Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Monday, May 3, 2010

Words of the Day

Several years ago I started keeping a list of "Words to Look Up." These were words I came across while reading that met one of three criteria: #1, I had never heard of them before; #2, I thought I knew the definition but wanted to confirm it; or #3, the definition in my mind didn't match with the context in the book. I think I may have first started doing this while reading Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (excellent book, by the way--I highly recommend it if you've never read it), or perhaps it was during The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (another decent one).

I fully intended to look up the definition of these words, and then reread how each was used in context, but I didn't do a very good job in keeping track of which book I found them in. Oops. For about half of the words I didn't even list a page number; a bunch more have a page number without a notation about a title (how does that help??); then there are a few for which I marked down title initials but I still have no idea what book it might be! For instance, what book uses the word "fuliginous" and could be denoted by the initials HJ? Or where would I find the word "alacrity" in a book with the initials FM?

Anyway, since I am obviously never going to take the time to look up all the definitions in one sitting, I have decided to look them up in groups of five with a nice break in between. I call this "Words of the Day" mainly in homage to Joey Tribbiani's toilet paper, but I don't plan to do this daily. I guess I just hope to do it often enough that I finally come to the end of my list someday.
So, here are today's five entries:

1. Sere. On my list, this word is followed by "fields" in parentheses. I assume this is because, in the book I was reading, "sere" was an adjective used to describe "fields." My guess: Sere means dry. Webster says: Being dried and withered. Score!

2. Sine qua non. I assume this is a latin term. I bet my nephew David could tell me the definition, being one of the only people to have taken Latin classes in this century. (For all I know, he *is* the only one). He could also probably tell me how to pronounce it, because I have no clue. For my purposes, I'm calling it "see-nay kwa non." On my list, this phrase is followed by "necessary?" in parentheses. I am guessing that was my guess for the definition. Webster says: An absolutely indispensible or essential thing. Actual translation is "without which not." It is used as a noun. Anyway, that's two points for me!

3. Nacre-colored. On my list, this term is followed by "pearl material?" so I am guessing that was my guess as to the definition. Webster says: "nacre" is mother-of-pearl. Hey, I'm doing pretty well! This is fun!

4. Doge's barge. I'm almost sure this was from Dorian Gray. No qualifiers on my list. I have a vague idea that this refers to Venetian gondolas, and I used to think it was something dark and solemn and perhaps even funereal, but in one of the two books I recently read about Venice, I seem to recall learning that a Doge is some sort of government official. Webster says: a "doge" is the chief magistrate in the republics of Venice and Genoa. I don't feel like I can give myself full points for this one, because (though I know what a Doge is and I know what a barge is) I still don't get what the phrase "Doge's barge" connotes. I mean, is it just fancy?

5. Pygmy. I'm pretty sure this word came from Conan Doyle's aforementioned book. I always thought "pygmy" referred to a small version of something. In order for this to have made my list, my definition must not have fit the context. Webster says: Any of a race of dwarfs described by ancient Greek authors. Any of a small people of equatorial Africa ranging under five feet in height. A short, insignificant (really, Webster? that's a little rude!) person; Dwarf. I'm sure this word can apply to little rabbits, and, um, hippos too? So I say I get full points for this one.

Look at that! 4.5 out of 5. I win!


Emidy said...

Wow, this is such a cool feature! I should start writing down words that I don't know, too.

Rachel said...

This is a really good idea!

I, like you, always write words down to look up (and various other things) and always forget. I like how you have made this a feature on your blog! So not only will you now learn these words, but we will too :)

Also, The Picture of Dorian Gray is one of my favourite books! :)

Elle said...

Hahaha, this was such a fun post, I found myself playing along too (did not score too well though :/ lol.) I used to have a little notebook where I wrote down unfamiliar words but I've stopped doing it (too lazy). :P
Anyway, just wanted to add you've got an award on my blog!
Have a great day.

Priya Parmar said...

so much fun! i had to take latin for years in middle and high school and hated it--really really dreaded it--but now i am quite glad as it always helps with the roots of things. and i can read inscriptions on big buildings. but that is about it. dorian gray is a fantastic book!