Words, Glorious Words

I’ve been reading one of my Mother’s Day presents, Stephen Fry’s The Fry Chronicles.

In the introduction, he says that he is not a practitioner of brevity; where someone else uses 10 words, he’ll use 100, which is true. He blames it all on his love of words. And he uses some great words and fun turns of phrase (turn of phrases?). Here are some that sent me to my dictionary, most of which I could get the gist of in context, but wanted to see what precisely he meant.

caravanserai: a Near East inn with a large courtyard to accommodate large caravans

prolix: writing or speaking at great and tedious length

evangels: good news in general; also the good news in the New Testament sense, a doctrine or guide
I’d read this as a variant of evangelical, but it isn’t at all: it’s what the evangelical believes in.

calumniating: slandering

anathematize: (I’d never heard the word as a verb) to slander, to pronounce something an anathema

All of these words were on the same page (p.46). Three of them in the same sentence, which is so fun that I’m going to share it here:

For myself, I’d always thought Leavis a sanctimonious prick of only parochial significance (my own brand of undergraduate sanctimoniousness at work there, I now see) and certainly by the time I arrived at Cambridge his influence had waned, he and his kind having been almost entirely eclipsed by the Parisian post-structuralists and their caravanserai of prolix and impenetrable evangels and dogmatically zealous acolytes.

I group memoirs in two broad categories: thrill rides that sweep you along and engross you in the story of this person’s life (the other Mother’s Day present, Storm Large’s Crazy Enough is one of these), and charming and interesting stories that leave enough room for you to think about your own life while you read about this other. Fry’s memoir is of the latter kind, so I’ve been remembering and analyzing who I was during my college years. No introspection in this post, though (that’ll wait until later). Now, more fun words.

lacunae: minute cavities in bone; air space in tissue of plants; missing part of a manuscript or argument

seraphically: seraphs are the highest order of angels, so this is angelic in the extreme. As he uses it, in a story about a wife smiling seraphically at their friends after her husband has been an obnoxious jerk, I imagine that it’s a bit aggressively angelic. Or, I guess, so far above it all angelic that her husband’s behavior doesn’t even register.

nubiferously: I think he made this one up. Based on nubile, which refers to young, sexually attractive persons, usually female. But this is how he used it:

At tea, the nubiferously chain-smoking pair of Tom Stoppard and Ronnie Harwood visit our rather showbizzy box.

Stoppard was 71 and Harwood 74 at the time of this story. They were chain-smoking like young, sexy girls? As if they were under the delusions of the young that they were going to live forever? No idea, but it’s a fun word to say.

fell-walkingfell is British word for a hill or area of high land. He uses it an a description of who people imagine pipe smokers to be, as in “they wear woolly knee socks and take brisk walks in the hills.”

obstreperous: This word appears in a favorite picture book from growing up, but I’d forgotten it. I’ll have to trot it out in children’s worship when the kids are noisy, boisterous and unruly — at least they’ll learn a new word.

When asked, the word I say is my favorite is susurration, a soft murmur or whisper, which I first read in a description of the sound of a light breeze through tree leaves. How about you? Any favorite words? Words you read that sent you to the dictionary?