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Messages: Unfamiliar Words in the Books You Read

Unfamiliar words from Spin

I've just finished reading "Spin" by Robert Charles Wilson (2005). New words follow.

aerostat: an aircraft, especially a balloon or dirigible, deriving its lift from the buoyancy of surrounding air rather than from aerodynamic motion

amanuensis: one who is employed to take dictation or to copy manuscript

ambuscade: an ambush

avuncular: regarded as being similar to an uncle, especially in benevolence

chiliasm: the doctrine stating that Jesus will reign on earth for 1,000 years

demimonde: women prostitutes considered as a group

derailleur: a device for shifting gears on a bicycle by moving the chain between sprocket wheels of different sizes

epiphenomenon: a secondary phenomenon that results from and accompanies another

febrile: of, relating to, or characterized by fever; feverish

grama: any of various grasses of the genus Bouteloua of western North America and South America, forming dense tufts or mats and often used as pasturage

millenarian: of, relating to, or believing in the doctrine of the millennium

mucilage: a sticky substance used as an adhesive

ocotillo: a cactuslike tree (Fouquieria splendens) of Mexico and the southwest United States, having clusters of scarlet tubular flowers

pastern: the part of a horse's leg between the fetlock and the hoof

perihelion: the point nearest the sun in the orbit of a planet or other celestial body

picayune: petty; mean

shofar: a trumpet made of a ram's horn, blown by the ancient Hebrews during religious ceremonies and as a signal in battle, now sounded in the synagogue during Rosh Hashanah and at the end of Yom Kippur

telomere: either end of a chromosome; a terminal chromosome

(I've seen febrile, mucilage, and telomere enough times that I should have known their meanings.)


Reading: Time Tunnel by Murray Leinster (1964)

Jon Maloney
4 years ago
1 comment

Recent comments:[write a comment]
(2 years ago)If you want to test your ability to understand the english language, read anything by Edgar Rice Burroughs. He will definetly challenge your literaty pallate. In particular, his Tarzan series. They were certainly not written for children. bob de long
The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett

As promised, here's my unfamiliar words from The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett. Doubt you'll be using any of these words in everyday conversations.

  • undercroft: a subterranean room, especially a vaulted chamber under a church.
    "Then in spring, they would vault the undercroft, floor the hall above it, and put on the roof."

  • verderer: an English judicial officer having charge of the king's forest.
    But toward the end of the afternoon, Tom saw smoke rising above the trees, and found the home of a solitary verderer, one of the king's forest police.

  • transept: the transversal part of a cruciform church that crosses at right angles to the greatest length between the nave and the apse.
    The crosspiece consisted of two transepts which stuck out to the north and south either side of the altar.

  • obedientiary: one of the minor officials in a medieval monastery appointed by the abbot.
    He was one of the obedientiaries, the senior officers of the monastery.

  • quire: the part of a church appropriated to the singers.
    Nearest the crossing was the quire, with wooden stalls where the monks sat and stood during the services.

  • almoner: a onetime official of a monastery charged with distributing alms.
    ... there were three more officials who were nominally under his control but had a degree of independence, the guest-master, the infirmarer, who looked after old and sick monks in a separate building; and the almoner.

  • merels: an ancient game for two in which each player has from 3 to 12 counters placed at the angles of a figure consisting of three concentric squares and tries to be first to secure a row of 3 on any line.
    The game was obviously a variant of merels, or ninemen's morris, and probably a gift brought back from Normandy by Aliena's father.

  • tetchily: irritably or peevishly sensitive.
    "I know what battlements are for," the earl interrupted tetchily.

  • jongleur: an itinerant medieval minstrel reciting and singing for hire.
    "Yes, he was a jongleur. He told me all those poems, just the way I told them to you."

  • voussoir: one of the tapering or wedge-shaped pieces forming an arch or vault.
    The apprentices, among whom was Tom's stepson, Jack, built the arch up from either side, with the wedge-shaped stones called voussoirs.

  • aspergillum: a short-handled brush used for sprinkling holy water.
    Each bishop carried a small brush called an aspergillum and a vessel of holy water, and as they marched, singing, they dipped the brushes in the water and sprinkled the walls of the church.

  • compline: the last liturgical prayer of the day said after nightfall or just before retiring.
    Philip put down the template. "I must go in to compline." He turned away.

  • barbican: an outer defensive work of a city or castle; especially, a tower at a gate or bridge.
    It had a stout stone wall with a castellated parapet, and here, where previously the bridge had led straight into the main street, the way was barred by a stone-built barbican with enormously heavy iron-clad doors that now stood open but were undoubtedly shut tight at night.

  • shriven: to have been freed from guilt, especially by confessing one's sins to a priest.
    He had watched her weaken, he had seen her eyes close, he had heard her breathing stop, and he had let her die unshriven.

  • justiciar: a high royal judicial officer in medieval England; especially a justice of one of the superior courts.
    While the earls and bishops and abbots met in the keep, the lesser nobility gathered in the castle courtyard: the knights and sheriffs, minor barons, justiciars and castellans; people who could not stay away from the capital city while their future and the future of the kingdom were being decided.

  • posset: a hot drink consisting essentially of sweetened and spiced milk curdled with ale or wine, and sometimes thickened with bread.
    William, who normally ate and drank heartily, was nibbling bread, and sipping posset, a drink made with milk, beer, eggs and nutmeg, to calm his bilious stomach.

