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

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Words of the Day

I have a confession to make. Although I did start Anna Karenina and made it all the way to page 26, I haven't picked it up since Monday. Did you know it takes a really long time to read a really long book if you never actually read it? I do have the excuse of a side project which I hope to tell you about someday soon, but meanwhile I think it's time to whittle away at my "List of Words to Look Up" once again.

1. Fuliginous. I'm so excited to tell you that I figured out where I found this word. I had it marked with "HJ 14," and the most likely match I could think of for that abbreviation is "Henry James." Knowing that five or six years ago when I wrote my list I was probably reading The Ambassadors, I pulled that book out and read page fourteen and there sat fuliginous. It appears in a quite long sentence during which James is describing Waymarsh through Strether's eyes. "He had a large handsome head and a large sallow seamed face--a striking significant physiognomic total, the upper range of which, the great political brow, the thick loose hair, the dark fuliginous eyes, recalled even to a generation whose standard had dreadfully deviated the impressive image, familiar by engravings and busts, of some great national worthy of the earlier part of the mid-century." Gosh, couldn't he have just said, "He looked like Abraham Lincoln"? Anyway, even in context, I still don't know what "fuliginous" means, but I can guess that it does not mean "full of genius," even if I can make it sound like it might. Webster says: Sooty, obscure, murky, having a dark or dusky color. OK, so what James was saying was that Waymarsh's eyes were dark and . . . dark. Got it. I ought to throw this one out on principle, but I won't. Zero points.

2. Saleratus. This one is from the same book, on page 35 (even though I had written down page 36 and stressed out slightly when it wasn't there) in which Miss Gostrey is trying to pry from Strether what vulgar objects are made in the workshop by which Mrs. Newsome has made her fortune. "It made between them a pause, which she, however, still fascinated by the mystery of the production at Wollett, presently broke. ' "Rather ridiculous"? Clothes-pins? Saleratus? Shoe polish?' " What fit in between clothes-pins and shoe polish back in 1903? Maybe saleratus is a variant of snake oil. Webster says: A leavening agent consisting of potassium or sodium bicarbonate. So it's baking soda, not snake oil. Still no points, even though I am having to resist giving myself partial points because I think that was an especially good guess.

3. Laudanum. I kind of know what this is but I suppose I put it on my list because I'm not exactly sure. I don't have a reference sentence for you, but you can surely imagine Agatha Christie directing the doctor to give laudanum to an elderly matron who has just experienced the shock of a murder in her family. I think it's a opiate given to calm or to aid in sleeping. Webster says: Any of various formerly used preparations of opium; a tincture of opium. Since it doesn't say what it was used for, I'm heading to wikipedia. Here I find that laudanum was used to relieve pain, to produce sleep, to allay irritation, to check excessive secretions, and to, um, "support the system"? OK, then! Even though I feel like I cheated by including such an easy one, I finally get a point!

4. High dudgeon. I don't know where I heard this phrase, but the word "dudgeon" makes me think of a combination of "dungeon" and "drudgery." So, maybe it's a really boring prison. And I have to wonder . . . is there also "low dudgeon"? Webster says: Dudgeon is a fit or state of indignation or offense. Zero points for this one too (as if we didn't already know that).

5. Laconic. Yet again I have no context for you other than that I'm sure this word can be used to describe a manner of speaking. I think it means lazy or slow. Webster says: Using or involving the use of a minimum of words. Concise to the point of seeming rude or mysterious. I'm going to have to take a quarter of a point for knowing that it refers to speech.

1.25 points out of five? Let's do a bonus round, in case I haven't embarrassed myself enough for one day. I first read the word git in one of the Harry Potter books. It was pretty clear that it meant something of a cross between "dimwit" and "stupid jerk," but I wasn't sure of the pronunciation. Does it sound the way it would in the sentence, "What did you git at the store?" (which may be the only way of using the phrase you git without giving offense). The other option, of course, is the sound in the second half of the word "idjit."

If you go here you can hear the pronunciation of git for yourself. Or if you are British and laughing at my ignorance, go here and laugh harder when you see my favorite pronunciation suggestion:
Gee-HAAAA-ga-BLOOOO-mup-mup-mup-PAH-TANG-pickle. (And remember, the third one is an acute "mup.")
Consider this a community service announcement to help you avoid sounding like a git the next time you get a pint at the pub.


Brenna said...

I love saying the word "laconic" out loud, although it's not really in my lexicon. I just repeat it out loud every time I read it in a book :)

Jamie said...

Wow! These words are incredible!

Jessica said...

haha I have terrible trouble with words like that.

I remember once when I was in School and I was doing a project on the US national parks and I asked my dad if he had ever been to Yos-Mite Park. After he stopped laughing he told how it was pronounced.

Kathy said...

Brenna--maybe I just have an overactive imagination, but here is the scenario in my head: some day I will be in a train sitting across from a girl who is reading, and suddenly I will hear her say "laconic," and it will be YOU! ;)

Jamie--thanks, wish I could say "I made them myself," but you know how it is.

Jess--You must not have Yosemite Sam over there. Without him, I'm sure I would have had the same trouble. As it is, I had enough of a struggle with "lapels" (rhymes with labels, right??) and jalopy. Good thing no one drives those anymore, because I still have trouble remembering the correct pronunciation.

Rachel said...

I really liked Anna Karenina!

Great word list this week! :)

Emily said...

Oh lordy, you're reminding me why I can't stomach Henry James.

I learned "git/get" from the Beatles:

"I'm so tired / I'm feeling so upset / I'm so tired / I'll have another cigarette / And curse Sir Walter Raleigh / He was such a stupid get"

Love tracing how different words ended up in one's lexicon - great feature!

Kathy said...

I've managed to squeeze in another 14 pages of Anna Karenina. It is really good so far! But at this rate I feel like it is going to take me years to finish.

Thanks for the comments. I'm glad you're enjoying my crazy word lists!