Tag Archives: vocabulary

Woof Down that Cantaloupe

Confession Time:  Pretty much all my life I have struggled with the meaning of two particular words:  melancholy and sparse.

classic-word-of-the-day fail

I don’t know why, it probably dates back to my melancholy childhood in a sparsely populated county.  No, wait, my non-melancholy youth in a non-sparse locale . . . no, no, no, um, my sparsely melancholy formative years in a melancholy sparse area.

I was happy, but there weren’t many people around.

Whew.  And I think both of the words mean their opposite.

Let’s just take melancholy.  What about that word sounds sad?  Nothing, that’s what.  I get pictures of long-faced, furry friends enjoying overflowing bowls of honeydew.  There’s nothing pensive about a fruit salad enjoyed by man’s best friend.

And it doesn’t help when the context clues are confusing combos like “beauty.”

Just as Daisy’s house had always seemed to him more mysterious and gay than other houses, so his idea of the city itself, even though she was gone from it, was pervaded with melancholy beauty.

I bet he was just upset because the city was so sparsely populated.

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Posted by on June 13, 2013 in The Great Gatsby


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Say what? Say what?

Classic Word of the Dayecholalia –  n.  immediate repetition of spoken language, typically associated with the childhood learning of speech, or psychiatric disorder

Classical Usage:  I knew Nick wasn’t crazy about Gatsby’s parties, but until I learned the meaning of this word I’d missed his little slam in Chapter III.  There was the boom of a bass drum, and the voice of the orchestra leader rang out suddenly above the echolalia of the garden.

Classically Mad Usage:  When we were children, my sister used to sing along with all the hymns, and yet never crack the hymnal.  What was her secret?  Studying ahead?  Screens in the front of the church?  Amazing eyesight?  Nope.  Echolalia.  She’d listen carefully, and sing the words just a tish behind the rest of the congregation, anticipating the rhymeHHo for a strong end-of-phrase finish.  Not a psychiatric disorder, just resourcefulness.  Nicely done, Stacy.

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Posted by on May 30, 2013 in The Blog, The Great Gatsby


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Up Next: Holiday Inn Movie Marathon

Classic Word of the Dayrotogravure – n.  a magazine printed with a rotary press system and intaglio cylinders

Classical Usage:  You know that funny feeling when you think you know someone, but you just can’t place their face?  Nick had that for a bit when he met Jordan Baker in Chapter 1.  “I knew now why her face was familiar – its pleasing contemptuous expression had looked out at me from many rotogravure pictures of the sporting life at Asheville and Hot Springs and Palm Beach.”

Classically Mad Usage:  I’ve been using this word for years, decades even.  And although as I’ve happily lingered over Bing’s melodic cadence, I’ve never once given pause to consider the word’s meaning.  It’s going through your head now, right?
In your Easter bonnet, with all the frills upon it . . .
On the avenue, fifth avenue, the photographers will snap us,
And you’ll find that you’re in the rotogravure.


Posted by on May 28, 2013 in The Great Gatsby


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From a Nebraska Girl

Classic Word of the DayIn our first House of Mirth check-in April mentioned that she’d come across ten unfamiliar words in the first chapter.  I’ve certainly fallen off the word-of-the-day bus as of late, but that didn’t keep me from needing to piece together a vocabulary rich sentence.

Many prigs think the sylvan life a desultory existence where palloured women and dryads sit around sniffing mignonette and playing bezique, but these bounders need to get their heads out of their girlfriend’s gigot sleeves and reject that axiom.

That’s right Edith, you could throw all of those words into one chapter, and that was impressive, but I put them in one sentence.  One.


Posted by on May 1, 2013 in The House of Mirth


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Heart of Darkness
Part II

Marlow is resting on the deck of his steamboat.  He gets to listen in on a conversation between the manager and his uncle.

Has anyone else noticed that Conrad is not keen on naming minor characters?

It was in this section that I noticed Conrad use variations of a word.

In speaking of a different wandering trader, the manager says,

“No one, as far as I know, unless a species of wandering trader–a pestilential fellow, snapping ivory from the natives,”

Pestilential?  as in relating to pestilence?  My kindle dictionary told me that the word means “harmful or destructive to crops or livestock”, but I liked’s definitions better.

3. pernicious; harmful.
4. annoyingly troublesome.

Ah, so this other trader is annoyingly troublesome, is he?  The two men decide to get the trader hung.  No one will question the manager’s authority.  Whoa.  Seems like we have a pestilential club.

