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

Monday, June 21, 2010

Words of the Day

Once again, it's time to tell you about the new words I've learned!

1. Sybaritic. From The Know-It-All. "The Britannica gives an elegant description of Anna's brother Stiva, who is 'genial and sybaritic'." I've heard this word before. I just have no idea what it means. If only it started with a "c," I might guess the definition was computer-related, although I suppose this would be quite anachronistic (as the above-referenced Anna and Stiva are characters in the book Anna Karenina, first published in the 19th century) and slightly misspelled. As it is, I can only guess that the term is complimentary. Webster says: A native or resident of the ancient city of Sybaris. Well, that doesn't help me. Good thing Webster also says these residents were voluptuaries and sensualists. So I guess whether that's complimentary is a matter of perspective. I'm not claiming points for this one. Even though I would like to.

2. Abseiling. From Notes From a Big Country. Somewhere, once upon a time, I possessed a scrap of paper with this word scratched on it, along with the page number where I could find its use in the book. If that scrap of paper still existed I could quote to you the sentence where I found this word. As it is, I will have to be content with telling you that, by context, I assumed that abseiling and rappelling are synonyms. Webster says: I am an American book, not a British one. Webster online says: Your guess is correct. One point!

3. Furgle. Here, and for the following two words, we return to Catch-22. If I couldn't refer to the context of its use, I would think Joseph Heller may have made this word up by combining something like froth and gurgle. But it's pretty easy to tell what Heller meant when he wrote, "[Hungry Joe] could never decide whether to furgle them or photograph them, for he had found it impossible to do both simultaneously." Obviously it's a stand-in for a slightly less polite f-word. Webster is strangely silent on the matter, but I think I'll take the point anyway.

4. Paroxysms. "[Milo Minderbinder] was capable of paroxysms of righteous indignation." I'm pretty sure that paroxysms are convulsions, frequently associated with coughing or laughter, though I never would have guessed that based on its use alongside "indignation." Webster says: A fit, attack, or sudden increase or recurrence of symptoms (as of a disease). A sudden violent emotion or action. Hey, look at this: Convulsion (a ~ of coughing). I get a point for being right about convulsions, but now the use (mainly due to the part about violent emotion) makes more sense.

5. Pernicious. "Just about all [Yossarian] could find in [war's] favor was that it paid well and liberated children from the pernicious influence of their parents." My guess is something along the lines of extensively, insidiously invasive. Which is what I imagine the "pernicious" in "pernicious anemia" to mean. Webster says: Highly injurious or destructive; deadly; wicked. Hmmm, I just don't see how I can wrangle a point out of that one.

Three out of five. Good thing my life doesn't depend on knowing the definition to these words.


Kate said...

I love this! :)

Whitney said...

I failed horribly at this vocab test. Maybe next time...

Emidy said...

I love this feature on your blog! The only one of those words that I'm slightly familiar with is pernicious.

Kathy said...

It seriously makes me feel better to know you're not all sitting at home laughing at me because I didn't know these words :)