Saturday, 7 November 2009

Expanding my vocabulary

One of the things I love about reading books written before I was born is that they use language I am not familiar with, and my vocabulary is expanding gradually as I read these words, determine their meaning from their use in context (or from a dictionary if needs must) and then begin to deliberately look for opportunities to use them in my own conversations.

So here are the words I have learnt from my last week of reading.
Note: None of the words from CS Lewis's works were in my dictionary, so I have given my initial presumed definition with (?).

From Heidi by Johnanna Spyri, originally written in German, originally published in 1880:

asseverated: [past tense verb] declared seriously, solemnly or earnestly.
Heidi p2-3 " 'The child stay up there with Alm-Uncle! You must be out of your senses, Dete! ... That would be all very well if he were like other people,' asseverated stout Barbel warmly, 'but you know what he is. And what can he do with a child, especially with one so young!' "
My usage: I had to summarise the words of Deut 32:46 for my BSF lesson last week. From the NIV: Deuteronomy 32:45 When Moses finished reciting all these words to all Israel, 46 he said to them, "Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law. 47 They are not just idle words for you—they are your life. By them you will live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to possess." I thought to myself, "Aha! Moses asseverated the Law to the people of Israel!" Bet you didn't know that, now, did you?

gape: [verb] to open mouth wide; to yawn.
From, gape [verb] means "to open the mouth wide involuntarily, as the result of hunger, sleepiness, or absorbed attention" (Random House)
Heidi p66 [Clara, the invalid, is speaking.] " 'You were expressly sent for to come here and to remain with me and share my lessons; there will be some fun about them now as you cannot read, something new to do, for they are dreadfully dull, and I think the morning will never pass away. You know my tutor comes every morning at about ten o'clock, and then we go on with lessons till two, and it does seem such a long time. Sometimes he takes up the book and holds it close up to his face, as if he was very short-sighted, but I know it's only because he wants so dreadfully to gape, and Fraulein Rottenmeir takes her large handkerchief out also now and then and covers her face with it, as if she was moved by what we had been reading, but that is only because she is longing to gape too. And I myself often want to gape, but I am obliged to stop myself, for if Fraulein Rottenmeir sees me gaping she runs off at once and fetches the cod-liver oil ... but now it will be so much more amusing...' "
My usage: I already knew the definition of "gape" as in to open one's mouth wide, but I had never heard it applied to yawning before. FWIW, crocodiles gape, opening their mouths to allow air to flow into them as a means of cooling off.

From Perelandra: Voyage to Venus by Charles Staples (CS) Lewis, first published in 1943:

fissiparate: [verb] to divide a whole into two, particularly a pair of opposites (?)
According to, fissiparity, aka schizogenesis, means "reproduction by fission"
Ibid, fissiparous [adjective] means "producing new biological units or individuals by fission" (Meriam-Webster); "Reproducing or propagating by fission" (Stedman's Medical); and "2. Tending to break up into parts or break away from a main body; factious" (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language)
Ibid, related words breakaway, separatist (Visual Thesaurus)
Perelandra p112 [Weston, possessed by the devil or one of his demons, is speaking.] " 'It is a most interesting thing in popular religion, this tendency to fissiparate, to breed pairs of opposites: heaven and hell, God and Devil.' "

miserific: [adjective] induces misery (?)
Perelandra p135-136 "As there is one Face above all worlds merely to see which is irrevocable joy, so at the bottom of all worlds that face is waiting whose sight alone is the misery from which none who beholds it can recover. And though there seemed to be, and indeed were, a thousand roads by which a man could walk through the world, there was not a single one which did not lead sooner or later either to the Beatific Vision or the Miserific Vision."
My usage: I have to admit, I don't want to have an opportunity to use miserific in conversation. Especially if the conversation is about my kids!

From That Hideous Strength: A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown Ups by CS Lewis, first published in 1945:

neurasthenic: [noun] a person who suffers from a mental illness, with symptoms of lack of mental clarity and tiredness (?)
From neurasthenic [noun] means "an individual affected with neurasthenia" (Meriam-Webster's Medical).
Ibid, neurasthenia [noun] means "A psychological disorder characterized by chronic fatigue and weakness, loss of memory, and generalized aches and pains, formerly thought to result from exhaustion of the nervous system. No longer in scientific use." (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language).
That Hideous Strength p51 " 'I don't feel comfortable going away while you're in your present state -'
'What state?' said Jane, turning round and facing him [Mark, her husband] for the first time.
'Well - I mean - just a bit nervy - as anyone may be temporarily.'
'Because I happened to be having a nightmare when you came home last night - or rather this morning - there's no need to talk as if I was a neurasthenic.'
My usage: I woke up feeling like a neurasthenic yesterday, which may have been because I went to bed after midnight, having been absorbed in reading Perelandra.

seccotined: [past tense verb] attached by a fine connection, cf "hanging by a thread" (??)
cf. sectile: able to be cut smoothly with a knife; -o- used as a connective to join compound words; -ine: pertaining to.
That Hideous Strength p89-90 [Mrs Dimble, the kindly professor's wife, is speaking.] " 'There was an odious little man in a peaked cap who talked to Cecil with a cigarette in his mouth, at least it wasn't in his mouth but seccotined onto his upper lip - you know...' "

traducers: [plural adjectival noun] slanderers (?)
From traduce means "to speak maliciously and falsely of; slander; defame: to traduce someone's character" (Random House); "To cause humiliation or disgrace to by making malicious and false statements" (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language)
That Hideous Strength p95 [Mr Straik, the "Mad Parson" is speaking.] " 'There will be resistance. They will gnaw their tongues and not repent. We are not to be deterred. We face these disorders with a firmness which will lead traducers to say that we have desired them. Let them say so. In a sense we have. It is no part of our witness to preserve that organisation of ordered sin which is called Society.' "
My usage: Anyone who says that my vocabulary knowledge is merely up to high-school level is a mere traducer, do you hear?


Mrs. Edwards said...

After I read the novella Goodbye, Mr. Chips, I jotted down over a dozen, maybe two dozen, phrases or illusions that I didn't know. Some were because it was a British book, but many were dated. It was such fun to unearth old expressions and figure them out. (Thanks to Google, it was easy to discover the meaning.)

Of these words that you posted, I only knew "gape." While I couldn't define "neurasthenic" I understand generally it must be a mental state or nervous disorder, just from the root and not knowing the true meaning at all. In fact, if I look closely, I see hints in all these words in the root if I really think about it. Don't you love language? I know English is a hodge-podge, but it is fun to see where words come from--Latin, Greek, Middle English, German, etc.

Sharon said...

Yes, traducers also was familiar to me, but I couldn't define it. Most of them were decipherable from the context, but it was still great to have the impetus to look them up and find out more, and then to use them.

Our sermon tonight was on the trials of Jesus (Mark 14:53-15:15) which is just chock-full of traducers... and thus opportunities for Jesus to openly declare exactly Who and What He claimed to be and Who He truly is: the Christ, the Son of God, the promised King whose dominion will never end... All praise to Jesus!

~ Sharon