4 years ago
1 comment

Recent comments:[write a comment]
(4 years ago)When I listened to the book several terms related to a church's architecture and layout were new to me. Of course I don't remember them all now, although transept was one and I think apse was another. Shriven was on one of my word lists a few months ago. For the last few weeks I've been watching the BBC series Brother Cadfael, which takes place in an abbey at Shrewsbury in the mid 1100's during the civil war between King Stephen and Empress Maud. Listening to "Pillars of the Earth" made me familiar with the time, location, and politics of the story. Compline, matins, and maybe vespers are used to identify the times of day. A witness might say he saw someone leaving a house right after the compline bell, for example. Jon
Jon Maloney
Unfamiliar words from Portent

I've just finished reading "Portent" by James Herbert (1992). Unknown words follow.

banquette: a platform lining a trench or parapet wall on which soldiers may stand when firing

boffin: (chiefly British) a scientist, especially one engaged in research

burn: a small stream; a brook

crepuscular: of or like twilight; dim

croft: (chiefly British) a small farm, especially a tenant farm

empyrean: the highest reaches of heaven, believed by the ancients to be a realm of pure fire or light

gink: (slang) a man, especially one regarded as foolish or contemptible

piezoelectricity: the generation of electricity or of electric polarity in dielectric crystals subjected to mechanical stress, or the generation of stress in such crystals subjected to an applied voltage

silviculture: the care and cultivation of forest trees

strath: a wide, flat river valley

tenebrous: dark and gloomy

vapid: lacking liveliness, animation, or interest; dull
(I've seen vapid many times, but I never knew its meaning)

waggish: characteristic of or resembling a wag; jocular or witty

whinstone: any of various hard, dark-colored rocks, especially basalt and chert


About to start the Hugo-winning "Spin" by Robert Charles Wilson (2005)

Jon Maloney
4 years ago

Recent comments:[write a comment]
(4 years ago)"Crepuscular" looks like an adjective to me, meaning "crepe-like; resembling crinkled paper", which is completely wrong! After reading your poem I hope I remember crepuscular is an adjective meaning twilight. I performed a couple of searches. Your quotation is from Hugo's book "Les Feuilles d'automne" (Autumn Leaves) published in 1831. Jon
Jon Maloney
(4 years ago)Sometimes, there are verses of a poem you never forget... You mentioning 'crépuscular' reminds me of a wonderful description by Victor Hugo of the evening, that I once learned during my French courses: "La nuit, pas à pas, monte au trône obscur des soirs ; Un coin du ciel est brun, l’autre lutte avec l’ombre, Et déjà, succédant au couchant rouge et sombre, Le crépuscule gris meurt sur les coteaux noirs." (An attempt to translate... The night accesses step by step the throne of the evenings; A corner of the sky is brown, another struggles with the shadows, And yet, following the red and somber of the setting (sun), the gray dim dies on the black coasts.)
Ann v.Roy
(4 years ago)Back to the words. My favorite word in this list is "croft" because "Croft" is the name of a small rural community about ten miles up the highway from where I grew up: There was a railroad stop, an intersection, and a few small buildings including a general store that was founded in 1908. Now I know the name means a small tenant farm. I'm also glad to learn silviculture and empyrean. Jon
Jon Maloney
(4 years ago)I discovered that the miniseries existed a few weeks ago and added it to my movies-to-see list. I will be getting it from Netflix someday. At the same time I discovered that another great long book, "The Company" by Robert Littell (which I also listened to unabridged for 41 hours), had also been made into a 2007 miniseries of 286 minutes. I'll be watching that someday too. Jon
Jon Maloney
(4 years ago)Apparently Starz Movie Channel made Pillars of the Earth into an 8-part miniseries that aired in July and August. It's now available for instant watch on Netflix. Donald Sutherland, Eddie Redmayne, Rufus Sewel and others star in it. I would think this would translate nicely to the screen, looking forward to watching it. I think my wife would like it, but there's no way she's reading a thousand page novel.
(4 years ago)It was unabridged. According to Amazon it was 41 hours.
Jon Maloney
(4 years ago)Pillars of the Earth is 1000 pages long. How long did that take to listen to on tape?
(4 years ago)I listened to "Pillars of the Earth" on cassette tapes. Good book. That is set in the 1100's. "Portent" is set in the 1990's, but James Herbert is British and uses some words reflective of old England. Jon
Jon Maloney
(4 years ago)I'm just about done with The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. It appears that it might be set in the same time frame as the book you just read. One of the unfamiliar words I'll be posting is "undercroft", which has the root "croft" from your list. I knew vapid and waggish but none of the rest. I do like the work "tenebrous". It's descriptive. Here's the pronounciation, which I had guessed at incorrectly:
Dark Rivers of the Heart by Dean Koontz

Koontz novels are always good for a nice list of unfamiliar words, many of them sinister or dark in nature. This book is about a nice man, a nice woman, and a nice dog, and a bad, bad man who wants to kill them.

  • deliquesced: to melt away: disappear as though by melting. Buildings blurred into one another, traffic flowed sluggishly, and streets deliquesced into gray mists.

  • prie-dieu: a small kneeling bench designed for use by a person at prayer. In scores of towns, those countless taverns were, in their essence, the same church confessional; sitting on a barstool instead of kneeling on a prie-dieu, he murmured the same admissions to strangers who were not priests and could not give him absolution.

  • rataplan: the iterative sound of beating. The night was silent except for the incessant rataplan of the rain.

