Please note that all WordNerds entries made after November 22, 21012 can be found in my editing blog here.
What is this page about?
Its name is pretty self-explanatory. Are you curious when you see a word you’ve never seen before? Do you get excited by the look of a word, or the way it sounds when you roll it over your vocal chords and around your tongue? Do you love the rhythms and sounds that words can make when they’re cleverly juxtaposed?
If you answered “yes” to all of these questions, then you’re a WordNerd, and I’d like to share this page with you.
I’ll add to this page on a disorganized basis when I encounter a word that strikes me for one of several reasons:
- It’s new to me
- It’s newly-coined and clever (in my estimation)
- It’s a word I’ve always liked and have encountered again in my current reading
- It sounds enticing or musical or wonderful in some way
With each word, I’ll give a definition (from the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, 2nd ed.). I may also tell you something about the context I saw it in. If it came from a memorable quote, I’ll show that too.
A labyrinthine search for the meaning of “rhadamanthine”: from a condo elevator to Ranger Gord’s Campfire Stories
It’s pretty amazing how far I’ll go in my quest to understand and explain words that, to me, are new and cool.
It turns out that “rhadamanthine” is actually a very old word, since it’s the adjective form of Rhadamanthys (or Rhadamanthus), a character from Greek mythology.
But I didn’t know that as I descended the elevator in my condo building early yesterday morning. The screen that everyone stares at as they’re coping with the embarrassing silence during long elevator rides was not on its sports, news, currency exchange, weather, or ads pages. Instead, it was showing the rarer “Word of the Day” screen, and the word “rhadamanthine” jumped out at me because I had never seen it before. Tantalizingly, I had time to skim the definition but not commit it to (middle-aged) memory before the door opened at ground level and I had to leave the elevator.
I tried to read the definition again on all my elevator trips that day, but the screen was always flashing news or ads. I then turned to my trusty Canadian Oxford Dictionary, which told me about Rhadamanthys but didn’t define the adjective derived from it. Next, I went online to dictionary.com. This source was thorough in its definition of Rhadamanthys:
1. Classical Mythology. A son of Zeus and Europa, rewarded for the justice he exemplified on Earth by being made, after his death, a judge in the Underworld, where he served with his brothers Minos and Aeacus.
2. An inflexibly just or severe judge.
Though it listed the adjective “rhadamanthine”, it didn’t give me a definition. Instead, it supplied links to places where the word was used. Thus it was that I had the unexpected pleasure of travelling back in time to a July 2006 blog post on Ranger Gord’s Campfire Stories.
There, I found the definition I was seeking. Rhadamanthine means “strictly and uncomprisingly just”. (According to Ranger Gord, he found this definition on dictionary.com—why wasn’t it there for me?)
But please don’t stop here! You’ve simply got to read “Introducing Ranger Gord’s Radamanthine Citations” post yourself. Ranger Gord explains the origins of rhadamanthine in scholarly detail, but the humour of the post comes from the juxtaposition of his own writing with some crude paragraphs he includes in the words of a park user who has violated the requirement to have a fishing license. The violator is extremely profane, can’t spell, and has a bad attitude, but he just can’t help being funny. I love his last sentence:
what the fuck has this world come to? what happened to the days where you walked around with a loin cloth on, and ate peyote?
Just read it.
Deliquescent and omnishambles
When I read the novel The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes almost a year ago, I wrote down a lovely-sounding word I read in there somewhere—deliquescent. If I had the e-book, I’d be able to find the word again and explain the context—I don’t remember it now! I only know I love the sound of it.
Canadian Oxford wasn’t very helpful with its definition of this word.It tells me that deliquesce (verb) means to “become liquid” and that deliquescent (adjective) is derived from Latin words that mean “to be liquid”.
Yesterday, The Vancouver Sun reported that The Oxford University Press has chosen “omnishambles” as Britain’s Word of the Year. Defined as “a situation that has been comprehensively mismanaged, characterized by a string of blunders and miscalculations,” the word has been omnipresent this year, referring to events as diverse as preparations for the 2012 London Olympics and various government PR disasters. “Omnishambles” was coined by the writers of the TV show The Thick of It.
