computer games: Jane Austen hits a home run

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Who would have thought it? Jane Austen playing baseball! Pardon my irrepressible obtrusiveness, but I've been consulting the Oxford English Dictionary on CD-Rom and it renders all other computer games obsolete. Could Nintendo tell me that Jane Austen was responsible for the first recorded use of the word "baseball" in English? (In Northanger Abbey - it's one of the things Catherine preferred to books.) Would Sonic the Hedgehog have known that Ms Austen gave us irrepressible, obtrusiveness and door-bell?

Finding a complete list of Jane Austen's neologisms is not one of the easiest things to do with the OED. I first had to create a file of all the Austen, Jane citations (all 1,093 of them), then whittle it down to manageable size by asking for words that had made their first appearance during her writing years. Then I looked at them one-by-one. An unmirthful task, but "unmirthful" was among the Austen innovations. "Double-bedded" was too, which brings us to our next topic.

Among the 279 references to Camilla, you will find "Most dulciloquent and incomparable Miss Camilla" from the New Monthly Magazine of 1840, and this curiously apposite quotation from Mudflats of Dead, written by G Mitchell in 1979: "Camilla wasn't the only predator... people are always changing their sleeping partners."

What I was really trying to do, however, before I became sidetracked by Jane and Camilla, was to carpenter together (the verbal sense of "carpenter" was first recorded in the works of Jane Austen, incidentally) something about the number 23, particularly the curious phrase "twenty-three skidoo".

I learnt, on the way, that, according to the 1965 BBC Handbook, Eurovision comprises 23 TV organisations in 18 different countries, and that according to Merivale, writing in 1865, the ancient Romans occasionally used to insert an intercalary month of 23 days.

Wilson (Amer. Ornith; 1814) is quoted as saying that "the edges of the upper and lower gibbosities have each 23 indentations, or strong teeth, on each side," and EL Brandreth (On Non-Aryan Lang; c1875-9) mentions that the Santali verb has 23 tenses.

Back on the trail of 23-skidoo (meaning scram! Get out of here!) - see SKIDOO v. 2b - Bloomfield (Language, 1933) "suspects that the queer slang use... arose in a chance situa- tion of sportsmanship, gambling, crime or some other rakish environment," but JF Kelly (Man with Grip, 1906) gives the answer: "Skidoo from skids and '23' from 23rd Street that has ferries and depots for 80 per cent of the railroads leaving New York."

Everything I wanted to know plus "gibbosities", "dulciloquent" and enough to pretend I have read all of Jane Austen. What more could one ask? A snip at pounds 495 plus VAT.

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