Apr 29, 2009

wondrous words

The first two on this list came from my reading of The Other End of the Leash. The rest are from Quicksilver. Even though I have made slow progress with this book (only 127 pages so far), it still supplies me with many many new words each week!

Sinusodial- "The dogs would waver back and forth, moving in a sinusodial S curve, trying to follow the molecules of scent as they moved through the air..."
Definition: curving (isn't the phrase redundant, then?)

Paedomorphic- "This tendency to continue exuberant play into adulthood is one of the factors that leads most scientists to consider dogs and humans as paedomorphic..."
Definition: retaining juvenile characteristics into adulthood

Coelestial- "The tail of Ursa Major was like the hand of a coelestical clock, and Daniel had been studying how to read it."
Definition: another spelling for celestial

Spadroon- "The black-clad fellow drew out a sword of his own, something dull and clanging, a heavier spadroon, and the scarlet boy came at him like a boiling cloud, with lightning movements darting out of the center."
Definition: a broadsword used both to cut and thrust

Sizar- "Daniel finally recognized him as Roger Comstock, the sizar."
Definition: a student at Cambridge who having passed certain examinations, was exempt from paying for food and tuition and had lodgings at very low cost

Ween- "I ween you are of the same mind, Mr. Waterhouse, but sailing on a ship across the North Atlantic is not for cowards, and so you are here."
Definition: to think or suppose

Lascar- "The lascars spring up and busy themselves drawing up his equipage on ropes."
Definition: an East Indian seaman

Gnomon- "Newton was constructing a sundial on a south-facing wall, using as gnomon, a slender rod with a ball on the end."
Definition: stationary arm on a sundial whose shadow indicates the time

Shawm- "Stourbridge Fair was already audible: barking of dogs, wild strains from bagpipes and shawms whipping over their heads like twists of bright ribbon unwinding in the breeze.
Definition: a double-reed instrument that preceeded the oboe

Numismatic- "If you would allow me to approach within ten feet of these coins, it would help me to appreciate their numismatic excellence...."
Definition: having to do with coins or currency

Saturnine- "In a country inn, on the way to St. Ives, he encountered a saturnine, beetle-browed chap name of Oliver Cromwell who had recently lost his faith, and seen his life ruined..."
Definition: of a melancholy or solemn disposition, from being born under the sign of Saturn

Pedantry- ".... out of a stubborn belief that pedantry and repetitiveness could through some alchemy be forged into wit."
Definition: giving excessive attention to academic learning or formal rules

Caitiff- "Have you ever felt a certain annoyance, when one of your semi-educated Londoners speaks of 'a vile rascal' or 'a miserable caitiff' or 'crafty knave,' 'idle truant,' or 'flattering parasite'?"
Definition: a despicable person, a cowardly wretch

Homiletical- "Daniel exhausted the Terms of Abuse in a few short hours, then moved on to Virtues (intellectual, moral, and homiletical), Colors, Sounds, Tastes and Smells, Professions (viz, carpentry, sewing, alchemy) Operations, and so on."
Definition: relating to or having the nature of a homily: an inspirational saying or moralizing lecture

Phew! This book is giving me words every other pages, it feels like. Visit Bermudaonion's Weblog to see what new words other readers discovered this week.


  1. Holy cow! That is some book with words like that. Thanks for playing along this week.

  2. Wow, that is one long list of new words! The only reason I know gnomon is because I came across it in my reading at one point (before Kathy thought up Wondrous Words Wednesday) and had to look it up. Other than that, the only words I knew were saturnine and pedantry! Thanks for introducing me to all these new words!

  3. I love "spadroon"! I never get a chance to use "saturnine" even though I like it. I do not like "numismatic". I always get it mixed up in my head with the word that means stamps and stamp collecting. Philatelic?

  4. Wow, those are some wonderfully obscure words! I've only heard of a very few of them. I love "caitiff" - reminds me of a couple of my old bosses.

  5. I'm picking up some new vocab from reading Robert Benchley. I was grabbing my dictionary a lot last night while reading.

  6. Bermudaonion- Yeah. It makes my brain tired after a while. I have to read it in small doses.

    Avianschild- My favorite word on the list is "gnomon". But I can't think when I would ever be able to use it!

    Jenny- I can't even pronounce "numismatic." (Even with those audio pronunciation guides you can find online dictionaries- my tongue still stumbles over it).

    jlshall- for some reason I thought "caitiff" meant a judge or something. Was I ever wrong!

    Bybee- You're better than me. I always jot them down, and look up a bunch later. Unless the word is really pivotal to the storyline and it bugs me not to know the exact meaning immediately. Usually I'm happy to guess from the context and keep going.

  7. Wow! What a list of words. I hadn't even heard of about half of them. Maybe I should start doing this myself. My vocab could use a boost.

  8. Anonymous4/30/2009

    So great to discover your blog. just love it. It will be a great resource for me and so enjoyable. Want to recommend a wonderful animal behavior book that was published not too long ago.
    Authors Ray and Lorna Coppinger
    Dogs: A startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior, and Evolution.
    Worth the read and you'll learn many new wondrous words.

  9. Black Sheep- I used to keep a vocab list on paper, but it got tedious. So much more fun to do it here!

    Jude Illes- thanks for stopping by! That's a great recommendation- I read it back in Nov and thought it was fantastic. You can read my review of it here.

  10. I loved spadroon too, reminds me of dragoon and platoon and the like. I also associated caitiff with something legal ( I thought of bailiff).
    I'm usually too lazy to find out the meanings of new words. I sometimes write the words down and think I'll look them up later, then I lose the sheet of paper I've written them on :( So i usually find out meanings of words in context.

  11. Anonymous5/01/2009

    Wow, that's a long list. I think I've only heard of one of them.


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