Eco the Bibliomane

Reading Foucault’s Pendulum is a humbling experience for anybody who considers themselves remotely knowledgeable. Umberto Eco, I doff my hat to your erudition.

prior (n):

  1. an officer in a monastic order or religious house, sometimes next in rank below an abbot.
  2. a chief magistrate, as in the medieval republic of Florence.

telluric (adj):

  1. of or relating to Earth; terrestrial.
  2. derived from or containing tellurium, especially with valence 6.

apothegm (n): a short, pithy, instructive saying; a terse remark or aphorism.

zeugma (n): the use of a word to modify or govern two or more words when it is appropriate to only one of them or is appropriate to each but in a different way, as in to wage war and peace or On his fishing trip, he caught three trout and a cold.

sefirot (n): in Kabbalah, the ten attributes that God created through which he can manifest not only in the physical but the metaphysical universe.

stylite (n): one of a class of solitary ascetics who lived on the top of high pillars or columns.

simoom (n): a strong, hot, sand-laden wind of the Sahara and Arabian deserts.

Baphomet (n): an idol or symbolical figure which the Templars were accused of using in their mysterious rites.

reliquary (n): a repository or receptable for relics.

proscenium (n):

  1. the area of a modern theater that is located between the curtain and the orchestra.
  2. the stage of an ancient theater, located between the background and the orchestra.
  3. a proscenium arch.

fauteuils (n): an upholstered armchair, esp. one with open sides.

Calvary (n):

  1. Golgotha, the place where Jesus was crucified. Luke 23:33.
  2. (often lowercase) a sculptured representation of the Crucifixion, usually erected in the open air.
  3. (lowercase) an experience or occasion of extreme suffering, esp. mental suffering.

thurible (n): a censer used in certain ecclesiastical ceremonies or liturgies.

purulent (adj): full of, containing, forming or discharging pus.

vermeil (n):

  1. vermilion red.
  2. metal, as silver or bronze, that has been gilded.

decan (n): any of the three divisions of ten degrees within a sign of the zodiac.

caprine (n): of or pertaining to goats.

immure (v): to enclose within walls; confine.

conventicle (n): a secret or uanuthorised meeting, especially for religious worship, as those held nuy Protestant dissenters in England in the 16th and 17th centures.

bibliomane (n): bibliophile.

grimoire (n): a manual of black magic (for invoking spirits and demons).

stria (n):

  1. a slight or narrow furrow, ridge, stripe or streak, especially one of a number in parallel arrangement.
  2. (architecture) a flute on the shaft of a column.

kermis, kermesse (n): a local, annual outdoor fair or festival, often for charitable purposes.

George Eliot and an Expanded Vocabulary

There’s nothing like an English book from the 19th century to get you reaching for a dictionary. This time it was George Eliot’s Middlemarch, and here’s the mighty list of humdingers:

coxcomb (n): a conceited, foolish dandy; pretentious fop.

hymeneal (adj): of or pertaining to marriage.

hymeneal (n): a wedding song or poem.

cicerone (n): a person who conducts sightseers; guide.

codicil (n): a supplement or appendix, especially of a will.

canker (n):

  1. ulceration of the mouth and lips.
  2. an inflammation or infection of the ear and auditory canal, especially in dogs and cats.
  3. a condition in horses similar to but more advanced than thrush.
  4. a source of spreading corruption or decay.

canker (v): to infect with corruption or decay.

jackanape (n):

  1. an impertinent, presumptuous person, esp. a young man; whippersnapper.
  2. (archaic) an ape or monkey.

distaff (n):

  1. a staff that holds on its cleft end the unspun flax, wool, or tow from which thread is drawn in spinning by hand, and an attachment for a spinning wheel that serves this purpose.
  2. work and concerns traditionally considered important to women.
  3. women considered as a group.

hoyden (adj): boisterous; rude (also used as noun).

dram (adj): a small quantity of anything, especially liquor.

chyle (n): a turbid, white or pale yellow fluid taken up by the lacteals from the intestine during digestion and carried by the lymphatic system via the thoracic duct into the circulation.

fetlock (n):

  1. the projection of the leg of a horse behind the joint between the cannon bone and great pastern bone, bearing a tuft of hair.
  2. the tuft of hair itself, or the name of the joint.

prevenient (adj):

  1. coming before; preceding.
  2. expectant; anticipatory.

pelisse (n):

  1. an outer garment lined or trimmed with fur.
  2. a woman’s long cloak with slits for the arms.

cupidity (n): eager or excessive desire, esp. to possess something; greed; avarice.

bruit (v): to voice abroad; rumor (used chiefly in the passive and often followed by about)

bruit (n):

  1. any generally abnormal sound or murmur heard on auscultation (auscultation = the act of listening, either directly or through a stethoscope or other instrument, to sounds within the body as a method of diagnosis).
  2. (archaic) rumor; report.
  3. (archaic) noise; din; clamor.

postillion (n): a person who rides the left horse of the leading or only pair of horses drawing a carriage. refluent (adj): flowing back; ebbing, as the waters of a tide.

misprision (n):

  1. maladministration of public office.
  2. neglect in preventing or reporting a felony or treason by one not an accessory.
  3. an act of sedition against a government or the courts.

mercer (n): a dealer in textile fabrics; dry-goods merchant.

margrave (n):

