vocabulary redux


People have told me over the years, many times, that I have an excellent vocabulary.

I never stop looking up words.

Here are some ones I have recently looked up. They are all from my reading. Some I more or less knew or could guess the meaning of from context. Others I had encountered before, but did not know the exact meaning.





showing no imagination; commonplace or dull (said especially of speech or writing)

I love this word for how it can be used to apply in this particular sense; it was used by Charles Dickens.



denoting or relating to the kind of language used by ordinary people

synonyms: popular, vernacular, colloquial, idiomatic, vulgar, common




a person who has returned, especially supposedly from the dead



a dunghill or refuse heap; a term more commonly used in earlier times (e.g., the nineteenth century) when waste disposal methods were more primitive (I came across it in a Dickens work)



The stringing of simple clauses together in rapid, spontaneous talk. Example:

Look, having nuclear – my uncle was a great professor and scientist and engineer, Dr. John Trump at M.I.T.; good genes, very good genes, O.K., very smart, the Wharton School of finance, very good, very smart – you know, if you’re a conservative Republican, if I were a liberal, if, like, okay, if I ran as a liberal Democrat, they would say I’m one of the smartest people anywhere in the world – it’s true! – but when you’re a conservative Republican they try – oh, they do a number – that’s why I always start off: “Went to Wharton, was a good student, went there, went there, did this, built a fortune”– you know I have to give my life credentials all the time, because we’re a little disadvantaged – but you look at the nuclear deal, the thing that really bothers me.




very muddy or boggy

“the roads were miry in winter”

used by Dickens



cheap, showy, or counterfeit

“a vile Brummagem substitute for the genuine article”



verb; literary

gerund or present participle: puling

cry querulously or weakly



the use of indirect and circumlocutory speech or writing

example: “not a shadow of a shade of doubt”


anaphora; anaphoric

a rhetorical term for when a writer or speaker repeats the same beginning of a sentence several times. Writers and speakers use anaphora to add emphasis to the repeated element, but also to add rhythm, cadence, and style to the text or speech.

example: “The wrong person was selected for the wrong job, at the wrong time, for the wrong purpose.”



something that refines or transmutes as if by distillation

“filtered through the alembic of Plato’s mind”



the beginning or introductory part, especially of a discourse or treatise



verb; literary

to feel or express discontent; fret

used by Mary Shelly in Frankenstein



1. a swamp.

2. a situation characterized by lack of progress or activity



1. an agile goat-antelope with short hooked horns, found in mountainous areas of Europe

2. a type of soft pliable leather now made from sheepskin or lambskin.


keeping (term used in the arts)

“It is true that I have thought more and that my daydreams are more extended and magnificent, but they want (as painters call it) keeping …” — Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

Keeping, in painting, signifies the representation of objects in the same manner that they appear to the eye at different distances from it, which is only to be done with accuracy by attending to the rules of perspective.



marked by scandalous crime or vice: villainous



rather than uncongenial

used by Mary Shelley; author’s introduction to Frankenstein; “a wet, ungenial summer”



1. capacity to lubricate: “the wonderful lubricity of this new oil”

2. instability; shiftiness; fleeting nature: “the lubricity of fame and fortune”

3. (formal or literary) lewdness; lustfulness: lasciviousness; salaciousness

4. something that arouses lasciviousness, especially pornography.

from Old French lubricité, from Medieval Latin lubricitis, from Latin lubricus (slippery)



noun; informal


can also mean a fool



an attempt to cover something up by giving information that says absolutely nothing

“Devin Nunes used mumblespeak to try and divert the public’s attention from the investigation into Trump’s ties with Russia.”




a remnant of tobacco left in a pipe after smoking



a strong, foul smell

“the fetor of decay”

used by Walt Whitman in his poem “This Compost”




a small mountain lake

used by Theodore Dreiser in his Dawn



an alloy of copper and zinc resembling gold, used in watchmaking and costume jewelry

as an adjective: appearing valuable, but actually cheap or tawdry


lowery; also spelled (more commonly) loury

adjective: ““A lowery sky, and from it flecks of silvery light dropping lightly, like mirrored feathers.”

lour (English word) is a verb; it has the meaning of look angry or sullen; scowl (“The lofty statue lours at patients in the infirmary.”)

Used as a noun, lour can mean the dark and gloomy, or threatening, appearance of the sky or a landscape.