These two really are a fan of pestilence.  Only a few sentences later, they use the word pestiferous to describe Kurtz’s plans for the trading stations.

“The fat man sighed.  ‘Very sad.’ ‘ and the pestiferous absurdity of his talk,’ continued the other; ‘ he bothered me enough when he was here.  “each station should be like a beacon on the road towards better things, a centre for trade of course, but also for humanizing, improving, instructing.”

The men end their conversation hoping that the Congo itself will take care of Kurtz.  So many other have died from illness or “other reasons”, maybe he will too.

The wandering trader is an annoying gnat-to-be-squashed and Kurtz’s plans for the trading posts are bothersome mosquitos?

pestiferous: 1. bringing or bearing disease. 2. pestilential  3. pernicious; evil.

Pestilence is more than a few bugs.
Pestilence is an epidemic, a plague.
It’s deadly and wide-spread.
In in the case of Heart of Darkness, it is evil.

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Posted by on April 17, 2013 in Heart of Darkness


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Learning with Less of the Same

It’s working!  This classical education business is starting to sink in!

Yesterday evening I was washing dishes and thinking about a large knitting project that I recently started.  Because of the week’s circumstances, and most importantly because I made the huge discovery that if I balance my kindle on my knee I can read AND knit, I’ve made a fair amount of progress on this monster endeavor.  I was pretty happy with myself, and the following thought went through my head,

I’m knitting with great alacrity.

Yes!  I thought the word alacrity.  And don’t they always say that when you’ve really mastered a foreign language you begin to think in it as well as speak it?  My friends, I’m mastering English!  Hoorah!

Let’s not talk about how it’s my native tongue, okay?


Posted by on April 8, 2013 in The Blog


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Turns Out

Classic Word of the Dayaugur –  v.  to predict an outcome

Classical Usage:  After Isabel’s marriage Mrs. Touchett is no longer in close contact with that circle of Florence friends, including Osmond’s sister, Countess Gemini.  The Countess was less talked of in these days; but Mrs Touchett augured no good of that:  it only proved how she had been talked of before.

Classically Mad Usage:  Can you augur the end of POAL?  I can’t.

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Posted by on February 12, 2013 in The Portrait of a Lady


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Squeezing In

Classic Word of the Dayinterstice – n.  a gap between closely spaced things

Classical Usgae:  At the beginning of Chapter XXI we catch up with Isabel after her jaunt around the world on which we were not invited.  James is describing the room in which she waits for a visitor.  The tall window was open, and though its green shutters were partly drawn the bright air of the garden had come in through a broad interstice and filled the room with warmth and perfume.  A broad interstice?  Isn’t that a little oxymoronic?

Classically Mad Usage:  I’m looking forward to the interstice between The Portrait of a Lady and Huckleberry Finn.  I hope I can sneak a fun book in there.  It may need to be a “broad interstice.”

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Posted by on February 11, 2013 in The Portrait of a Lady


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Short and Not So Sweet

In my fatuity I ignored the directions of the cicerone and fell right through the crenellations yelling, “Oh, chit!” because I wanted the young girl with the cell phone to call 911, of course.

Hebdomadal ReviewDespite the absence of words at the beginning of the week, we will continue on with our review.  Take the words below, put them into some sort of composition, post them in the comments, and wait patiently for me to smile in awe and joy.

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Posted by on February 10, 2013 in The Portrait of a Lady


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A Name for Nothing

Classic Word of the Day

(DISCLAIMER – Because I got behind on CWOD this week we”ll get a new word today, do Hebdomadal Review tomorrow, and then carry on with life.)

crenellated –  adj.  a wall for defense that is made of parts that stick up (merlons) and the empty spaces in between (crennels.)  Imagine the top of a castle.  For a blog post with a very helpful diagram go here.

Classical Usage:  At the beginning of Chapter XXX Madame Merle is getting ready to depart Florence and visit some friends in the mountains of Tuscany “whose acquaintance (she had known them, as she said, ‘forever’) seemed to Isabel, in the light of certain photographs of their immense crenellated dwelling which her friend was able to show her, a precious privilege.”

Classically Mad Usage:  Next time my boys pull out their Imaginext castle I’ll insist that Sir Angus refer to the embrasures on the top of his fortress with proper terminology.

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Posted by on February 9, 2013 in The Portrait of a Lady


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