  • cicatricial: relating to or having the character of a scar.

  • keloid: a thick scar resulting from excessive growth of fibrous tissue. How many new scars if he survived - how many pale and puckered cicatricial welts or red keloid monstrosities from hairline to chin?

  • coruscate: to gleam with intermittent flashes. Pain coruscated through his legs, weakening him and testing his balance.

  • jalousied: having horizontal slats. If it had been fixed or jalousied he would have been trapped. Fortunately, it was a single pane that opened inward from the top on a heavy-duty piano hinge.

  • coelenterate: any of a species of radially symmetrical invertebrate animals including the corals, sea anemones, jellyfishes, and hydroids. Down the middle of the hall is an intricately patterned Persian runner, in which the curved and curled and undulant shapes absorb the radiance of the full moon and glow dimly with it: Hundreds of pale, luminous coelenterate forms seem to be not immediately under my feet but well below me, as if I am not on a carpet but am walking Christlike on the surface of a tidepool while gazing down at the mysterious denizens at the bottoms.

  • lumpen: of or relating to dispossessed and uprooted individuals cut off from the economic and social class with which they might normally be identified. "I would hate to think," Spencer said, "that you are a dropout, resigned to the status of a lumpen mammal, unconcerned about being exploited, all fur and no fury."

  • ormolu: golden or gilded brass or bronze used for decorative purposes. Early-nineteenth-century French furniture, with elaborate marquetry and ormolu.

  • lambent: softly bright or radiant. Under the lambent light of the laser, another print appeared.

  • reliquary: a container or shrine in which sacred relics are kept. Reluctantly, while stopped at a traffic light, he returned the hand to the container. He put that reliquary and its precious contents under the driver's seat.

  • philtrum: the vertical groove on the median line of the upper lip. Nothing about the set or width of her mouth, the contours of her philtrum, or the shape of her teeth was even intriguing, let alone electrifying.

  • glabella: the smooth prominence of the forehead between the eyebrows. Slowly, he moved his finger toward her face as he said, "You. Have. The. Most. Exquisite. Glabella. I. Have. Ever. Seen."

  • lagniappe: a gratuity of any kind, tip "Yes, I'm sure that without the lagniappe of Ackblom's art, things here would be grim indeed."

4 years ago

Recent comments:[write a comment]
(4 years ago)Cicatricial (from the French 'cicatrice', scar), keloid, philtrum and glabella are familiar for me - since they are all part of medical terminology - as are prie-dieu (directly from French) and reliquary (the last two are maybe more common to Europeans?). I didn't know 'jalousied' as an English word, but 'jaloezie' (from the French 'jalousie') is a 'every-day' Dutch word for a blind with adjustable horizontal slats. A 'Prie-Dieux' is often seen on medieval paintings, like the one of “The Virgin and Child with Chancellor Rolin” by Jan van Eyck, a Belgian painter living in the 15th Century. In many European churches, you can see medieval reliquaries, like the Shrine of the Three Kings in the Cologne Cathedral. (In Dutch, we even call it a 'reliekschrijn', literally 'reliquary-shrine'.) The other words were completely new for me.
Ann v.Roy
(4 years ago)No worries. You're quite lucid. I didn't intend to hijack your unfamiliar words thread, but of course anyone who wants to post about the words shouldn't hesitate to do so. Jon
Jon Maloney
(4 years ago)Odd Thomas was good and I thought Fear Nothing was good. I didn't like Intensity that much, it was far too straightforward for Koontz. I have not read Lightning nor Strange Highways, but I did mooch them both recently. I met a woman the other day who had read one Koontz book and written him off for good. She said it was about high school jocks who took performance enhancing drugs and then became supernatural evil beings. I don't know which book this is, but it sounds as if it could be Koontz. I also know that if my first Koontz book had been Dark Rivers of the Heart, I probably would not have been in a hurry to read more. And I think, thus lies the interest in this author. He's not a Nora Roberts, who always pleases all her fans. Every Koontz reader, I'm sure, has their favorites and least favorites, and those choices probably differ drastically from other fans. He is a very divergent author, including all sorts of different elements of mystery, suspense, horror, crime fiction, and the paranormal in each of his works. Truthfully, I don't really even understand how a single author can stray so far from his comfort zone from book to book. I apologize for any incoherence, I've had a few drinks tonight. Jeremy
(4 years ago)It's interesting that Dark Rivers of the Heart is the only Koontz book you recommend that overlaps mine. I have read Fear Nothing Dean Koontz : Fear Nothing, Lightning Dean R. Koontz : Lightning, and Intensity Dean Koontz : Intensity. Fear Nothing was okay, but not good enough for me to want to continue the Moonlight Bay trilogy. I disliked Intensity. Lightning was my big unexpected surprise the year I read it. I thought it was a great time-travel story that managed to avoid major common writing flaws. Lightning is what made me decide to give Koontz more chances. I have Dark Rivers of the Heart, Odd Thomas, and Strange Highways I'll research some of the titles you recommended. Thanks. Jon
Jon Maloney
(4 years ago)I bet the reliquary in your list wasn't a tupperware container with a severed hand inside!
I would say that Dark Rivers of the Heart is toward the bottom of the Koontz scale for me. But that doesn't mean I wouldn't recommend it, I have not read any Koontz that I wouldn't recommend. This novel was a little too compartmentalized and spent too much time on technology. You know how it is when you read a 15 year old book that spends a lot of time talking about super-advanced technology? It may have seemed super advanced 15 years ago, but nowadays linking to a remote computer from a car or plane is something just about anyone can do!
So, I would recommend you read any of these other Koontz novels first: Cold Fire, One Door Away From Heaven, The Face, The Husband, or The Darkest Evening of the Year. Cold Fire was one of the most riveting books I've ever read, in particular, it contains a 50-page extremely detailed, first-person account of a passenger airline crash. However, Cold Fire is not for the faint of heart, I was so scared I stayed up almost all night to finish the last 300 pages.
Koontz often, but not always, writes about the paranormal, frequently coming up with characters and situations that are "as close to sheer physical terror as the printed page can produce", to quote a book review in Cold Fire.

