Tag Archives: Words

Way with Words

Even if I don’t always care for Ellison’s shocking storylines, I do appreciate his literary craftsmanship.

The boys groped about like blind, cautious crabs crouching to protect their mid-sections, their heads pulled in short against their shoulders, their arms stretched nervously before them, with their fists testing the smoke-filled air like the knobbed feelers of hypersensitive snails. Invisible Man chapter 1

I don’t care to relive the Battle Royal scene, but, boy, oh boy, that is a beautifully written sentence!


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Posted by on December 7, 2013 in Invisible Man


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Next up: Invidious

Last week we learned about the word incommoded.  It seemed like a silly word to me, but I didn’t want to say anything, you know how much I respect Henry James.

But then I found out that Isabel felt it was a difficult piece of vocab to swallow herself.

“You (Osmund) don’t offend me; but you ought to remember that, without being offended, one may be incommoded, troubled.” “Incommoded”: she heard herself saying that, and it struck her as a ridiculous word.  But it was what stupidly came to her.

It’s okay, Isabel, it happens to the best of us – the author’s words begin to become our own.  You should hear how many times I use the ignominy now.

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Posted by on January 31, 2013 in The Portrait of a Lady


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Stupid Question: Glossary Edition

Is it a bad sign that a piece of fiction needs its own glossary?

I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining here, I mean, I’m all for understanding the words I’m reading, but when a novel has a glossary, it makes me concerned.  Does that mean I don’t have to write Classic Word of the Day posts?  Or does it mean that I have to write more? Do your copies of The Return of the Native have glossaries, too?  Are these real words, or Hardy specials?


Posted by on November 27, 2012 in The Return of the Native


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Kyrie Eleison

When someone in a novel utters a sentence that I myself have thought, or even one that has spilled from my lips, the connection between the two of us is strong.

Even more so if that sentence is one that has been shouted, sung, recited and groaned by individuals for centuries.

In Part One Chapter 15 after Kitty has turned down Levin’s proposal, yet is no closer to securing one with Vronsky, she returns to her room confused, conflicted, and questioning her decision.

. . . her happiness was troubled with misgivings. ‘Lord, have mercy on us; Lord, have mercy on us; Lord, have mercy on us!’

At the end of the chapter her parents have a little spat over the same two men, and although it’s difficult to sympathize with her Vronsky-loving mother, when she fell into bed riddled with concern for her daughter and uttering the same triple plea my heart melded with her own.

. . . she thought with terror of what the future might have in store, and, just as Kitty had done, repeated several times in her heart, ‘Lord, have mercy on us; Lord, have mercy on us; Lord, have mercy on us!

It doesn’t matter if you’re a tax collector, a love-addled girl, a meddling mother, or an exhausted classics reader, this Trinitarian call for help knows no boundaries. Although each of us is separated by time, geography, and even fictionalization, we are united by the common use of words, although the words are anything but common.

You see, words connect us.  Especially when they’re not our words, but the Word.


Posted by on October 14, 2012 in Anna Karenina


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Feeling a Little Quoggy

Did you notice that the Classic Word of the Day has been missing this week?

No?  Oh.  Well, that’s okay.  I hardly noticed either, but there’s an exciting part – it isn’t because I forgot.  Nope, I just ran out of words.

Do you find that hard to believe?  You probably should, there are a boatload of boating words that I didn’t bother to define.  In fact, I not sure I knew what a frigate or lee was until I read each of them 3562 times over the last month and a half.

In addition to the skipped jargon, there is an entirely unexplored class of word floating around in MD.  And I do mean entirely unexplored.  You see, one day as I was researching the meaning of the word quoggy I came across an interesting article on JSTOR.  In fact, it was so intriguing that I signed up for a free trial of JSTOR (an on-line academic journal database) so I could read full content.

Here’s a link if you want to take it all in for yourself (free trial and all), but if not, I’ll do my best to summarize.  In “Melville’s Contribution to English” published in Modern Language Association’s journal, PMLA, James Mark Purcell introduces his readers to a list of words and phrases from Melville’s works which were not found in the leading historical dictionaries of the day.

Brand, spanking new words.  Melvillisms.  And not just one or two.  In Moby-Dick, we’re talking 36 original uses of our language.  Or his language.  Or language.  It’s all a little quoggy.