Being selected as Word of the Year doesn’t guarantee that omnishambles will find its way into a future edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. Its evolving usage and longevity will determine its fate. Personally, I’m rooting for its inclusion and think it has a good chance!
Word for November 7
Since I recently wrote a post that quoted Franz Kafka, I decided I’d like to write about the word “Kafkaesque” today. Imagine being such a famous writer that an adjective is created from your name!
Canadian Oxford’s definition follows:
Kafkaesque: (of a situation, atmosphere, etc.) impenetrably oppressive, nightmarish, in a manner characteristic of the fictional world of Franz Kafka.
Kafka is perhaps most famous for his 1915 novella The Metamorphosis, in which his protagonist Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning to find he has been inexplicably transformed into an ungeheuren Ungeziefer (usually translated as “monstrous vermin” or sometimes simply “bug”).
Apparently, Vladimir Nabokov, who was not only a great writer (Lolita, Pale Fire etc.) and literary critic but a serious lepidopterist, interpreted Kafka’s text to mean that Gregor was a 3-foot-long beetle.
The book has been studied extensively in universities and has been adapted for the screen and stage many times, most recently as Metamorphosis the Movie (2012), directed by Chris Swanton. According to Wikipedia, this full-length feature film “captures both the intense sadness as well as the rich humour and sense of the bizarre that runs throughout Franz Kafka’s work.”
Word for October 4
I was walking to my gym a couple of mornings ago, and the sudden cool weather and blowing leaves tossed the word capricious into my mind.
Right away I decided, “That word is going on my WordNerds page just because I like it.” Then I analyzed why capricious tugs my strings.
Moods can be capricious and so can weather. There are hints of darkness and unpredictability in capricious. The word suits my personality because I like complexity, hidden streaks, and spontaneity. A capricious person or a sunny day can change quickly, and the inevitability of change reminds us to treasure what we have in the moment.
The word capricious made me think of dancing, with its connotations of playfulness, joy, and improvisation.
These were my thoughts about capricious before I looked it (and its relatives) up in my trusty Canadian Oxford dictionary. It’s amazing how our brains construct connotations for words from all the contexts (real-life or literary) in which we experience a word. The following definitions support my intuitive understanding of the word and my emotional reaction to it.
capricious: 1 guided by or given to caprice. 2 irregular, unpredictable.
caprice: 1a an unaccountable or whimsical change of mind or conduct. 1b a tendency to this. 2 a work of lively fancy in painting, drawing or music: a capriccio. [French from Italian capriccio]
capriccio: 1 a lively and usu. short musical composition. 2 a painting etc. representing a fantasy or a mixture of real and imaginary features.
capriccioso: (adv. and adj.) Music In a free and impulsive style.
Words for August 16
Isn’t this a perfect word? I would define it as the opposite of “sarcasm-lite”. According to my brother Alan Rooks, it was coined by Terry Fallis in his political satire The Best Laid Plans. I am optimistic that it will be entered into The Oxford English Dictionary in the not-too-distant future. How can it not be, when Canadian Oxford‘s second definition for the word “caustic” is “sarcastic, biting”?
I haven’t yet read The Best Laid Plans, though Alan assures me it’s a very funny book. It is a self-publishing success story: Fallis promoted it so successfully through social media that it won the 2008 Stephen Leacock Award for Humour. Only after that was it picked up by a regular publisher. You can read the story of the book itself as well as a critical review here.
pBook, pbook, or p-book?
I was a little taken aback a few days ago when I read a post on a blog called An American Editor entitled “On Books: Value in an eBook World.” (Read article here.) Of course we’re all familiar with the word e-book, but I hadn’t seen “pbook” used in this way before. I was also more than a little surprised that an article in an editor’s blog would randomly use the two spellings “pbook” and “pBook.” Ironic, I would say. I might even be tempted to be sarcaustic about it if I was in a bad mood.