(4 years ago)Great list. Interestingly, the following words were also on my unfamiliar word lists recently: deliquesced, jalousie, ormolu, and reliquary. I also knew keloid, coruscate, and philtrum. I recognize coelenterate, lambent, and lagniappe, but never remember what they mean when I see them. The others are new to me. I especially like rataplan and lumpen. I hope I remember those. Coincidentally, Dean Koontz : Dark Rivers of the Heart is on my to-be-read shelf, but it's one I wasn't really sure I wanted to read, so I pushed it to the back where it will be years before I get to it. Did you like it enough to recommend it? Jon
Jon Maloney
Unfamiliar words from Tractrix

I've just finished R. J. Archer : Tractrix (Seeds of Civilization) (2004). I only noted one unfamiliar word.

vigesimal: based on or relating to twenty


About to start: David Gerrold : The Man Who Folded Himself (1973)

Jon Maloney
4 years ago

Recent comments:[write a comment]
(4 years ago)I found that a synonym is vicenary. I can't say that I was familiar with either of these words. But then again, I can't think of an instance where I might actually use them!
(4 years ago)I'm glad you enjoy these posts, Ann. Thanks for your posts. I should have known vigesimal. I had three years of Latin in school, but that was long ago and I never really used it. Occasionally I'll know what a new word means because I recognize it's Latin root. It also helps me spell correctly sometimes. For example, I sometimes see the word "benefit" misspelled as "benifit", and I realize if the speller knew it was from Latin "bene" they would have spelled it correctly. Jon
Jon Maloney
(4 years ago)I really like this forum... English is a foreign language to me (I speak Dutch, and like most Flemish folks I learned first French before I started learning English). Of course, most English words that are unclear to me are just common knowledge for people from English speaking countries - but it is sometimes reassuring that words that are obvious to me, can be unclear to people who speak English daily... (I won't start a thread in this forum, as the list of unfamiliar words from one book would probably be too long to post - but from time to time I will try to tell something about the origins of a word mentioned here, as I do love ethymology. Vigesimal is derived from the Latin for twenty, 'viginti'.)
Ann v.Roy
Unfamiliar words from The Death of Grass

I've just finished John Christopher : Death of Grass (1956), about the survival of a small group after society collapses. I enjoyed it.

concupiscence: a strong desire, especially sexual desire; lust

culm: the stem of a grass or similar plant

plimsoll: (Chiefly British) a rubber-soled cloth shoe; a sneaker

prodrome: an early symptom indicating the onset of an attack or a disease

woad: an annual Old World plant (Isatis tinctoria) in the mustard family, formerly cultivated for its leaves that yield a blue dye


Reading: R. J. Archer : Tractrix (Seeds of Civilization)

Jon Maloney
4 years ago

Recent comments:[write a comment]
(4 years ago)Only now I see you wrote 'prodrome'... That's new to me. I though it was 'prodromen' in English too (as it is in Latin from where the word is derived.)
Ann v.Roy
(4 years ago)The way Christopher used the word "prodrome" in The Death of Grass was interesting. "Prodrome" was the title of what in other books would have been titled "Prologue". It was the book's first section before chapter one. Jon
Jon Maloney
(4 years ago)Being a doctor, I knew the word prodromen, which is the same in Dutch, and living in the old world and having an enormous interest in herbs and plants and their uses, I also know woad (wede in Dutch). The other words are new to me. In temperate climates, woad is an important source for an indigo-coloured dye, that was used in the past to color jeans.
Ann v.Roy
(4 years ago)I know concupiscence and plimsoll. Had heard and read woad, but never looked it up. Thanks, Jon.
This Forum is Open to Everyone's Posts Now

This forum is now open to posts from everyone.

Please post new words you come across in your reading here.

No one should have any more trouble in posting to this forum.


Jon Maloney
4 years ago
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New words from Desert Crossing

Here's a couple words from Luke Short's Desert Crossing. It's an old Western, and the words convey that tone.

  • remuda: the herd of saddle horses from which are chosen those to be used for the day by the ranch hands

  • malpais: rough country underlain by dark especially basaltic lava. From the Spanish mal pais: "bad country"

  • ambulance: a passenger vehicle in the old West

  • aparejo: a packsaddle of stuffed leather or canvas

4 years ago
1 comment

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(4 years ago)I don't know any of those. I like "remuda". That seems like it would have been a useful and common word in the old west. Jon
Jon Maloney
From Under the Color of Law by Michael McGarrity

Edited quote: "Give me you thoughts." "It's a real slumgullion!"

