Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A year of words

"After you finish all the posts,  Spencer, you can have some cake..."
It's February 2014, and that means it's Loose Signatures's one-year birthday! Yes, the blog has been around for a full year, launching last spring with posts on Egyptian crocodile god Sobek and the friendship between Igor Sikorsky and Sergei Rachmaninoff. What started off as no more than a project to give some odds and ends written for various websites and publications a single home has really taken on a life of its own—and while there have been breaks from time to time, and the posts might grow slightly less thoughtful while I'm in class, I'm very grateful to everyone who has been reading along over the past year.

I realized that I needed some way to mark this momentous occasion. But what? What words could I possibly use to thank you, dear readers, whose cleverness and appreciation are the one thing (two things?) that have kept me going all these months?

Salmagundi. Borage. And cark.

Yes, I have decided to dip into my list of favorite exotic new words for the year to share with all of you, for your logophilic pleasure. When I keep the list, I normally copy the definition and the etymology with them—but surely that takes all the fun out of things? In an age of Google, when all you have to do is copy-paste a word to get the definition, the fun stuff is the catch in the first place: the passage where you found the word. The new word list serves as a kind a reading diary, and it also points out which authors have the best vocabularies. (This year's winner, by far: Wallace Stevens, with three words from "The Comedian As the Letter C" alone.) So please, dive in, send any questions through the comment thread below, and do track down one or two of these things if the inclination strikes. Favorites? Angry petitions for me to include the definitions? Just let me know! And please keep reading—I'll do my best to make it worthwhile.

pro-am
"She co-captained the Lady Wolverines in college and has lately begun entering some of the local pro-ams, now that her short game has sharpened up, and even placed high in a couple last summer."—Richard Ford, The Sportswriter

morganatic
"Bowman left feeling disappointed but defiant. It would be a kind of morganatic marriage, then, politely tolerated."—James Salter, "Virginia" 

persiflage
"[Irvine Welsh] also shares Waugh’s relish for persiflage, if not his style of rendering it (“F**k off, ya plukey-faced wee hing oot”)."—James Camp, "Coming Home without Moving Forward," n+1 online

thurible
"It is a god untouched by papal bulls, / The great gold chalice and the thuribles[.]"—Robert Lowell, "War" (in Lord Weary's Castle)

peculation
"The dispensatores were all of slave status. The reason lies in their responsibilites, the desire to avoid peculation and in the closer degree of control over them by the emperor which their slave status afforded."—P.R.C. Weaver, "Social Mobility in the Early Roman Empire"

salmagundi
"'Colin Quinn Unconstitutional' is a salmagundi of alternative history, mordant rumination, and arresting analogy."—New Yorker, Talk of the Town, 3 June 2013

cafard
"The idea had come to him in totality one morning while he sat with his glass of grapefruit juice and his cafard, his life a shade..."—Joy Williams, The Quick and the Dead

aborning
"Thus the effort died aborning, and much of the scholarship of the period remained diffuse and unconnected..."—Gordon Wood, The Idea of America

architrave
"'Legalistic Argle-Bargle' should be carved into the architrave of the Supreme Court Building."—Eric Posner, Slate, 27 June 2013

harmattan
"... Okonkwo's fame had grown like a bush-fire in the harmattan."—Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart

hare (verb)
"I would have been a bad don. I was always haring off to London."—Clive James, interview with the Guardian, 5 July 2013.

furbelow
"Wherever the flamingo goes, / she brings a city's worth / of furbelows."—Kay Ryan, "Flamingo Watching"

hopple
"The hopples fall from your ankles"—Walt Whitman, "To You"

maunder
"What an epic force he must have seemed to her... come to remind her who she was, to remove her disguise, grab hold of her maundering life for a time, without warning."—Don DeLillo, White Noise

ravelin
"Aziz, after many fruitless attempts, had more or less given up trying to storm her many ravelins and bastions, leaving her, like a large smug spider, to rule her chosen domains."—Salman Rushdie, Midnight's Children

borage
"Let sphinxes from the ripe / Borage of death have cleared my tongue / Once and again"—Hart Crane, "Lachyrmae Christi," White Buildings

sharpie
"[Herzog] might once have had the makings of a clever character, but he had chosen to be dreamy instead, and the sharpies cleaned him out."—Saul Bellow, Herzog

prolepsis
"We can now sketch, in a proleptic way, some of the concrete results of this juxtaposition of the philosophical texts with some of their literary predecessors."—Martha Nussbaum, "Luck and ethics," in The Fragility of Goodness

cark
"… far / Beyond carked Yucatan, he might have come / To colonize his polar planterdom[.]"
—Wallace Stevens, "The Comedian as the Letter C"

excelsior
"… lugging easy chairs and maple end tables around on the floor above, hammering apart packing crates from nine to five, the itch of the packing excelsior getting into his nose and eyes and making them burn."—John Updike, Rabbit, Run

Gemütlichkeit
"… the ruins—they were already then ruins—of what had been for decades one of the city's most fashionable restaurants, fallen out of favor when Gemütlichkeit passed into obloquy, reduced by that time to a horror of racing vermin and liquefying plaster."—Luc Sante, "The Ruins of New York"

dight
 “The clouds in thousand Liveries dight.”—Milton, “L’Allegro”

agnatic
“… although males were preferred to females, succession at Athens was not strictly agnatic in the sense that only males were legally able to inherit[.]”—Sarah Pomeroy, Goddesses, Whores, Wives, And Slaves: Women In Classical Antiquity 

guy (verb)
“When Lucretius uses the word [melos] he is guying the Greek language[.]”—David West, Horace Odes III: Dulce Periculum.



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