Do my readers have any preference for spelling? pBook, pbook or p-book? Or should we reject the word altogether?
Words for July 18
Recently I was thinking about dramatic changes in my personal and social life. People whose lives were once intertwined with mine are now…extwined. Except that there is no such word. I like the word that sprang into my head. I think it deserves to exist. It seems unfair that English has two words, intertwined and entwined, that according to both the Canadian Oxford Dictionary and Word’s English (United States) thesaurus are synonyms, yet the only antonym given for them is free. And though I’m happy that I’m free, that word is not, in my opinion, quite right as an antonym for intertwined.
After all, we have a related word, tangled, that has an obvious antonym, untangled, as well as another antonym, detangled, that refers specifically to hair from which tangles have been removed. Incidentally, entangled is another synonym for intertwined that Word’s thesaurus supplies. (The word unentangled could not be found, but that’s just as well.)
If English displays a strange absence of words (like extwined, which I’m trying to remedy; if enough people share this post it will go viral and perhaps extwined will be added to the next edition of Oxford), it also contains words that seem to be superfluous.
For example, in the July 15, 2012 Globe and Mail, book critic Aritha van Herk commented that Mark Haddon’s writing in The Red House showed “eerie percipience.” I had to stop reading. Percipience. Could I define this word? To be honest, no. I looked it up in my trusty Oxford. The noun form as written above was not defined, though it was listed. The definition for the adjective form, percipient, is as follows: “1. able to perceive; conscious. 2. discerning; observant.”
So from this information, how would we differentiate percipience from perceptiveness? Is percipience a superfluous word or is this one of the countless cases in English where there is a nuance of difference in meaning between the two words? Oxford suggests the answer, because it gives a definition of percipient as a noun: “a person who perceives, esp. something outside the range of the senses.” So perhaps percipience involves a kind of intuition in addition to ordinary perception.
Can anyone illuminate percipience further?
Word for May 5
Wow! I sure couldn’t resist passing this one on. It describes the state of the moon tonight, on May 5, 2012. It means the moon is simultaneously full (the “syzygy” part) and as close to the Earth in its orbit as it ever gets (its “perigee”). This means that the moon will be “13 percent bigger and brighter than usual” tonight, according to Kate Webb’s article in Vancouver Metro.
I’m going to try to get a look at it at 8:38 p.m. as Webb suggests. When it’s just rising, the moon looks bigger, and is supposed to have an amber glow around it.
However, there just might be some clouds in the way.
Words for March 15
Diagetic and non-diagetic
I was thrilled to learn these two words that until yesterday were completely foreign to me. They came from an essay my son wrote for one of his Japanese courses, in which he analyzed the videogame El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron. To define them, I’ll quote directly from his essay:
“Diegetic actions take place within the narrative fiction of the game, whereas non-diegetic actions do not.”
Do all videogamers know these words? I never play videogames, but because of my son’s fanaticism I have enough exposure to games that I understand they include activities and text that aren’t part of the actual narrative of the game.
Administrone: LinkedIn member Lucie Hankey coined this word, defining it as “a famous national dish of Italy, where you have to fill out forms in triplicate to buy postage stamps.”
Pusillanimous: I was reading something (?) where this adjective was used to describe a rooster. I knew I knew this word; but I had to look it up in the dictionary.
Canadian Oxford: “lacking courage; timid.” Surprise! The word is so ugly and evil-sounding to convey this meaning.
Pleonasm: The phrase “stupid black negroes” was supposed to be an example of this.
Canadian Oxford again: “the use of more words than are needed to give the sense. e.g. see with one’s eyes.”
OK, as long as the writer was referring to the word “black,” not the word “stupid.”
Words for January 17
Globe and Mail reviewer Martin Levin (January 7, 2012) used this word in his description of Kate Beaton’s graphic work Hark! A Vagrant. “…a delicious gallimaufry that makes mock of cows sacred and profane with equal relish.” Sounds like fun!
Canadian Oxford reads: “A heterogeneous mixture; a jumble or medley.”