Purcell gives an annotated list (I fall for annotated lists everytime, folks, everytime) of all the words from Melville’s works with definitions where necessary.  Many of them are definitely whaling words, but here are a few that we could probably reintroduce into conversational language today (oh, and these meanings below are pretty heavily my own, don’t blame Purcell, unless I do, too):

block – a haircut
crescentric – Do you think he meant concentric, or crescentic and just got confused?
curios – The New English Dictionary credits Melville with the earliest use of this word.
curvicues – involved figurations, sort of like curlicues, yes?
Earthsman – as opposed to a Moonsman
flukes –  an exclamatory word, “Flukes!”
footmanism – toadyism, which is the practice of flattering others to elevate yourself.  I had to look it up.
furious – well, he was the first to use it as an adverb.  He wrote furious furious.
gardenny – now really, I add “y” the to the ends of lost of words and no one ever writes journal articles saying that I’m geniusy.
quoggy –                       that’s right, Purcell didn’t give us a definition, maybe because he doesn’t know one
squilgee – a mop for cleaning the decks of whale ships
Tic-Dolly-row – that which disturbs the mind and feelings

Flukes! Let’s incorporate these words furious to all Earthsman, just make sure their use doesn’t turn into footsmanism or cause anyone Tic-Dolly-row.


Posted by on May 4, 2012 in Moby-Dick


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Jane as Cinderella

sylph – n. a slender and graceful woman, or a spirit of the air

Classical Usage:  For all it’s preternatural talk, it’s hard to say whether Rochester meant this description of Jane’s foot to mean that she was a slight, delicate woman, or if he saw her as being something beyond mere flesh and blood.

Classically Mad Usage:  I only wish I could use this word to describe my image in the mirror, but alas, even my foot doesn’t qualify.  That’s okay, I don’t want anyone confusing me with a mythological creature.

Note:  While the blog, and it’s readers have moved on to The Scarlet Letter, Brontë’s list of words for this series remains quite long.  When our vocabularies are enriched by Charlotte we will then begin to learn Hawthorne’s lexicon.

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Posted by on February 26, 2012 in Jane Eyre


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Circular Shame

debarrass:  v.  to disembarrass, relieve, or remove what encumbers

Classic Usage:  Jane wants time alone to think about the next step in her life, and finally her roommate’s snores debarrass her of interruption.  Miss Gryce was finally asleep and Jane could think in peace.

Classically Mad Usage:  I sort of hope that my forgetfulness will debarrass me of this new vocabulary word, it certainly is encumbering me right now.  In casual conversation I’m afraid someone will think I don’t know how to pronounce embarrass.  That would be embarrassing, and I don’t know what could debarrass it after it occurred.

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Posted by on February 16, 2012 in Jane Eyre


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I bet Dr. Quinn knew all these words.

excrescence:  n.  an abnormal outgrowth or disfiguring part

Classical Usage:  The Merriam-Webster suggested usage for this word is: warty excrescence in the colon.  Eeeewww, groooossss!  So, what in Jane Eyre could stick out in such a unappealing way?  The tightly wound buns of the poor girls at Lowood.  Remember how Brocklehurst had their locks cut off?

Classically Mad Usage:  Much like chilblains, I hope not find much application for this, at least not in terms of warty colon growth.  And even though I’ve been known to post a few gratuitous pictures of the excrescence of my daughter’s tresses on my other blog, I’ll spare you here.

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Posted by on February 15, 2012 in Jane Eyre


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Russell the Perfidious

perfidious:  \pro-nun-ci-a-tions-are-too-hard\  adj.  untrustworthy, disloyal, deceitful

Classical Usage:  The definition above could simply read, “Mrs. Reed.”   Jane remembers, “the perfidious hints given by Mrs. Reed about my disposition . . .”

Classically Mad Usage:  This word could really beef up my incessant jabber about reality TV.  Tomorrow night begins a new season of Survivor, and I can’t wait to find out who will be the perfidious player I love to hate.  Can you?


Posted by on February 14, 2012 in Jane Eyre


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No Soup for You

penurious:  adj. marked by extreme frugality due to a lack of resources

Classic Usage:  This is yet another example of the deplorable conditions at Lowood.  Jane uses the word to describe the amount of cold meat and bread they were given on Sundays.

Classically Mad Usage:  I’m a lover of frugality, but I draw the line at penury (see how I used the word in it’s noun form?)  But, now I at least know what to label any suggestion to cut back in some area of life where I’ve become accustom to posh and fat.


Posted by on February 10, 2012 in Jane Eyre


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