Saturday, January 2, 2010


I'm reading Anne of Green Gables for the first time in my life, and just a few pages into the first chapter I came across the word "overbrinuning." I have a pretty big vocabulary, but I'd never heard of overbrinuning. I assumed the proper word would be the verb "overbrinune." So I did what any red-blooded American does these days -- I Googled it.

Nothing. Google politely asked me if I'd misspelled it and did I really want the word "overbrining?"

I did not, thank you very much.

I wanted overbrinuning, as in "One could have eaten a meal off the ground without overbrinuning the proverbial peck of dirt."

I wrote to my good friend, Ruth, who has a degree in Library Science and who is a purveyor of fine used books. I knew she'd have an old dictionary that would contain what must obviously be the very arcane word "overbrinuning" (Anne of Green Gables was written over 100 years ago, after all). As I waited for her response, I eagerly anticipated learning a new nugget of trivial information from the past.

The reply I got was: must be a typo. A typo? In my $5.99 stock paperback copy that of course had been carefully proofread before printing? Ruth suggested that her own copy utilized the word.... "overbrimming."

I thought it over. Then I searched for a version of A of GG where they allow you to read the first few pages as a preview. Sure enough -- "overbrimming" is the correct word.

It's still a strange and stilted turn of phrase, though: "One could have eaten a meal off the ground without overbrimming the proverbial peck of dirt." The old proverb to which Montgomery refers is meant to be a consolation for when one accidentally eats something dirty -- specifically, that the average person unknowingly ingests a peck (two dry gallons) of dirt in their lifetime. Montgomery was saying that Marilla Cuthbert was such a zealous housekeeper of Green Gables that, even if you ate directly off the ground, you wouldn't be adding to your lifetime's quota of a peck of dirt.

My house and the surrounding postage-stamp sized grounds are definitely not up to that standard of clean. In fact, if you ate off the ground in my yard, you would definitely be overbrinuning overbrimming the proverbial peck of dirt.

I wonder if I could hire Marilla Cuthbert?

- Catherine


Christy said...

I love this! I've been trying to teach my kids to look up words they don't understand - this is a great example. Consider your blog post added to our curriculum!

Catherine said...

How cool is that! Thanks!

Joyce said...

oh my favorite book! The words...I love them...there will be more : )

My mom, sister and I still use the phrase 'scope for the imagination' with one another...I went to Prince Edward Island in September and it was fun to see the island and her home.

I love the whole series but the first is my favorite.

Happy Reading!

Hi, I'm Angie! said...

Loved the tale of overbrinuning! Too bad it isn't a word!

Yep, I could use Marilla at my house too!

Nostalgic for the Pleistocene said...

Weird how a classic, which you'd think would have its text chiseled in stone, can get a word fouled up like this. When they're in the public domain, publishers must just load the text into their own processing program, or scan it, and ignore any glitches their software might've made. In a way i'm glad great old books are still moneymakers for publishing but they oughta treat 'em with respect!

Catherine said...

I rather like "overbrinuning" and think we should keep it (and give it a definition, of course). Would it be pronounced with a short i and along u, emphasis on the "noon" syllable?

Barbara H. said...

I think I sailed right by that line getting the idea but without the added richness of the proverb behind it. Thank you!

Amy said...

I love the great lengths you went to to figure this out! :-)

Stephanie's Mommy Brain said...

Too funny! I applaud your efforts to discover the facts of the matter. I don't think I would have persevered. :)

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much, I've been trying to figure this word out for awhile!

Anna B said...

I also just had that exact same experience and must have the same edition of the book. Except my googling resulted in your blog post! Funny