Archive for the 'Language/Words' Category

Cleave words

July 6, 2006

Words from John Banville’s Eclipse, with protagonist Alexander Cleave. As ever, a simple/short definition is given:

  • blastomere = divided cells from fertilised ovum
  • anaglypta = ornament carved in low relief; picture with two slightly different perspectives on the same subject
  • mnemosyne = Titan goddess of memory
  • lupins = plant with compound leaves with flowers grouped in spikes
  • matutinal = of, related to, occuring in the early morning
  • miscegenous = marry a person of another race
  • Cathay = medieval name for China (usually refers to the area north of the Yangtze)
  • satrap = ruler/governor of province in ancient Persia
  • fetor = offensive odour or stench
  • scutch = separate the valuable fibres (e.g. of flax) from the woody ones by beatings
  • odalisque – concubine woman or slave in a harem
  • pishogues = black magic, sorcery, evil spell, incantation
  • farrago = assortment or medley
  • caries = decay of bone or tooth
  • cicatrice = scar
  • caduceus = doctor’s herald
  • virescent = becoming, or somewhat, green

Maskell words

July 2, 2006

Words from John Banville’s The Untouchable. As ever, a simple/short definition is given:

  • pellucid = transparent
  • bourn = small stream, a brook
  • perfidy = act or instance of treachery
  • barquentine = kind of sailing ship
  • supererogatory = performed or observed beyond the required or expected degree
  • hellion = unruly person
  • plumbeous = resembling lead; dull, heavy, stupid
  • bellicose = warlike, pugnacious
  • embonpoint = plump, stout
  • recrudescence = come into renewed activity
  • casuist = person whose reasoning is subtle and specious
  • melodeon = small harmonium
  • glair = egg white (or substance resembling)
  • flocculent = wooly
  • oneiric = of, relating to, suggestive of dreams
  • brumous = fog or mist
  • simony = buying or selling of ecclesiastical pardons, offices or emoluments
  • chary = very cautious, wary
  • quondam = former, that once was
  • phthisic – illness of lungs or throat
  • incunabula = book printed before 1501
  • shoon = plural of shoe
  • crepitation = crackling or popping sound
  • blenched = shy away
  • reticule = drawstring purse

What I like about these lists of words drawn from a novel is that they give you a flavour for the narrative voice and the concerns of the text.

Flocculent, by the way, is a word John Banville uses quite often.

Japanese phrases

June 17, 2006

MLW vistied Stanfords and acquired a Lonely Planet Japanese phrase book for our impending trip to Japan. I have been flicking through it and I must say that, although I am keen on having a bit of an adventure, I hope I don't need to use the following phrases:

funayoy shimashta (I feel seasick.)

kore o shinse shinakereba naranaino o shirimasen deshta (I didn't know I had to declare it.)

heya ni kagi o nokoshita mama kagi o kake te simaimashta (I'm locked out of my room.)

meri kurisumas * I think you can guess this one – we're there for 2 weeks in October, so needing to use this phrase would represent a problem.

donna riyu de kokuso sareru no des ka (What am I accused of?)

yuketsu wa shitakunai des (I don't want a blood transfusion!)


May 26, 2006

We came across the origin of Pasquino – the speaking statue of Piazza di Pasquino, in Rome – in Florence, on our recent Tuscan holiday.

In Loggia dei Lanzi, in Piazza della Signoria (in Florence), and also inside the Palazzo Pitti, there are copies of the ancient speaking statue in Rome.

Here's how Pasquino looked before the ravages of time… (and the Visigoths).

MLW pointed out to me today that Pasquino has his own verb: Pasquinade

Les clubs d’orthographe

April 10, 2006

The Times reports that dictation is taking off in France as a social activity.

Clubs of Francophiles gather together to test their conjugations, spelling and grammar. Sounds like fun (I think).

“But the main thing is that you have a great time here,” said Vonick Epaillard. “I expect dictations in English are not very exciting, because the only difficulty with English is the accent. In French, we have irregular verbs, complexities with past participles, lots of rules, exceptions to those rules and exceptions to the exceptions. It’s a real challenge."

Enderby words

March 8, 2006

Some words to roll around in your gut a bit, borborygmously…

(I’ve gone with the quick lookup on, and after that I’ve contracted some of the definitions.)

