of a subject—e.g., dungeons and dragons)
Nimiety (excess)
Obambulating (wander about)
Passulating (drying grapes to make raisins)
Quatsch (nonsense)
Reboant (marked by reverberating, resounding)
Sacraria, (place for sacred objects)
Tonant (thundering)
Umbratic (shadowy)
Vafrous (cunning, sly)
Whifflery (trifling)
Xenagogue (guide for strangers)
Ylem (primlordial matter of the universe)
Zymic (fermenting)
Zoetic (living, vital)



The former President of the College English Association and currently President Elect of the Florida Historical Society, Maurice J. O’Sullivan, Kenneth Curry Professor of English at Rollins College, is an award-winning teacher, scholar, columnist, and filmmaker. At Rollins he has served as President of the Faculty, Chair of Humanities, and Chair of the English Department, and has published a dozen books and over a hundred articles, essays, and columns on literature, Florida, popular culture, Shakespeare, religion, Irish culture, education, and current events. The Orlando Sentinel called him the Sports Grammarian and the Orlando Weekly describes him as a “boundary-cracking lit professor.” In 2019 the City of Winter Park proclaimed March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, Maurice “Socky” O’Sullivan Day.

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9 Responses

  1. Joseph S. Salemi

    WOW! An amazingly crafted and conceived poem!

    Fine work, Professor O’Sullivan.

  2. E. V. Wyler

    You must be a wicked Scrabble player! I was starting to develop an inferiority complex … until I saw the “cheat sheet” … and laughed heartily!

  3. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    This is a logophile’s linguistic delight. Although, I must say the word “fright” would have replaced “delight” if the Cheat Sheet was missing… a very clever move. On a serious note, I fully appreciate the amount of work that has gone into this admirably conceived poem – I love it!

  4. Margaret Coats

    Especially admire the formal closure “couplet” of two zany and zealotic “z” words.

  5. David Watt

    You have created a poem for the delectation of anyone who appreciates the full scope of the English language.
    “If this be truly whifflery not art,
    I’ll seek a xenagogue to chart..” provides the additional element of a shakespearean flavour.

  6. C.B. Anderson

    The next time I write a poem that contains rare unfamiliar words, perhaps I should include a cheat sheet for those who object to the implementation of the full scope of the English language vocabulary. Or maybe not. After all, it is the reader’s, not the writer’s, duty to divine the lexical meaning of the work at hand — the writer proposes, and the reader disposes. I would deem this poem a masterpiece of light poetry, were not the underlying problem it exposes so dead serious.

  7. Monty

    What a brilliant concept, Maurice; and how cleverly you’ve used a poem to convey said concept. I must confess that after reading the first 6-8 lines, I thought to myself: ‘This chap’s obviously swallowed a thesaurus for breakfast, and he’s just being ostentatious’. But the further I read on, the more intrigued I became: as I began to sense that there was some sort of purpose behind the showy words. But even once I reached the end, I still never had an inkling as to what that purpose was. But then I saw the cheat-sheet . . and the rest, as they say, is hysterical.

  8. Don Shay

    Maith thú, Socky! (Approbatory encomiums are in order.)
    I’m probably the only one you know who uses all of these words on an almost daily basis. Not.


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