The words on Feb 19


I’m managing to read Poole’s word every day, only because the time involved is as fleeting as a minute. It strikes me as a good habit. I’ve been less diligent in conjuring up my own daily word, but have managed to catch up.

Do you look for a new word? A better word? A fucking fantastic word?

Feb 19: A solander is a box that “opens like a book – in which you might store letters, photographs, file records, or other things.” Apparently the inventor of such a book was Mr. Daniel Solander. The devil is in the details of storage furniture but I’m sure that in the corporate world we used similar boxes to record our brilliance. My word? Mondegreen: a word misheard in a song lyric. I love my own interpretations of wonderful lyrics and had previously heard about a mondegreen (look it up, what a derivation!), but have never employed it and, right now, can’t imagine how I could.

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

Words: Feb 3 to Feb 5


Words heavy, words playful.

Feb 3: Poole’s word is ylem, a word that’s been around quite a while in various incarnations but was resurrected seventy years ago by George Gamow and Hans Bethe, two of my heroes, to denote “the first stuff that existed … the primordial matter at the creation of the universe.” Whow! By contrast, my word is trite. Wispy means, well, wispy, as in a “wispy mustache.” Love it.

Feb 4: Poole’s cacotechny has been around for more than two centuries as a “hurtful invention.” Well, we haven’t had any “noxious innovations,” have we? Me, I’d like to cast opprobrium (“harsh criticism or censure”) onto anyone who has brought a cacotechny into existence.

Feb 5: Some nuance from Poole. A pejorist isn’t “an out-and-out doom-monger” but one who “believes that the world is being made worse through concentrated human effort.” Poole mentions global warming, as he should. So my word, chosen by this pejorist, is accretion, a technical term for gradual buildup, such as in the CO2 ppm in the atmosphere.

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

Words: Jan 27 to Jan 29


Let me say how light-heartedly enjoyable my ten minutes a day of word appreciation are. Once you look, wonderful words abound around us.

Jan 27: Poole’s word is festinate, that is, to hurry but delicately, I guess without blundering forward like one of Tolkien’s ogres. Often I like to festinate my work along; shoving at it produces panic in me. And I came across obsecrate, a rare (but unlike Poole’s word, “alive” word) synonym for beseech. Oh, verily, I obsecrate you, lower your voice.

Jan 28: Poole’s finifugal used to mean “having a horror of endings.” We all know a finifugal friend who can’t bring herself to leave. My word is milieu. I can never stop myself from telling friends that the setting for my mystery novels is the city of Melbourne, but their milieu is the rarefied world of high finance.

Jan 29: If you were callipygian, Poole relates (his most recent example being from 1912, which is recent for him), you were “blessed with beautiful buttocks,” but the term also has a more general feel of prudish disgust. For my part, I was knocked over to discover there is an actual word, foofaraw, that not only sounds like a sumptuous cross between furore and free-for-all, but is actually more subtle, “a great fuss or disturbance about something very insignificant.” People around me seem to be always engaged in foofaraws.

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

Words: Jan 21 to Jan 22


Jan 21: Poole’s word is quidditative, what he calls “a silly word to describe a silly kind of pedantic argument,” and guess what? It does sound silly and it’s too twisty to use, but hey, doesn’t it sound great? My word? I came across ichor, technically an “acrid, watery discharge from an ulcer or wound,” which is glorious enough, but check out the alternative definition: “an ethereal fluid flowing in the veins of the gods.” I can imagine a character, high on achievement, contemplating the ichor pulsing in his body.

Jan 22: Poole’s lucubration meant (the word is no longer in use) to “work by means of artificial light,” i.e. at night, and given my insomnia, and habit of rising in the depths of night to get some work in, I’m proud to be known for my lucubration. My word is scuffle, a word that sounds like it means but is not used much anymore. Do nuclear power plant workers scuffle?

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

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.