Happy Dictionary Day, dear readers! Well, happy belated Dictionary Day, anyway. The actual Dictionary Day was three days ago on October 16. (Insert sheepish grin) Unbeknownst to me until this very moment, wordsmiths everywhere were busy commemorating the birth of Noah Webster, the father of that great American classic: Webster’s Dictionary. So to celebrate this notable man, and his even more notable accomplishment, I am going to devote an entire post to the good old dictionary.
“Thrilling!” says you, more than a bit sarcastically. “But wait — there’s a bookish twist!” says I, hopefully. I’m going to give you my top five favorite, yet woefully underused, words, along with the fabulous books in which I have seen them actually used. So in alphabetical order (as all good Dictionary Day lists should be!), here is my humble tribute to Mr. Webster and his amazing dictionary.
- exigency (n.) Meaning an urgent need or demand, this gem of a word is actually from a quote of an Emily Dickinson poem used in one of my favorite books of all times, The Humans by Matt Haig. Witty and insightful, The Humans shines a light on the realities of the human race, with all the terrible shortcomings and wonderful idiosyncrasies that make us who we are.
- maudlin (adj.) From The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, written by the talented Gabrielle Zevin, maudlin means self-pityingly or tearfully sentimental. If you love books about books, then this one is a must-read. It’s clever, charming and chock-full of fantastic words like maudlin.
- supercilious (adj.) Webster defines supercilious as…okay, you knew that was coming sooner or later. I promise I won’t go there next time, but since I already did this time…Webster defines supercilious as coolly and patronizingly haughty. This is part of the inaugural description of the character of Ignatius J. Reilly in John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces. Toole was a word master and filled his pages with fantastic choices such as abstruse, elephantine, cretinous and your favorite and mine, supercilious! Woefully underused words can be found peppered throughout every chapter. In fact, as I read, I always keep a little journal of words such as those, and the list amassed while reading A Confederacy of Dunces trumps all others. So, if you’re prepping for the GRE and you don’t mind a bawdy bit of lit, then this is definitely the book for you.
- surreptitiously (adv.) This word is brought to you by the funny, heart-warming debut novel of Graeme Simsion: The Rosie Project. If Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory had a book written from his perspective, this would be it. Leading man Don Tilman lives in a black and white world, never behaving or doing anything in a stealthy or clandestine manner. His best friend, however, always behaves surreptitiously. (I promise my real review will do the book justice; I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to use surreptitiously in a sentence.)
- vicissitude (n.) The meaning of this one, an unwelcome or unpleasant change in circumstances or fortune, is not so great, but I do love the way it rolls off the tongue. Vi-cis-si-tude! I came across this one in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, the first book in the detective series by Canadian author Alan Bradley. Words like vicissitude are but one reason to get hooked on the Flavia de Luce series.
So there you have it, my top five tribute to Mr. Noah Webster. Thank you so much, kind sir, for your contribution to the advancement of the English language! I hope you all enjoyed reading my little list as much as I enjoyed making it.
Until next time, happy reading!
Little Book Reviews