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

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Words of the Day

1. Valetudinarian. It's like cheating to include this word in my Dictionary Day post, because 1) I didn't come across it while reading a book, and 2) it was defined for me. I read it here. But I'm using it anyway, because I have read Emma before (though it's been years), and I wouldn't have remembered what it meant if Tracy hadn't told me--in fact, I don't remember even seeing it in the book. But here it is: a whining hypochondriac. Webster says: a person of a weak or sickly constitution; esp: one whose chief concern is his invalidism. I can't count this one for me, but Tracy gets one point.

2. Exigent. From Tom Wright's fourth book, which I hope to tell you about soon. "The killing clearly was not exigent, nor did it strike effectively at the illegitimate occupation forces of Washington, either of which might have justified the effort and risk of such an undertaking." I gotta tell you, I've got nothing. Unless "exigent" is related to "exiguous" which was one of my previous Words of the Day, meaning excessively scanty or inadequate, though that really doesn't fit the context. Webster says: requiring immediate aid or action; requiring or calling for much; demanding. So, basically, my kids. And nothing like exiguous (other than the first four letters). Dang. Zero points.

3. Parlous. From Anna Karenina. "Oblonsky's financial affairs were in a parlous state." Sounds to me like the redneck pronunciation of "perilous." And--would you believe it?--it kind of is. Webster says: full of danger or risk; hazardous. One point for me!

4. Concatenation. From What I Was. "The sea was oddly flat. There was always at least a gentle swell and fall, though more usually little white riffles and uneven waves. It looked eerie out there now, unnatural. Dead flat and motionless. A concatenation of signs." As much as I want that to be something about a country of felines, judging by the context I am sure it is more of a confluence or a "coming together." Webster says: Linked together. Yeah, I was close enough to get point number two.

5. Exeat. Also from What I Was. I'm a little annoyed at myself for not writing down the sentence, but I remember it referred to a note signed by a teacher allowing a student to leave the boarding school campus and make a trip to town. Webster doesn't know this word (so I should get two points for it, right?) but wikipedia tells me that "exeat" is used in Britain to describe weekend leave from a boarding school. Another interesting tidbit: the word is Latin for "he/she may leave." I guess I'll just take one point. Three points for me and at least one for Tracy.

I've got a bonus phrase for you today. It's not one we need to define, but it's one I was surprised to find in Anna Karenina. Oblonsky "was kept cooling his heels for two hours" in a waiting room. I would have guessed that people started cooling their heels in the 60s (and by this of course I am referring to the twentieth century, not the era of Tolstoy).  I can't help but wonder if this is an anachronistic idiom or if the same phrase is found in the original Russian version. My brief search for the origin of "cool your heels" was unsuccessful, so if you have any information on this, please tell me. Otherwise, I will just content myself with this fact: at least Oblonsky didn't cool his jets instead.

Speaking of the era of Tolstoy, here's a fun parallel. Anna Karenina (written between 1873 and 1877) is a contemporary of Laura Ingalls Wilder (born in 1867). So the childhood we read about in the Little House series was taking place in America during the same time that Tolstoy was writing in Russia.


DeLynne said...

Wow, thanks for the parallel between Laura Ingalls and Anna Karenina. That had never occurred to me. I, too went looking for the etymology of cool heels and came up dry. Odd...

Tracy said...

An acceptance speech would be in order except that I owe it all to the New American Oxford dictionary that comes pre-installed on the Kindle. I moved my cursor over the word, and a definition appeared at the bottom of the screen, which helped a great deal, because until then, I thought maybe Mr. Woodhouse was going back to high school.

Kathy said...

A friend sent me the following info (I've been waiting and waiting for him to come post it here, but I guess he's not going to, so I'll do it for him):

According to some small newspaper in Norfolk, England:

“Cool one’s heels” also has an animal derivation. Back when horses were the main means of transportation, their hooves would become heated on a long trip. A brief respite allowed the hooves to cool a little, hence the expression.

SO I guess that proves that "cool your heels" didn't originate in the 60s, and I feel much better about it. :)

Tracy--I'm cracking up at Mr. Woodhouse back in high school. That probably would have been my first thought too.

Amanda said...

You might enjoy reading: A Hog on Ice & Other Curious Expressions
or Heavens to Betsy! & Other Curious Sayings both by Charles E. Funk.

I love that the Kindle defines words for you on the spot; that might just sway me to get one! So many times I mean to look up a word but the dictionary is not handy. And Kathy you must carry around a note pad with every book you read to keep up your Words of the Day! I am not that disciplined!

Kathy said...

Thanks for the book suggestions! I would love to know the origins of all the silly idioms.

It is awesome that the Kindle comes with a dictionary. My only problem with that is usually what I learn doesn't stick. At least with my Word of the Day posts, since I've written about a word's definition, I have a better chance of remembering it. Though obviously that doesn't always work for me ("importunate," anyone?)

Big Nerd confession here: Most times I use a scrap of paper for a bookmark, and I jot down notes or words to look up on that scrap.