It’s the start of winter and the end of the year. We’re in the heart of the holiday season, halfway through the twelve days of Christmas. A party is in the offing. There was one a week ago, and those who celebrate Epiphany (or, better, Twelfth Night) will have one in a week, but right now it’s time for New Year’s. Time to get wound up to wind up the year, whether it was a winner or loser, and to wander forth from the waning hours of this year to the fresh wonders of the next. I’ll wyndre myself: I’ll put on my smart new watch – a winder – and a winsome tie, and a jacket to match, and I’ll wend my way to merry-making with my wife or perhaps just wine and dine her at home.
Isn’t that a pleasant word, wyndre? A shiny little trinket for your lexis to carry into the new year. It appears to be made from a blend of parts, perhaps new and dry – one thing the year will be, and another it most likely won’t be. It’s a verb for getting decked out: wyndre yourself, wyndre your face, wyndre your clothing. Wyndre the halls!
Such a quaint and curious little word, isn’t it? With those accordion folds at the beginning, that y for a vowel, that re ending… this word has surely been passed down to us from an earlier version of English.
Well, passed down or found in an ancient curio store or dusty attic trunk. Or, to be more exact, the Oxford English Dictionary.
The Oxford English Dictionary is like a Christmas tree or curio shelf that has been in place for a very long time collecting ornaments, trinkets, geegaws, knick-knacks, tchotchkes. The approach to its contents has varied a little over the years, too, as have the resources it has had to draw on. Today there are squillions of words of content available from all over the world. But in its original edition it had to rely on the available printed literature from the course of centuries, and the efforts of individuals, including such as the prodigious W.C. Minor, who did all his work from his room at Broadmoor Asylum, where he had plenty of time (and where, as his mental state deteriorated, he ultimately divested himself of his family decorations… if you know what I mean).
A result of this is that the OED has, along with all its other treasures, some particularly rare and curious gems sparkling off mostly hidden in nooks. Words marked with obelisks as obsolete. Word that were found in centuries-old books. Perhaps found only once. For example, someone – I don’t know if it was W.C. Minor – looked in the Romaunt of the Rose, a translation by Chaucer in the 1360s of an older French work, and saw this: “Fetys she was…; No wyntred browis had she Ne popped hir for it neded nought To wyndre hir or to peynte hir ought.” And then he wrote up the entry for wyndre, verb, obsolete, rare, transitive, “To trim, deck, or embellish (oneself, the brows, etc.).” Its source: Old French guingnier, guignier, etc., “to deck, trick out.”
That’s its only citation in the OED. Six hundred fifty years ago. Still there, winking at you from the shadows.
Well, what the heck. Pull it out of the old jewel box and wear it. Just for tonight. And maybe peek at it fondly now and again over the course of the coming year.