  • analphabetic = not alphabetical, illiterate
  • disintermediation = withdrawal of funds from intermediary financial institutions
  • calumniate = make malicious or knowling false statements about
  • indurate = to make hard, harden; to inure, as to hardship or ridicule
  • redivivus = come back to life, revived
  • magniloquence = lofty and extravagant in speech
  • encomium = warm, glowing praise; formal expression of praise; a tribute
  • logorrhea = excessive talkativeness
  • avoirdupois = weight or heaviness, especially of a person
  • guy (v) = hold up to ridicule; mock
  • tergiversate = use evasions or ambiguities; equivocate, change sides, apostatize
  • apostatize = abandon one’s faith, politics, principles, etc.

What I’d like is to have someone set this list of words, sans definition, to music. I think it would make a most excellently chewy song, like a thick, dry, stale slice of bread.

a small connection

March 6, 2006

I have discovered another small connection in the great big scheme of life. One of the highly select entries in Flaubert’s dictionary – from which flows so much delight – is the word I noticed in a Banville book the other day (see Eclipse):

SATRAP. Rich man of loose morals.

another coincidence

February 28, 2006

In another convergence of reading and life, this evening I reached the letter L in Flaubert's dictionary, and came across this definition, which was particularly noticeable, today being Shrove Tuesday: LENT. At bottom is only a health measure.

write-eous roth

February 28, 2006

I recently wrote a post about Flaubert’s Dictionary of Accepted Ideas: what do you know about Archimedes? One of the examples of entries in the dictionary that I gave was: CHRISTIANITY. Freed the slaves.

That’s the accepted idea, and I think the trick of it is that it narrows your focus down to just that one slice of the idea.

My current train book is Roth’s The Plot Against America, and in it I read this passage, which debunks the accepted idea quite effectively:

…a Christian, a long-standing member of the great overpowering majority that… enslaved the Negro and emancipated the Negro and segregated the Negro…

what do you know about Archimedes?

February 22, 2006

As Jacques Barzun informs you in the introduction to his translation of it, Gustave Flaubert’sThe Dictionary of Accepted Ideas started life as an appendix to his novel Bouvard et Pecuchet, and was first published as a separate work in 1951.

The two themes of the dictionary, according to Barzun, are:

  1. The castigation of the cliche.
  2. …this principle has to be borne in mind, for some of the utterances pilloried are manifestly true; they have to be said at certain times, being in themselves neither fatuous nor tautological. What damns them is the fact that they are the only thing ever said on the subject by the middling sensual man.

  3. An attack on misinformation, prejudice and incoherence as regards matters of fact.
  4. Flaubert has an infallible ear for the contradictions that everybody absent-mindedly repeats: “ABSINTHE. Violent poison: one glass and you’re dead. Newspapermen drink it as they write their copy.” He plumbs with equal sureness the depths of well-bred ignorance… people know only two things about Archimedes, not three.

Here are some examples of accepted ideas:

  • ACADEMY, FRENCH. Run it down, but try to belong to it if you can.
  • ARCHITECTS. All idiots: they always forget to put in the stairs.
  • BA DEGREE. Thunder against. [I remember encountering that accepted idea all through my BA degree!]
  • BLUESTOCKING. Term of contempt applied to women with intellectual interests. Quote Moliere in support: “When the compass of her mind she stretches…”
  • CENSORSHIP. “Say what you will, it’s a good thing.”
  • CHRISTIANITY. Freed the slaves.
  • CRUSADES. Benefited Venetian trade.
  • DELFT. More swank than “china”.
  • DIPLOMACY. A distinguished career, but beset with difficulties and full of mystery. Suited only to aristocrats. A profession of vague import, though higher than trade. Diplomats are invariably subtle and shrewd.
  • ECHO. Mention the one in the Pantheon and the one under the bridge at Neuilly.
  • ERECTION. Said only of monuments.
  • FLAG. The sight of it makes the heart beat faster.
  • FURNITURE. Be apprehensive – every kind of mishap can happen to yours.

I have been dipping in and out of this delightful little volume. (There’s an entry for the dictionary itself right there: DICTIONARY, FLAUBERT. A delightful little volume. Dip in and out of it, from time to time.) Here endeth the lesson as I have only reached ‘G’ in the dictionary myself.