The End of My Big Decade

My Big Half Decade

Five years ago, on my 60th birthday, I had a brainwave and launched a Big Decade, with the intention of running different Big Years for ten years. Each Big Year would impose a daily, obsessive requirement or activity, for 365 days. I saw my Big Decade as one way to inject energy into my 60s.

I decided yesterday, on my 65th birthday, to call it quits after five years. It has been half a Big Decade and that’s the end of it.

Why abandon what has been both meaningful and fun? Well, I’ve changed. At age 60, I sought huge challenges: a Big Year of tough hikes, a Big Year of long pilgrimages, a Big Year of daily birdwatching. Now I’d like to commit the second half of my 60s to writing and family (one delightful surprise in my life has been the arrival of five grandchildren), while still occasionally hiking, birdwatching, etc. At age 60, I promised myself a Rock Music Big Year, in which I listened daily, followed by Reading and Movie Big Years; I did the first and the other two are now part of regular life with my review blog ( At age 60, I wanted to dedicate a year to battling coal, the scourge of climate change, and another year devoted to the Greens. I’ve moved on from those days and now Extinction Rebellion is the go, and it’s something that can’t be obsessive, it waxes and wanes. And what has also become clear to me is that writing, especially the nuclear book, has to remain central (I have in fact run six “writing” Big Years over the last half decade), not just a daily “must do,” but embedded deep into the cracks of every day.

Let me tell you that the Big Half Decade has been marvelous and I commend to you the idea of daily obsession, focus, and grit, but this discipline hasn’t always worked as well as I’d imagined it would. If I narrate the half decade, you’ll get the picture. 2016 was Jogging (which worked brilliantly, that was the fittest I’ve ever been) and Writing (only partially successful). 2017 saw Fitness (expanding into cycling which worked well until I broke down) and Writing (once more a mixed bag) and Rock Music (wunderbar, such joy!). In 2018, I ran a Big Year called 1,000 (i.e. a thousand words a day, didn’t work), a Freshness Big Year (based around a holistic approach to fitness, a minor flop), a Big Year of learning how to self-publish books (tick!) and a Stillness Big Year (just ten minutes of meditation a day, a success that I haven’t kept up). In 2019, I retreated into myself with two writing projects, the nuclear book plus research on a new birding/climate change book; much useful work eventuated but also much dispirited flailing. I began 2020 with a Parkrun Big Year, which was halted by Covid-19, and a Big Year devoted to Extinction Rebellion (Covid also scrunched this but in any case, I discovered daily obsession is not the way to do activism). More recently, I’ve gone back to a Writing Big Year (motivating but I’m motivated not by the Big Year concept but by love of the work) and a daily habit of improving vocabulary with unusual words (fun but hardly revolutionary).

All in all, my 2015 brainwave sometimes delivered significant results but often sent me down blind alleys or even distracted me from what I should have been doing. I rue none of it but keeping it going until age 70 no longer makes sense.

So … no more. No more Big Years. No more blog. This is the final post.

Lexicon Big Year: August 16


Aug 16: Steven Poole’s delightful word is adlubescence, something that really, truly brings pleasure or delight. As he himself says, adlubescence is a “charming word”, and charming words always refresh me.

Andres Kabel’s word of the day? Doesn’t bestial sound great? It carries a range of dictionary definitions, from a technical orientation of “relating to animals,” to “exceedingly cruel,” and even to “involving human-animal sex.” I often wonder: are humans bestial or not?

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

Two lexicons

Different lexicons

How oddly rewarding it is to dip into a book of mystifying new words every day as part of my Lexicon Big Year. Steven Poole’s A Word for Every Day of the Year is superb. Imagine then my delight in reading, at the same time, this year’s Miles Franklin winner, The Yield by Tara June Winch! One of the artful narrative devices employed by the award winning author is to interleave the story with an expanding lexicon/dictionary of indigenous words, specifically over a hundred (so 30% of Poole’s word digging, but still substantive) Wiradjuri words or phrases. Words are magical.

Lexicon Big Year: August 5


Aug 5: Aerumnous is Steven Poole’s ancient abandoned word meaning “full of troubles.” When the Stage 4 lockdown news startled me three days ago, I couldn’t help feeling that I and the world are aerumnous. I’m not sure of the pronunciation but either option should sound wonderful.

I woke up in the middle of the night with a possible sentence for my book and it featured the word baleful. It means “menacing” or “threatening harm.” I’d always thought it was best used in connection with someone cast as the devil, as in “the devil’s baleful gaze,” but now I think that’s mistaken.