Lour comes from the Middle English lour (“sad or frowning countenance”), louren (“to frown or scowl; to be dark or overcast; look askant, mistrust; wither, fade, droop; lurk, skulk”); and from the Old English lowren, luren. Compare Dutch loeren, German lauern (“lurk, be on the watch”), and English leer and lurk.



the production of a sense impression relating to one sense or part of the body by stimulation of another sense or part of the body



a divine creative impulse or inspiration



adjective, literary

1. having an extremely offensive smell

“noisome vapors from the smoldering waste”

2. disagreeable; unpleasant

“noisome scandals”



a figure of speech consisting of the use of the name of one thing for that of another of which it is an attribute or with which it is associated (such as “crown” in “lands belonging to the crown”)

A place is often used as a metonym for a government or other official institutions, for example, Brussels for the institutions of the European Union, The Hague for the International Court of Justice or International Criminal Court, Washington for the U.S. government (as well as capitol), the White House and Capitol Hill for the executive and legislative branches, respectively, of the United States federal government. A place can represent an entire industry: for instance, Wall Street is often used metonymically to describe the entire U.S. financial and corporate banking sector. Common nouns and phrases can also be metonyms: red tape can stand for bureaucracy, whether or not that bureaucracy actually uses red tape to bind documents. In Commonwealth realms, The Crown is a metonym for the state in all its aspects.


pathetic fallacy

the attribution of human feelings and responses to inanimate things or animals, especially in art and literature



noun: an ostensibly modest or self-deprecating statement whose actual purpose is to draw attention to something of which one is proud; used as a verb: to make an ostensibly modest or self-deprecating statement with the actual intention of drawing attention to something of which one is proud

“She humblebragged about how ‘awful’ she looks without any makeup.”

“At times, Brown seems capable of writing in only two registers: brag and humblebrag. I prefer the straightforward brag — at least all the brass horns are playing in the same key — though I do admire how she twice manages to reveal, by Page 10, that she was quite shapely in her youth, both times under the guise of a complaint.” — review by Jennifer Senior of The Vanity Fair Diaries: 1983-1992 by Tina Brown, The New York Times




the omission or absence of a conjunction between parts of a sentence



1: noun, adjective, or pronoun inflection especially in some prescribed order of the forms; a class of nouns or adjectives having the same type of inflectional forms

2: a falling off or away: deterioration

3: descent, slope

“Schlesinger kept writing books he hoped would ‘serve the liberal cause,’ as he had intended for his past works. But they were jeremiads about America’s declension rather than heralds of its rendezvous with a destiny of progress.” — Michael Kazin review of Schlesinger: The Imperial Historian by Richard Aldous




the quality or state of being feral; also, barbarity

used by Thoreau in one of his essays


glossed (past tense, participle)

1. apply a cosmetic gloss to (synonyms: shine, glaze, polish, burnish)

2. try to conceal or disguise (something embarrassing or unfavorable) by treating it briefly or representing it misleadingly: “the social costs of this growth are glossed over” (synonyms: conceal, cover up, hide, disguise, mask, veil, shrug off)

used by Theodore Dreiser as a verb:” He would talk to me by the hour … of the French Revolution and the great figures in it, of Napoleon, Wellington, Tsar Alexander, Also of Peter the Great and Catharine of Russia, Frederick the Great and Voltaire, whom he admired enormously. But not the silly, GLOSSED, emasculated data of the school histories with which I had been made familiar, but with the harsh, jagged realities and savageries of the too real world in which all of them moved.”



1. a small area of grass that is thicker or longer than the grass growing around it.

2. a woodland moth whose adults and brightly colored caterpillars both bear tufts of irritant hairs. The caterpillars can be a pest of trees, damaging fruit and stripping leaves.



an adventurous, daring, or chivalric enterprise: “He always seems to be having the sort of high emprise that most of us experience only in our dreams.”

synonyms: adventure, experience, exploit, gest (or geste), happening, time


gad, gadding

go around from one place to another, in the pursuit of pleasure or entertainment: “help out around the house and not be gadding about the countryside”

used by Thoreau in one of his essays: “the gadding town”



to climb, move, or get in or out of something in an awkward and laborious way, typically using both hands and feet: “He clambered out of the trench.”

The meaning is not unfamiliar, but it was used interestingly in the following sentence: “[Ulysses S. Grant] armored himself with simplicity. Grant’s style is strikingly modern in its economy. It stood out in that age of clambering, winding prose, with shameless sentences like lines of thieves in a marketplace, grabbing everything in reach and stuffing it all into their sacks.” — T. J. Stiles, essay in The New York Times



having a ready insight into and understanding of things.

a well-known word, BUT NOTE:


plain to the understanding especially because of clarity and precision of presentation: “a perspicuous argument”




(of bagpipes) make a shrill, wailing sound




denoting or relating to language used for general purposes of social interaction, rather than to convey information or ask questions. Utterances such as hello, how are you? and nice morning, isn’t it? are phatic.



1. consisting of or appearing to consist of granules; grainy

2. finely detailed: “granular reports”

“Ms. Cummings was called to testify for two days during the trial, speaking in sometimes GRANULAR detail about her work for Mr. Skelos, as well as the inner workings of Senate campaigns and the Republican conference.” — “More Corruption Trials? Possible Reprise Makes Albany Groan”, The New York Times, October 4, 2017


— Roger W. Smith

   February 2018

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