Slumgullion (Merriam-Webster): Etymology: perhaps from slum slime + English dial. gullion mud, cesspool
Date: 1890
: a meat stew

4 years ago
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Unfamiliar words from: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

I finished reading the 846-page "Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell" by Susanna Clarke (2004). Here are the words whose meanings I didn't know. I had seen several of the words without knowing what they meant. With luck I may remember a few of them the next time I see them.

beadle: a minor parish official formerly employed in an English church to usher and keep order during services

beck: a small brook; a creek (chiefly British)

bicorn: having two horns or horn-shaped parts (used in the book to describe a hat)

bodkin: a small, sharply pointed instrument for making holes in fabric or leather

chaffinch: a small European songbird (Fringilla coelebs), the male of which has predominately reddish-brown plumage

clout: a piece of cloth, especially a baby's diaper

cockatrice: a serpent hatched from a cock's egg and having the power to kill by its glance

comfit: a confection that consists of a piece of fruit, a seed, or a nut coated with sugar

condole: to express sympathy or sorrow (I knew condolences, but I never knew the root)

coppice: a thicket or grove of small trees or shrubs; copse (I knew copse)

costermonger: one who sells fruit, vegetables, fish, or other goods from a cart, barrow, or stand in the streets (chiefly British)

counterpane: a cover for a bed; bedspread

dilatory: intended to delay

dissimulate: to disguise (one's intentions, for example, under a feigned appearance)

dissolute: lacking moral restraint; indulging in sensual pleasure or vices

drugget: a heavy felted fabric of wool or wool and cotton, used as a floor covering

epitome: a brief summary, as of a book or an article; an abstract

fieldfare: an old world thrush (Turdus pilaris) having gray and reddish-brown plumage

frog: an ornamental looped braid or cord with a button or knot for fastening the front of a garment

fulsome: offensively flattering or insincere

gad: to move about restlessly and with little purpose

garth: a yard, garden, or paddock

gig: a light, two-wheeled carriage drawn by one horse

grappa: an Italian brandy distilled from the pomace of grapes used in winemaking

handsel: a gift to express good wishes at the beginning of a new year or enterprise (chiefly British)

lacuna: an empty space or missing part; gap

lapwing: any of several Old World birds of the genus Vanellus related to the plovers, especially Vanellus vanellus, having a narrow crest and erratic flight behavior

lorgnette: a pair of eyeglasses or opera glasses with a short handle

manticore: a legendary monster having the head of a man, the body of a lion, and the tail of a dragon or scorpion

mantua: a loose gown, open in front to reveal an underskirt, worn by European women in the 17th and 18th centuries

mendacious: lying; untruthful

parlous: perilous; dangerous

pease: a pea (I knew "pease porridge hot" from the rhyme, but never knew what a "pease" was)

pediment: a wide, low-pitched gable surmounting the facade of a building in the Grecian style

pelisse: a long cloak or outer robe, usually of fur or with a fur lining

phaeton: a light, four-wheeled, open carriage, usually drawn by a pair of horses

pianoforte: piano

postilion: one who rides the near horse of the leaders to guide the horses drawing a coach

potboy: a boy or man who works in an inn or a public house serving customers and doing chores (chiefly British)

seneschal: an official in a medieval noble household in charge of domestic arrangements and the administration of servants; a steward or major-domo

settle: a long wooden bench with a high back, often including storage space beneath the seat

skep: a beehive, especially one of straw

sough: a soft murmuring or rustling sound

thaumaturgy: the working of miracle or magic feats

thrall: one, such as a slave or serf, who is held in bondage

undercroft: a crypt, especially one used for burial under a church

verger: one who takes care of the interior of a church and acts as an attendant during ceremonies

viol: any of a family of stringed instruments, chiefly of the 16th and 17th centuries, having a fretted fingerboard, usually six strings, and a flat back and played with a curved bow

wyvern: a two-legged dragon having wings and a barbed tail


Starting: The Watch Below by James White (1966)

Jon Maloney
4 years ago

Recent comments:[write a comment]
(4 years ago)That's interesting about pianoforte. Thanks for posting. Jon
Jon Maloney
(4 years ago)"Pianoforte": The instrument we now know as "piano" was at first called a "Clavicembalo col piano e forte", meaning something like "a harpsichord that can play both piano (soft) and forte (loud)". Indeed, with a harpsichord it wasn't possible to vary the volume... As that was too long to use in everyday talk, it was soon shortened to Pianoforte and later to piano...
Ann v.Roy
(4 years ago)Henry, "Vernix" is new to me. The definition in my American Heritage Dictionary differs from your OED. vernix: n. A waxy white protective substance covering the skin of a fetus. Short for vernix caseosa. I guess it's greasy and waxy. :-) Jon
Jon Maloney
(4 years ago)Just ran across a new one: Vernix: (Med.) In full, vernix caseosa. A greasy deposit covering the skin of a baby at birth. From the OED. Unusual.
(4 years ago)I haven't been receiving emails from the forum for a few days. I have to manually check to see if anything I follow has been updated. Rob, I found "Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell" to be very imaginative, scholarly, slow-paced and boring. There's very little plot, or several weak parallel plots. I found myself not caring very much about anybody. Like you, I found it a tough read. I stuck with it and finished it though. I even read all the footnotes. The body of fictional works cited is impressive. Here's a list on Wikipedia of the works referenced: In a neat coincidence I finished the book late in the afternoon and then watched a movie that night, "Azumi" (2003), which began with a massive flock of ravens that filled the screen. I felt like the book was continuing into my movie life. Gareth, You're right about epitome, but it has more than one meaning: Jon Reading: The Watch Below by James White (1966)
Jon Maloney
(4 years ago)This is an upcoming book in my TBR so thanks for the heads up. Fortunately, it looks like most of the words are peculiar to the English idiom or to fantasy literature, so I think I should be ok. Are you sure about epitome though? I thought that meant 'an ideal example'.
(4 years ago)What did you think of the book? I found myself alternating between wanting to stop reading and wanting to continue. I found it quite a hard book to complete.
(4 years ago)That's a really good list! I know a few, but most I haven't seen before. Thanks for sharing!
Unfamiliar words from The Watch Below

