It was a chance argument between his father and a neighbour that made Eric Honeywood Partridge interested in words, becoming New Zealand’s world famous lexicographer.
A large slow bee flew past the pair and one called it a bumblebee and the other a humblebee.
Fascinated, young Eric, who only that year had learned to use a dictionary, found both had been in use for hundreds of years.
It was the start of a career in words that would define him.
Eric was born on February 6, 1894, in the Waimata Valley, north of Gisborne, the oldest son of John Partridge, a glazier, and Ethel Norris. He was the first caucasian born there.
His father was better educated than most farmers, he knew Greek, Latin and French and passed his love of learning to his son.
The family moved to Queensland, Australia in 1908 when Eric was 14, and for the first time heard a lot of different slang.
He got himself a notebook and wrote down all the new words he learned.
Eric studied classics before going to the University of Queensland.
For a short time he worked as a school teacher but in 1915 he joined the Australian Imperial Forces and served in the infantry during World War One where he was wounded in the Battle of Pozières in France. He was leading a group across No Man’s Land at the time.
While there, Eric became interested in how soldiers talked and gathered up all the strange expressions he heard.
He returned to the university in 1919 receiving a Bachelor of Arts.
After becoming a travelling fellow at Oxford University in English he went on to do a Masters of romantic poetry and comparative literature.
Eric taught at a grammar school briefly before taking a lecturing position at the Universities of Manchester and London.
From 1923 he occupied a desk in the British Museum Library for 50 years.
Eric married Agnes Dora Vye-Parminter and had a daughter.
He founded a publishing company and wrote under the pseudonym Corrie Denison.
But his biggest work, in part because of the bumblebee incident, was on slang and went on to write the 1230-page Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English.
He returned to war during the Second World War serving in the RAF’s correspondence department.
He wrote over 40 books on English language and tennis, which he loved to play.
He never returned to New Zealand but called himself a loyal New Zealander. He died in Moretonhampstead, Devon in 1979 aged 85.
Eric once said he was tired of being called the dictionary man or the word man so instead great American literary critic Edmund Wilson dubbed him The Word King.