Words: Jan 3 to Jan 12

20 words

Ten days of fast and furious fun. Each day, check out Steven Poole’s suggestion. Dream up my word, one I seize upon for any possible reason. Sigh with instant contentment.

Jan 3: Poole’s word is eucatastrophe, meaning sudden, unexpected joy, invented, according to Steven Poole, by J. R. R. Tolkien. He wanted a real sense of an emotion that “pierces you with a joy that brings tears.” Why this invention? Apparently because no such word existed. I could definitely use such a word right now, even if I’m pretending. My word? Ineffable. I see it used quite often but wasn’t 100% on meaning. It means “incapable of being expressed in words,” so my imprecision wasn’t misplaced. Doesn’t it sound lovely?

Jan 4: Malversation, according to Poole, means “corrupt administration by one in high office,” a handy word for our times. I like pellucidly, meaning transparently, and I’ve heard it recently, in a podcast, as “pellucidly clear.”

Jan 5: Poole describes at length instances of the use of kickshaw, meaning “any trivial or ridiculous thing.” I encounter bromide intermittently but until I looked it up on the fifth day of January, was unaware it means a trite statement intended to soothe.

Jan 6: Poole offers a word nearly four hundred years ago, a substitute for excellent or, say, bodacious, namely palmary. Oh, to do palmary work! My word is Rottweiler, those black-and-tan killer guard dogs. Why? A scene from a thriller, read many years ago, of a spy’s throat ripped open by a Rottweiler, has never left me.

Jan 7: A wonderful lost word, all of sixteen letters long, is ultracrepidarian, meaning one “who opines beyond his expertise.” Twitter is full of ultracrepidarians, including, no doubt, me. I overuse the word pithy to mean “small,” whereas (I look it up now) it means “terse and vigorously expressive.”

Jan 8: A sweet word from Poole, zeitgeber, coined half a century ago from German, a “time giver” being anything that reminds us of our time of day. My first daily zeitgeber is my trilling alarm, my second is jogging into a rising sun. And let’s ensure I utilize a very modern adjective, on-brand, to describe actions fitting someone’s social media persona.

Jan 9: Over two centuries old, colophon is the “finishing touch” at the very back of a book, mostly these days some publication triteness. But if I like, I can use colophon to bookend anything. A lovely phrase, tummy time, is popular with modern grandparents.

Jan 10: Poole’s indesinent is a fine lost adjective, meaning never-ending but with a whiff of indecency. And imagine my pleasure at discovering from cycling friends that bonk doesn’t just mean hit or have sex with, it also means experiencing sudden fatigue due to muscle glycogen depletion.

Jan 11: Poole’s fnord is a 1960s made-up word that is still used, “any obscure message, surreal event, or unexpected phenomenon.” Reading Pynchon, for example, one might utter, “I have seen the fnords.” Also, I looked up retrograde, a word I use without understanding properly. It means moving backwards or contrariwise and seems to be mainly used in technical writings. Why then do I see it so often with a political “sliding backwards” sense?

Jan 12: An old lost word is roynish, meaning vulgar/despicable with, so it seems from Poole, a large dash of contempt. Or is it a smattering of contempt? Smattering is a word I use willy-nilly, imagining spattering, but its dictionary meaning is simply a small amount.

Source: A Word for Every Day of the Year by Steven Poole.

Lexicon Big Year: First words

Four words

Steven Poole’s first word for the year is dringle. Never heard of it? That’s the point of Poole’s scrumptious book: “Most of the words gathered here are old and half-forgotten, or thoroughly forgotten … We could do worse than enrich our speech with such long-buried gems.” And the meaning of dringle? From an 1830 localized dictionary, Poole quotes the definition thus: to dringle is to “waste time in a lazy lingering manner,” a meaning close to that of dawdle. What a melodic word!

As I relish Poole’s morsels, I’m also seeking words from my mind, none as left-field as Poole’s, but words that I don’t use enough or words whose meanings are fuzzy in my mind. So … drum roll … my first word for the year is the one above, dawdle. “Stop dawdling,” adults used to tell us children, but these days I see it rarely. I’d like to use it in reference to “the dawdling pace of climate action by Scott Morrison’s Australian government,” but that would imply there is any action at all!

Poole’s second word, just as soft on the ear, is obnubilate, meaning “to darken,” as in degrade or render decadent. I roll obnubilate around on my tongue. My second word is pestilence, which strictly means a devastating epidemic but can be used to denote something as “destructive or pernicious,” according to Merriam-Webster. The wider meaning is the one that appeals to me, especially as, once again, it seems little used today. I’m determined to use pestilence in my forthcoming book.

Source: A Word for Every Day of the Year by Steven Poole.

Announcing: 2020 Lexicon Big Year

Steven Poole's book

I’ve had such success with smaller daily obsessions (10 minutes of meditation in 2018, studying birds in 2018) that I’ve committing to ten minutes each and every day improving my vocabulary. But not just in an airy fairy way. Steven Poole has written a book just for me: “A Word for Every Day of the Year.” Now Steven’s words are “lost” words, no longer in use but ripe for resurrection, so by itself his book might not add much to my sense of erudition. For example, the January 1 word is “dringle” – huh? But what I’ll do is keep alert for words that I “kind of” understand but not really. I’ll use Steven’s book to kick start my faculty for noticing.

I’ll blog every few days with recent pairs of words – the weird and wonderful Steven Poole examples and my own discoveries.