I just finished reading "The Watch Below" by James White (1966).There were just four words I didn't know.

astrogator: the navigator of a spacecraft, as in celestial flight (I knew what this meant from context, but I didn't recall seeing the word before.)

emetic: an agent that causes vomiting (I'd seen this, but never looked it up)

serge: a twilled cloth of worsted or worsted and wool, often used for suits

withal: in addition; besides (I've seen "withal", but I realized I couldn't come close to defining it. Here's the sentence in the book, "It was cold and dark withal, for its occupants had practically nothing in common with humanity save the possession of high intelligence." (page 110)


Next book: Orphanage by Robert Buettner (2004)

Jon Maloney
4 years ago

Recent comments:[write a comment]
(4 years ago)I played some more after I read your post. Incredibly, "serge" was one of the words. I've passed the link around. My brother recently earned 1900 grains in one session. It's interesting how often I seem to run into words again shortly after posting them. I've run into emetic twice, counterpane, and others recently. Jon
Jon Maloney
(4 years ago)Whoops! I knew emetic, too.
(4 years ago)One short enough I can wrap my foggy brain around. I knew serge, but my understanding of withal was on your level. I've got a permanent link to freerice on my blog -- and there are other games besides vocabulary games, too.
(4 years ago)I used to do that quite a bit until I tired of it. I just now went to the site again and decided to give grains until I missed a word. I missed "clinquant" (glittering) and only gave 40 grains this time. Thanks for posting the link. Jon
Jon Maloney
(4 years ago)You seem to have enjoyed coming across words with which you are unfamiliar. I like this too and am never far from a dictionary. However, if you would like to further your wordsmithing, try this site. You improve your vocabulary and feed the world while having a bit of fun!
Randy Schultz
Unfamiliar words from Berserker

"Berserker" by Fred Saberhagen (1967) is a collection of stories about encounters between Berserkers and humans. Berserkers were self-repairing machines designed by a warring race long ago to kill life wherever they found it. The book only had two words that were unfamiliar to me.

commensal: of, relating to, or characterized by a symbiotic relationship in which one species is benefited while the other is unaffected

tucket: a trumpet fanfare


Reading: "The Death of Grass" by John Christopher (1956)

Jon Maloney
4 years ago
1 comment

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(4 years ago)I just finished an historical (France & England, circa 1790's) where one of the characters, a man, (although a 'foppish' one) was dressed head to toe in "astrakan". I was clue-less. But I figured it had to be some kind of fur or pelt as it was winter and the group was going ice skating. Boy, did I get an education when I googled that one. This fur goes by many names (karakul, KaraKool, astrakhan wool etc) It comes from the fetus of a sheep from the Russian province of Astrakhan. It hadn't been popular with fashion designers and then got very IN in 2005. And many orgs. decried the cruelty to mom and baby sheep in the harvesting of this product. That's one word I'd have been happy to not know the meaning of.
Unfamiliar words from More Than Human

"More Than Human" by Theodore Sturgeon (1953) is a strange, non-linear story with bizarre characters, built around an interesting evolutionary possibility.

abreact: to release (repressed emotions) by acting out as in words, behavior, or the imagination, the situation causing the conflict

beldame: an old woman, especially one who is considered ugly

cadge: to beg or get by begging

catchpenny: designed and made to sell without concern for quality; cheap

dimity: a sheer, crisp cotton fabric with raised woven stripes or checks, used chiefly for curtains and dresses

electroscope: an instrument used to detect the presence, sign, and in some configurations the magnitude of an electric charge by the mutual attraction or repulsion of metal foils or pith balls

elide: to eliminate or leave out of consideration

foofaraw: a fuss over a trifling matter

gore: a triangular or tapering piece of cloth forming a part of something, as in a skirt or sail

harrow: a farm implement consisting of a heavy frame with sharp teeth or upright disks, used to break up and even off plowed ground

marquisette: a sheer fabric of cotton, rayon, silk, or nylon used for clothing, curtains, and mosquito nets

penurious: ungenerously or pettily unwilling to spend money

scend: to heave upward on a wave or swell

spavin: swelling, especially a bony enlargement of the hock of a horse associated with strain


About to start: Berserker by Fred Saberhagen (1967)

Jon Maloney
4 years ago
1 comment

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(4 years ago)I've heard and seen "harrow" many times, but never knew exactly what the implement was. I've also seen penurious and elide.
Jon Maloney
Unfamiliar words from Orphanage

These unfamiliar words are from "Orphanage" by Robert Buettner (2004).

alidade: an indicator or a sighting apparatus on a plane table, used in angular measurement

astrobleme: a scar on the earth's surface left from the impact of a meteorite

balalaika: a Russian instrument with a triangular body and three strings that produces sounds like those of a mandolin

rhyolite: a fine-grained extrusive volcanic rock, similar to granite in composition and usually exhibiting flow lines

salient: the area of a military defense, such as a battle line, that projects closest to the enemy

sear: the catch in a gunlock that keeps the hammer halfcocked or fully cocked


About to start: "More than Human" by Theodore Sturgeon (1952)

