Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Words Worth Knowing

{The Sense of an Ending}

On Sunday morning I poured a cup of coffee and cracked the slender spine of Julian Barnes's 2011 Man Booker Prize-winner The Sense of An Ending. I read it in one sitting, and at a compact, piercing 160 pages, I'm sure I'm not alone; one is likely to gobble it up in one forkful if one cottons well to English schoolboy nostalgia, the vexations, yearnings and botched sexual encounters of the young, the pithy meditations on regret of the old, and the best eff-you letter to an ex-lover I've ever read in any work of fiction (page 104).

One of the more minor but worthwhile resolutions I have this year is to read with a pencil, namely, to keep a vocabulary list on the back flyleaf and actually look up those words. I remember swearing once in front of my grandmother when I dropped something, to which she replied, dear, might I suggest your word choice shows a poverty of creativity? I'm sure you can come up with something more original. So here's to better vocabularies in 2012 (and more creative cussin'). Some words I knew but hadn't come across in ages and had to look up, others I'd never heard in my life. And I should probably keep these things to myself, but at each plot twist I kept flipping back to the author photo of Julio with his aristocratic chicken-lips and saying Oh Juuulyan, you crofty bostud! in my head.

The Sense of an Ending Vocab List For Better Cussing:

susurrus | so͝oˈsərəs |
noun, literary
whispering, murmuring, or rustling: the susurrus of the stream.

berk | bəːk |
noun, Brit. informal
a stupid person.

plimsole | ˈplimsəl, -sōl |
noun, Brit.
a light rubber-soled canvas shoe, worn esp. for sports.

lachrymose | ˈlakrəˌmōs, -ˌmōz |
adjective formal or literary
tearful or given to weeping: she was pink-eyed and lachrymose.

impugne | imˈpyo͞on |
dispute the truth, validity, or honesty of (a statement or motive); call into question: the father does not impugn her capacity as a good mother.

deliquescent | deliˈkwesənt |
becoming liquid or having a tendency to become liquid.

fossicking | ˈfäsik |
verb [ no obj. ] Austral./NZ informal
rummage; search: he spent years fossicking through documents.

lucubations | ˌlo͞ok(y)əˈbrāSHən |
noun formal
study; meditation: after sixteen years' lucubration he produced this account.

priapic | prīˈapik, -ˈāpik |
of or relating to male sexuality and sexual activity: priapic cartoons.


  1. love, love, love this post. And definitely going to incorporate a few of these words into my life. BERK & deliquescent are particularly awesome.

  2. First: I love the tag "cussin/drinkin/whorin."
    Second: Your grandma sounds awesome.
    Third: I wrote down all the words I needed to look up from one book that I was reading and was so completely disgusted with my vocabulary that I gave up the practice. But I kind of always want to do it when I read. So perhaps I will start doing that again. :)

  3. oooh i love julian barnes.

    i always have to drop the book and look the word up IMMEDIATELY. haven't had the discipline to write em down in recent years.

  4. You got me with fossicking and lucubation. Nice.

    I am the worst at looking up words. I tend to just read them and hope that I'll eventually understand it through repeated exposure/context. Only works if the word is in use enough for me to get repeated exposure.

  5. Love this, looking up words is such a meditative act. I commit to using "fossicking" at some point today. I must pick up The Sense of an Ending, too. Sounds like my kind of read.

  6. Those are some seriously kick ass words, and I want to hug your grandma. :) Love that still life photo too!

  7. I imagine rhyming slang might be one way to satisfy your grandma's request for creative cussin'. Berk is one of my favourites. It comes from Berkshire Hunt. You see where this is going...

  8. we had "priapic" as one of our words to define in balderdash. it was AWESOME. :)

  9. A perfect resolution, My method lately has been similar to Rachel's, but living abroad has corroded my vocabulary so much I think I need to be more disciplined and take a page from your book!
    And your Grandma sounds wonderful.

  10. That quote from your grandmother is so wonderful and it really gets to the heart of my lack of originality when it comes to swearing. I've been looking for some good curse word replacements since my boys were born and I think you brought my attention to the perfect one; although 'fossick' was not intended as a curse word, that hard F sound is too good to pass up.


  11. A "poverty of creativity..." ? This is brilliant. Might I use your grandmother's words when my 3 boys reach the age of cussin'? I think I might have to!

    Your art is amazing, by the way. My late father was a photographer and art professor, so I grew up in a house surrounded by art and some pretty zany characters. I miss the artists' world! Cheers to you!

  12. Just read this article on the lovely Louis Dodd--flowers, yo! thought you might enjoy.

  13. Just got an iPad for xmas, and though I will never give up the tactile pleasure of reading a "real book", I do love the fact that when I read a book on the IPad, I can just press a word and have the definition appear before me....without lugging out my huge dictionary (so lazy!!)

  14. It's a book that gives. I sniff haughtily and say that I've 'met' Mr Barnes and he was a little dull and maudlin. But then, he had to sit next to me so who exactly was to blame is up for grabs. And I'm British so plimsole is a word that haunts me.

  15. i also read 'the sense of an ending' in one setting!! i loved it, it was so smart and well done and the ending gave me chills, almost like a horror novel. have you read geoff dyer's takedown (rant) of the book in the guardian?? so interesting...

  16. just catching up here- great comments- thanks for the great links all around- such an etymologically whimsical group-

    Elizabeth- THANK YOU for telling me about Lois Dodd's show- cannot WAIT to go see it- thank you thank you love her love her.

    kate/ littlehouse- "dull and maudlin" - mwahahaha. not terribly surprised. dying to know the context of the story.

    natasha- just read it, thanks to you! this is tough stuff (from his NYT review) but I loved it wholeheartedly:

    "This was not one of those years when the Man Booker Prize winner was laughably bad. No, any extreme expression of opinion about “The Sense of an Ending” feels inappropriate. It isn’t terrible, it is just so . . . average. It is averagely compelling (I finished it), involves an average amount of concentration and, if such a thing makes sense, is averagely well written: excellent in its averageness!"

  17. What a GREAT list of wonderful words...and I've been needing a new book, so thanks for the recommendation as well. I love your grandmother's advice...that's basically what I tell my boys about swear words: they're just not very creative. Looking forward to seeing what this next semester brings out in you- I'm jealous of the east coasters who got to see your show in person- it looked amazing!

  18. priapic, from the greek god priapus who had a constant erection. Also the medical condition priapism - you can guess the main symptom - I once knew a boy who had it (for real, not just being a perv) he said it was extremely painful.
    Gosh words are good, I admire your diligence, I don't think I'll ever manage the note-taking game. Maybe you could tack a few on the end of every post.

  19. oh, LOVE it! after resisting 'just kids' for months (because everyone else was reading it! i am not a hipster!), i am finally working through it, and thoroughly enjoying it. it has also been the inspiration for now reading with a half index card and pen dedicated for thoughts about the book, and notes on people, places, and historical events to look up. because i am forgetful. and because pretending like i know these things in the privacy of my own head is pointless and not helpful in the end. keep sharing, i love the vocabulary lessons!


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