Words for January 14
I saw this on the front page of The Globe and Mail, December 17, 2011. The word was being used to describe people’s reaction to the movie The Adventures of Tintin that had just come out. I will define its meaning myself: It means to worship all things related to Tintin, the famous comic book character created by Belgian writer Hergé.
I liked the word because of its sound. Note how close it is to “tintinnabulation,” a word that means “a ringing or tinkling of bells.” A related word is “tinnitus,” the name given to “a ringing in the ears.”
(Oh-oh! Now I wonder if The Globe’s word also had a double “n”. I hope not because then the word wouldn’t fit on a Scrabble board.)
I picked this word from the same newspaper (December 17, 2011) because I had never seen or heard it before. The definition from Oxford is “A device that converts an analog signal into an encoded digital from, and decodes digital signals into analog form, used in telephone systems and in video systems for computers. [Blend of coder-decoder.] Clever! Well, I’ve revealed that I’m not a techie.
Oh, I just love the spooky sound of it! A phantom is a ghost; I also hear the echo of the word “fantasy.”
Here is the definition: “A shifting series of real or imaginary figures as seen in a dream or created as an effect in film, etc.”This word was part of a wonderful quote that actress Molly Parker gave in a Globe and Mail article. The quote comes from Joan Didion’s book of essays The White Album (1979) and goes like this:
“We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the ‘ideas’ with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.”
I like many French words. A lot of them have become accepted and familiar as part of the English language. This all goes back to the Battle of Hastings in 1066 when William of Normandy conquered England the the French-speaking Normans mixed with the Saxons of Britain.
Here is a French expression I saw in the December 31, 2011 Globe and Mail—reviewer Claire Messud used it to describe the main character in Teju Cole’s novel Open City:
“Bonhomous” means “full of bonhomie” (“geniality; good-natured friendliness”).
A “flâneur” (italicized because it’s not yet considered part of the English language) is “an idler, a lounger.”
Another French word. I saw it recently and included it here just because I like the sound of it.
“1. Creation or construction from whatever is immediately available for use. 2. Something created or constructed in this way.”
oops. Typo. Pusillanimous was a word Gary used so long ago.
I didn’t remember that! But then, he used a lot of big words…it was just another game. Are you in touch with him at all?
Here’s a word I made up just a few days ago: scentery, as in “When Willow (my standard poodle) and I got out for our morning walks, I enjoy the scenery, and she enjoys the “scentery”. Anyone who has a dog and takes them for morning walks will get this. The bushes and grasses along the trails are particularly “attractive” in the early morning – deer? rabbits? other dogs? She knows!
PS – I checked a couple of rather old dictionaries, and didn’t see it, so I think it’s mine. I also think it won’t go far.
Diane, “scentery” makes sense, and it seems an essential word for the dog world! Actually, I enjoy outdoor scents immensely too, especially in the morning in Mundy Park when it’s been raining.
I agree that scentery probably won’t go far, though. For some reason it evokes some confusion in my brain. Maybe because it’s so close to “century,” “cemetery.” and “sentry.”
As regards pbook and pBook. I use pbook within a sentence and pBook to start a sentence, just as I use ebook within a sentence and eBook to begin a sentence. Some writers prefer to start the sentence with Ebook and Pbook, but I like panache of eBook and pBook. As for the use of pbook, it simply struck me that if ebook can be a substitute for electronic book, then pbook can be a substitute for print book. A little bit of parallelism. Besides, it is a blog, which, in my case, means informal writing. I find it no more odd than using gr8 for great when twitting. (Don’t you wonder why it is called “tweeting” when the service is Twitter? Isn’t twitting the more “natural” euphemism?)
I agree that starting a sentence with Ebook and Pbook would look strange–but I think it would be my preference to be consistent with eBook and pBook throughout. However I respect the choice to have different styles, as long as they are used consistently!
As for Twitter, I don’t think people would want their messages to be called “twits”–with the negative connotation that implies!
Thanks for your comments.