Words: Discovery and Depth

I love writers who introduce me to new words (I’m looking at you, Rex Murphy and Conrad Black).  I recently discovered the word irenic (“no irenic third way”) in a well written and well researched article by Reverend Joe Boots in Jubilee, a local magazine. (Sorry about the magazine cover — it’s absolutely execrable.) Irenic means “aiming or aimed at peace.”

I once came across crapulous and thought it was the new craptastic, but I was wrong. It means “drunk.”

Recently The Millions published an article on the personal discovery of new words — and on the depth of meaning in ordinary words used by author Ali Smith, in particular.

The author of the article begins the piece by listing several words he learned from reading great authors: assiduous (Salman Rushdie), pulchritude (Zadie Smith), fantod (David Foster Wallace), mendacity (Tennessee Williams), phalanx, faradic, tesellate, and hysteresis (all from Thomas Pynchon). He goes on to discuss how Ali Smith can mine a banal word to uncover a multitude of connections that pertain to an individual character as well as to the wider world of ideas.

The excerpts of Smith’s works left me wanting more. She’s been on my reading list for awhile, and it’s time she made it to the top. Although I’m no fan of wordsmithing for the sake of wordsmithing (yeah, I turned that into a gerund), I’m a big fan of language and its capacity to intrigue, explain, connect, and transform. Which means I’ll probably be a big fan of Smith, too.


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Filed under editing and writing, life and literature, usage, writing

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