Jon Maloney
4 years ago
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New words to me

I do not have as vast a vocabulary as some, but here are some words I've come across so far in a translation of Fyodor Dostoyevsky : Crime and Punishment (Penguin Classics) that I didn't know. These are contained within the first two chapters.

slaked- to cause disintegration of (lime) by treatment with water

erstwhile- former; of times past

jobber- a wholesale merchant, esp. one selling to retailers

nankeen- a firm, durable, yellow or buff fabric, formerly made from a natural-colored Chinese cotton

oleaginous- having the nature or qualities of oil

blackguard- a low, contemptible person; scoundrel

magnanimous- generous in forgiving an insult or injury; free from petty resentfulness or vindictiveness

4 years ago

Recent comments:[write a comment]
(4 years ago)I enjoyed your list, Lisa. Thanks for posting. I knew erstwhile and magnanimous. I've seen jobber but didn't know the definition. Like Rebel Sun, I know slake as in quenching thirst. Jon
Jon Maloney
(4 years ago)I read that book fairly recently as well...I didn't know "nankeen" (but figured it to be some kind of cloth material from context)...and I have often seen "slaked" used in terms of "slaking one's thirst"...I had no idea it meant "to cause disintegration of (lime) by treatment with water"...interesting (you learn something new everyday!)
Rebel Sun
Unfamiliar Words from "Slave Ship" by Frederik Pohl

From Frederik Pohl : Slave Ship (1957).

admixture: the state of being mingled or mixed

agglutinate: to cause to adhere, as with glue

airscrew: (Chiefly British) the propeller of an airplane

approbation: an expression of warm approval, praise

brightwork: metal parts or fixtures made bright by polishing

corvette: a fast, lightly armed warship, smaller than a destroyer, often armed for antisubmarine operations

greylag: a wild gray goose (Anser anser) of Europe

iodoform: a yellowish crystalline iodine compound

keelson: a timber or girder fastened above and parallel to the keel of a ship or boat for additional strength

littoral: of or on a shore, especially a seashore

ladino: In Central America, a Spanish-speaking or acculturated Indian; a mestizo

sternsheets: the stern area of an open boat

telltales: any of various devices that indicate or register information

teosinte: a tall Mexican and Central American annual plant (Zea mexicana) related to corn and cultivated for fodder

(I recognized admixture, approbation, corvette, littoral, and telltales but I wasn't clear on their meanings.)


About to start: Bruce Moen : Voyage to Curiosity's Father (Exploring the Afterlife Series) (2001)

Jon Maloney
4 years ago

Recent comments:[write a comment]
(4 years ago)You write good, Rebel Sun, both here and in your prose elsewhere. :-) I try to only list the definitions meant by the book, but often that's a guess because when I jot down a word I don't include the page number. When I finish the book and start looking up words I often don't recall the exact way it was used in the sentence. Words like admixture and agglutinate were both problematic in that there are multiple close definitions. Here's what my American Heritage Dictionary says for admixture, for example. "n. 1.a. The act of mixing or mingling. b. The state of being mingled or mixed. 2. Something that is produced by mixing; a mixture. 3. Something added in mixing. See synonyms at mixture." I'm still not comfortable with admixture. I would have trouble using it in a sentence except as a synonym for mixture. Agglutinate is a verb with three transitive definitions and three intransitive definitions in my dictionary. I'm not comfortable with that word either. I like telltales. I'm pretty sure the way it was used is that the main character looked at the telltales as he navigated his boat. I think it meant his nautical instruments. Jon
Jon Maloney
(4 years ago)I knew admixture, airscrew, approbation, corvette, littoral, telltales and also agglutinate (as a noun...didn't know it could be a verb) but have never heard (or leastwise don't remember hearing) any of the others. I might have to try this index card idea...maybe I can 'make more big my word knowing'.
Rebel Sun
(4 years ago)Emily & Margot, I subscribed to the daily digest and happily got all of the old forum's posts be email. With the new forum I saw no way to do that. As Rob said, you'd have to log on frequently and subscribe to each new forum, and even then you would miss posts made in the forum before you subscribed to it. I wonder how long people will be willing to struggle with that every day? Anyway, I realized that no one who likes my word posts would automatically receive them, which is why I posted the link in the discussion forum. I'm glad it worked. I see the word forum now has 7 members. Yesterday it had 2, and one was me. Jon
Jon Maloney
(4 years ago)Didn't know airscrew, greylag, iodoform, keelson, teosinte. I thought that sternsheets were sails, so I guess I didn't know that one either. Didn't know this definition of ladino. Ladino is also a language spoken by Middle Eastern and Spanish Jews, a sort of Yiddish with a Spanish base instead of German. And what Emily said. Thanks.
Unfamiliar words from After the Fall by Robert Sheckley (1980)

I used to post unfamiliar words from my books on the old forum. I might as well continue the practice. :-) I only list the definition I think was meant in the book.

