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

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Words of the Day

1. Alacrity. I think it's kind of funny that this word is on my list twice. The first time I wrote it down, it was in FM-266 (don't ask me what book that was), and my guess was that it meant "quickly." The second time I similarly assumed it meant "with haste," and I didn't make any note of the book where I found it. It seems that I most often hear this word associated with the way a character speaks. Webster says: Promptness in response; cheerful readiness. Here's a great synonym that could have been one of my Words of the Day: celerity. We're off to a good start! One point.

2. Punctilious. From Anna Karenina. Yes, I am still creeping through that book with all the alacrity of a hemorrhoidal gastropod. (See what I did there, with that brand new Word of the Day? Can I get extra points for that?) "Like all fathers, the old prince was particularly punctilious where his daughters' unsullied reputation and honor were concerned." From the context, it sounds like it means persnickety or particular. I'm guessing it is not related to punctuality. Webster says: Marked by or concerned with the details of codes or conventions; careful. I may not have gotten the precise connotation, but don't you think my guess is close enough to be worth a point anyway? Especially since I used alacrity correctly in a sentence.

3. Guipure. Also from Anna Karenina. Anna's black velvet ball dress was "trimmed all over with Venetian guipure." Glass beads? Webster says: A heavy large-patterned decorative lace. Dang it! I should have known that! In the very next paragraph the dress is described as "her black dress with its rich lace." Besides, it's not like Anna was a flapper. Zero points!

4. Elegiac. This was in one of Anita Shreve's books--apparently one with a character named Linda, whose writing style is described this way. A quick google search shows that it must have been in The Last Time They Met, which is my favorite out of the three of hers that I've read. I assume "elegiac" has something to do with the word elegy, but I don't (though I feel I should) know that definition either. All I know is it's different from a eulogy. Webster says: An elegy is a poem in elegiac couplets; it is also a song or poem expressing sorrow or lamentation, especially for one who is dead. So an "elegy" is more like a "eulogy" than I thought. A poem that is "elegiac" consists of two dactylic hexameter lines, the second of which lacks the arses in the third and sixth feet.

Wait a minute. Arses? I am hearing Inigo Montoya whisper, "I do not think that word means what you think it means." And, I have to do it: "arses" . . . is not in my dictionary. "Arse" is, and Inigo Montoya was wrong. But wait: here is "arsis," which is the singular of "arses." It is the lighter or shorter part of a poetic foot in quantitative verse, or the accented or longer part of a poetic foot in accentual verse. I ought to take a point just for all that hard work. But I won't, because I know I'm only going to remember that "elegiac" has something to do with arses.

5. Sable. I thought this was reddish, similar to the color of a red fox. I thought there was an animal called a sable that was kind of like a red weasel. No clue what book it was in, but I did mark down that, from the context, I would have guessed "sable" meant black. Webster says: Your ignorance is showing. Yes, a sable is an animal related to the weasel, in the same genus as the marten, but it is dark brown. Sable can mean "a grayish yellowish brown" . . . not foxy red. It also means black or dark. I will take a half a point since my contextual guess of "black" was correct. And because I need it.

So, after a promising start, I only ended up with 2.5 points out of five. I guess it could have been worse (and it has been worse in the past). I will take this to mean I need to continue in my quest.


Jayne said...

This is brilliant! I love how you puzzle out the words and then find the meaning. I'd have guessed the same as you for the first two words, not sure where my thoughts would have run for the others! Nowadays it is not often a word jars me, but I do like it when I see something new, and pause, run my gaze back over the word, look around it for a clue, go back to it, try and work out how to say it aloud (am always wrong!) and then finally look it up. Really enjoyed this post!

Bellezza said...

Hmmm...whenever I come across 'arses' I've understood it to mean a polite way of saying "asses". ;)

I love Anna Karenina. How fun that you found two of your words from that spectacular novel! Tolstoy is so awesome. I could read his books over and over, and have with Anna.

Kathy said...

Jayne--more recently I have been the same as you, coming across new words less frequently. My Words of the Day posts are knocking words off my List of Words to Look Up far faster than I am adding new ones. Pretty soon I may have to start asking for suggestions!

Bellezza--that was exactly the definition I was thinking of, although I thought it was more British than polite. I could be wrong about that; since I am neither British nor polite, it's hard to say. And I must admit I am quite impressed that you have read Anna Karenina multiple times. So far it is a great story, but it is taking me FREAKING FOREVER to read it just once . . .

Brenna said...

2.5 isn't bad at all!

Kathy said...

Awww, thanks. Maybe I should look on the bright side and see the glass as half full. But it seems like I ought to be getting closer to 5 out of 5! I mean, it's not like English is my second language or something. Anyway, if I keep working at it, maybe someday I'll know all the words. ;)

JSG said...

Great blog.. endearing to see books all around.
This is my first post Kathy. I find it particularly interesting because I too feed on words. And can't do without a dictionary. Its always in my pocket.
Myself one to lay my hands on the book called Anna Karenina :-) I vl do that soon.
Well, my first recommendation to you would be (in case you haven't read it already :) ) Baltasar and Blimunda by Jose Saramago.
tk care.

Kathy said...

Jasmeet--Thanks for stopping by. I have not read Baltasar and Blimunda--thanks for the recommendation. I do have one Saramago book in my TBR pile (Blindness). It's unfortunate that I only became aware of Saramago upon hearing of his death in June.