  1. the lord or military governor of a medieval German border province.
  2. used as a hereditary title for certain princes in the Holy Roman Empire.

leveret (n): a young hare.

sciolism (n): superficial knowledge.

accoucher (n): a person who assists during childbirth, esp. an obstetrician.

liege (n):

  1. a feudal lord entitled to allegiance and service.
  2. a feudal vassal or subject.

liege (adj):

  1. owing primary allegiance and service to a feudal lord.
  2. pertaining to the relation between a feudal vassal and lord.
  3. loyal; faithful: the liege adherents of a cause

energumen (n): one possessed by an evil spirit; a demoniac.

galligaskins (n): leggings or gaiters, usually of leather, or loose trousers in general.

burgess (n):

  1. a freeman or citizen of an English borough.
  2. a member of the English Parliament who once represented a town, borough, or university.
  3. a member of the lower house of the legislature of colonial Virginia or Maryland.

Nietzsche and Unknowns

Mencken translated Nietzsche quite a while ago now and left me reaching for the dictionary for the following:

sirocco (n):

  1. a hot, dry, dustladen wind blowing from northern Africa and affecting parts of southern Europe, or any warm, sultry south or southeast wind accompanied by rain, occurring in the same regions.
  2. any hot, oppressive wind, esp. one in the warm sector of a cyclone.

chandala or chandal (n): an opprobrious term, reserved for a despised group of peoples in India by people of India in the Sanskritic literature. Currently it is a caste title used specifically in the Indo-Aryan speaking regions of India.

Philippic (n):

  1. any of the orations delivered by Demosthenes, the Athenian orator, in the 4th century BC, against Philip, king of Macedon.
  2. (lowercase) any speech or discourse of bitter denunciation.

assize (n):

  1. A session of a court, A decree or edict rendered at such a session.
  2. An ordinance regulating weights and measures and the weights and prices of articles of consumption, and the standards so established.
  3. One of the periodic court sessions formerly held in each of the counties of England and Wales for the trial of civil or criminal cases, and the time or place of such sessions.
  4. A judicial inquest, the writ by which it is instituted, or the verdict of the jurors.

Moloch (n):

  1. a deity whose worship was marked by the propitiatory sacrifice of children by their own parents.
  2. anything conceived of as requiring appalling sacrifice: the Moloch of war.
  3. (lowercase) a spiny agamid lizard, Moloch horridus, of Australian deserts, that resembles the horned lizard.

More Readings and Unknowns

From The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga:

rictus (n):

  1. the expanse of an open mouth, a bird’s beak, or similar structure.
  2. a gaping grimace: “his mouth gaping in a kind of rictus of startled alarm” (Richard Adams).

From Anna Karenina, the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation:

pharisaic (adj):

  1. (uppercase) of or pertaining to the Pharisees.
  2. (lowercase) practicing or advocating strict observance of external forms and ceremonies of religion or conduct without regard to the spirit; self-righteous; hypocritical.

trousseau (n): an outfit of clothing, household linen, etc., for a bride.

pell-mell (here defined as adverb, but can be noun and adjective):

  1. In a jumbled, confused manner; helter-skelter.
  2. In frantic disorderly haste; headlong.

roan (adj): having a chestnut, bay, or sorrel coat thickly sprinkled with white or gray: a roan horse.

roan (n):

    1. The characteristic coloring of a roan horse.
    2. A roan horse or other animal.
  1. A soft flexible sheepskin leather, often treated to resemble morocco and used in bookbinding.

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

chignon (n): a large, smooth twist, roll, or knot of hair, worn by women at the nape of the neck or the back of the head.

palpate (v): to examine by touch, especially for the purpose of diagnosing disease or illness.

Readings and Unknowns

I’ve had an iPod Touch by my side over the last few months, and I’ve been able to record the words whose meanings were beyond me from my readings.

From The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain:

charily (adv):

  1. carefully; warily.
  2. sparingly; frugally.

ferule (n): also ferula, a rod, cane, or flat piece of wood for punishing children, esp. by striking them on the hand.

éclat (n):

  1. great brilliance, as of performance or achievement.
  2. conspicuous success.
  3. great acclamation or applause.
  4. (archaic) notoriety; scandal.

clod (n):

  1. a lump or mass, esp. of earth or clay.
  2. a stupid person; blockhead; dolt.
  3. earth; soil.
  4. something of lesser dignity or value, as the body as contrasted with the soul: this corporeal clod.
  5. a part of a shoulder of beef.

sedulous (a):

  1. diligent in application or attention; persevering; assiduous.
  2. persistently or carefully maintained.

From My Man Jeeves by (who else) PG Wodehouse:

prismatic  (a):

  1. of, pertaining to, of like a prism.
  2. spectral in color; brilliant.
  3. highly varied or faceted.

persiflage (n): light, good-natured talk; banter



  1. befuddled; confused.
  2. eccentric; peculiar.
  3. senseless; mad.

word’s encounter: as the solution to 4 down, a theologian leapt off. Edward is confused, in today’s cryptic in The Age.

word’s use: did John Winston’s bald pate have anything to do with his addlepated politics?



a poem or song of mourning or lamentation.

word’s encounter: as the solution to 7 down, Trendy to contain Head Office split in lament (8), in today’s cryptic crossword in The Age.

word’s use: should one sing a threnody for this fine word’s lack of general use in these ever more philistine times?