Robert Sheckle : After the Fall (1980) is an anthology of upbeat stories about the end of the world. I only liked two of the fifteen stories: "A Very Good Year" by Roger Zelazny and "The Kingdom of O'Ryan" by Bob Shaw.

dysphoria: an emotional state characterized by anxiety, depression, and restlessness

fatuity: smug stupidity; utter foolishness

houri: a voluptuous alluring woman

mantilla: a lightweight lace or silk scarf worn over the head and shoulders, often over a high comb, by women in Spain and Latin America

thermion: an electrically charged particle, especially an electron, emitted by a conducting material at high temperatures


About to start: Geoff Ryman : Air: Or, Have Not Have

Jon Maloney
5 years ago

Recent comments:[write a comment]
(4 years ago)The "Ha!" was for me: the best I've done on one of Jon's lists.
(4 years ago)Margot, I hope you were joking about the Ha! Like you I knew dysphoria, fatuity, houri, and mantilla but it was due to reading for my degree and then reading for pleasure. Glad to learn a new word and the definition i.e. thermion: an electrically charged particle, especially an electron, emitted by a conducting material at high temperatures. You never know when you can use a word to knock down a fatuous statement by an individual, who appears to be arrogant, do you? Thank you Jon for giving me hope that others than me may admit their ignorance, not stupidity, and learn to find the meanings of the words they are reading. Kudos, JD P.S. I am grammatically challenged so I hope you understood the gist of my post.
(4 years ago)Those are all new words to me. I read a lot but not diverse or "heavy" enough for those words. I like the idea and the list.
(4 years ago)Super idea Jon, the book has become more alluring by virtue of discovering the words within it, rather than the title/author. Hurry up and read the next book ;0)
Jo Harpley
(5 years ago)Elisabeth, I'm glad you enjoy the lists. Thanks for commenting. - Jon
Jon Maloney
(5 years ago)...& then what about when you use an obscure word at work like I tend to do & colleagues don't know what I'm talking about. Ha! I just tell them to read more, they might learn something!
(5 years ago)I love words -- and I also love tests! Taking them, at least -- don't think I would like making them. I knew all the words, and look forward to seeing the next list!
(5 years ago)You're welcome to think about them anyway you like, Margot. Tests or games are both fine. If people enjoy the lists, that's good, regardless of perspective. Jon
Jon Maloney
(5 years ago)Tests have never bothered me. I figure I know the answers or I don't. At test time, there's not much you can do about it. How about if I think of the lists as a game?
(5 years ago)Mark S? I didn't know your id was Psybre. When I posted to you earlier I didn't know I was talking to you! I'm glad you're still enjoying the word lists. Drought! by Ralph Hayes yielded no words. Margot, You know a lot of words. I hate to think of my lists as tests though. I'm just sharing them in hopes other people might find them interesting. Jon
Jon Maloney
(5 years ago)Hey Jon, Glad to see you are continuing to contribute to my "Gmail Vocabulary Search" project. :) I think you're really going to enjoy "Air". Mark
(5 years ago)Ha! Got 'em all except thermion (which I will promptly forget).
Unfamiliar Words from Air by Geoff Ryman

I've just finished Geoff Ryman : Air: Or, Have Not Have (2004). Areas in which it excels include: originality, culture, language, frequent and wonderful use of similes, timeliness, and the conflict of old ways versus new ways. I prefer a more focused plot and faster pacing. I also thought it was marred by a major plot element that I found completely unbelievable. As usual, for each word I'll only include the definition I think was meant in the book.

chervil: an annual Eurasian herb (Anthriscus cerefolium) in the parsley family, having aromatic parsley-like leaves that are used as a seasoning or garnish

diwan: a long backless sofa, especially one set with pillows against a wall; divan

eldritch: strange or unearthly, eerie

moue: a small grimace, a pout

plash: a light splash

scrag: a piece of lean or bony meat, especially a neck of mutton

suppurate: to form or discharge pus

tabla: a small hand drum of India

tulle: a fine, often starched net of silk, rayon, or nylon used especially for veils, tutus, or gowns

(I had seen chervil and eldritch many times, but I had never looked them up. It seems like I remember eldritch from Poe or Lovecraft stories.)


About to start: Frederik Pohl : Slave Ship, 1957

Jon Maloney
4 years ago

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(4 years ago)You're welcome, JDV. I'm glad you enjoyed the list. Thanks for posting. Just to clarify something, I knew the word "divan". "Diwan" was a new word to me. I use an index card as a bookmark and jot down unfamiliar words on it as I read. When I've finished the book I look up the words. Rarely, but sometimes, I actually stop reading and look a word up right then if understanding it seems important enough at the time. I use the index card's reverse side to jot down names and memory ticklers for certain characters, like, "Charley - jeep drive who got killed". I hate encountering names later and having no idea who they are. Books that introduce a vast array of unimportant characters by name drive me crazy. :-) Jon Reading: Frederik Pohl : Slave Ship (1957)
Jon Maloney
(4 years ago)Thank you Jon for reminding me of words I know and new words. This time I knew chervil because I grow it and use it in cooking, the same with scrag as I've been very poor and of UK origin, divan because I have one, moue because of my reading and tulle because I took ballet lessons when I was but a babe. The rest, thank you for reminding me that the dictionary is a great place to learn! I look forward to the next list and learning more.
(4 years ago)I think I used to know eldritch, but forgot. Tabla I would have thought as some sort of table: wrong! I didn't recognise plash in isolation, but I would have known what it was in context. I didn't realise it was a real word. The rest I knew. I use chervil a lot and, having lived in England, I'm familiar with "scrag end" cuts of meat. Thanks, Jon. Keep it up.