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

Lexicon Big Year: July 25


July 25: Ipsedixitism. Huh, what you saying? Well, this, according to Steven, is how you describe someone “who appeals to an idea he thinks is obvious and needs no further explanation.” This can be a tactic to avoid drawing attention to any real criticism of the idea. A word two-hundred-plus years old, let’s acknowledge ipsedixitism.

Jogging this morning, for who knows what reason, a word sprang to mind. I muttered, “persispacious,” “persospicious,” maybe “perococial,” a word having something to do with luck and foresight. It took another twenty minutes on the road for the right word to slip into my addled brain. The word is perspicacious, and it means “having a ready insight into and understanding of things” or “of acute mental vision or discernment.” So not only could I not pronounce it, I had no idea what perspicacious means.

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

Lexicon Big Year: July 12

Unusual words

July 12: “A custom or notion that has been shown to be unreasonable but nonetheless persists,” Steven Poole tells us, “is a mumpsimus,” and doesn’t it sound mellifluous? Apparently it arose in the 1600s and died out as an active word sometime through the 2000s. If I could resurrect it, I’d slap mumpsimus onto all those circulating Covid-19 conspiracy ideas, and all those dingbat “climate change doesn’t exist because …” tropes.

My word of the day is mizzle, something I stumbled across, yet again, in a podcast. I’d never heard of it but the dictionaries do include it. The verb (I’m not sure a noun is allowed) mizzle means ” to rain in very fine drops.” One dictionary seemed to derive that meaning from a German word, but when I heard it, the speaker said it means halfway between mist and drizzle.

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

Lexicon Big Year: June 26


June 26: Poole’s word for the day is a bewitching one: haecceity (apparently pronounced as “hike-evity), which had usage long ago as “the property of being a unique and individual thing” or this-ness. Matters are confusing. Haeccity isn’t the same as essence or quiddity, but is more specific, and Poole puts it thus: “How do you describe the dogness of your dog, or the rockness of that rock?”

Someone read to me the word sunder, which means “split apart.” Most often we see it as sundered. Uranium atoms fission in a reactor. Should they sunder?

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

Lexicon Big Year: June 16


June 16: Steven Poole’s forgotten/rare word for today is quop. Who can resist saying quop? First seen in a 1382 bible, used by James Joyce in “Ulysses,” it means “to wriggle, throb, or pulsate.” Poole: “An invaluable word to know at Scrabble.” Quop, quop, quop.

My word? Sounding almost the same, quip is seen in books but never, in my experience, spoken. It means “a witty remark” or, as a verb, to make such a witty remark. Quip, quip, quip.

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

Lexicon Big Year: June 7


June 7: Poole’s weird-sounding, weird-of-meaning word for today is accismus, from four hundred or more years ago. Accismus means “pretending to refuse something you actually really want.” I guess it’s what we label as “reverse psychology.” My mother always assumed that if you turned down something at her table, it was a statement of accismus. Ever since I read Poole’s beguiling essay on the word, I’ve been wondering if some of my life is accismus trying to reach out, for I seem to be edging towards a new orientation to important things. If only all words encouraged fresh reflection…

And my word? An exceedingly commonplace one but one that still leaps into my head unbidden every day: apocalyptic. The dictionary seems to say “describing or prophesying the complete destruction of the world” or “momentous or catastrophic.” We all use it differently. I know folks who claim to employ it literally; that’s a conversation that never goes far with me. Coronavirus lockdown encourages apocalyptic reflections, however shallow, and of course I’m prone to Extinction Rebellion anxiety of the apocalyptic (and in my view, accurate) flavor. Is it overused? Do I overuse it? Yes on both counts, but I bet I continue to think apocalyptic images daily nonetheless.

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

Lexicon Big Year: June 1


June 1: Steven Poole has excelled with his words over the past week or so, delighting me with gems like cognosible, hippotherapy, and smellfeast. But I’m especially taken by today’s word, alazony, which means the “inability to recognize irony when they see it.” Alazony is one of Poole’s more modern rare words and it sounds great, doesn’t it? Let’s hope no-one ever casts the aspersion of alazony upon me.

Garry Disher, that renowned Australian author, donated a wondrous word to me: floordrobe. It means the pile of clothes on your bedroom floor in place of actual furniture. I won’t name those I know who once built substantive floordrobes.

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