Are you getting your past WORDSWORTHs?
Here are just a few:
lycanthropy, koan, jejune, implacable, histrionic, gossamer, festal, ensorcell, dolor, caravansary,
brainiac, appetence, zetetic, yin and yang, xenagogue, wattle, visage, undulating, timorous,
|. . . and there pour forth jejune words and useless empty
Anthony Trollope (1815-1882)
jejune, adj. (ji jūn’)
Dull, insipid, uninteresting, empty.
Lacking in content, either intellectual or nutrient.
Eg. A jejune diet
If a new movie you have been looking forward to has been described as jejune
by reputable sources, what would be your best course of action?
b) wait for the video or skip it entirely
c) wait in line to see it
And what is so rare as a dame jejune?
Well, . . . nothing! She’s hardly unique.
She’s just one of many, each droning a tune,
monotonous, boring, and weak.
All slogging along in their same daily grinds,
content with their bland status quos:
fresh thoughts never crossing their insipid minds,
and all wed to their Average Joes.
All I want is a warm bed and a kind word and unlimited power.
implacable, adj. (im plake’ uh bl)
Not capable of being appeased or mitigated. Unappeasable, inexorable, rigid, firm,
To choose one’s victims, to prepare one’s plan minutely, to slake an
implacable vengeance, and then to go to bed … there is nothing sweeter in
Josef Stalin (1879-1953)
(Remark to a colleague before signing almost 40,000 death warrants.)
Are you having sweet dreams, Comrade Joe,
you oxymoron-spewing schmo?
Your morals were dismal,
your logic abysmal,
and you dealt the whole world a low blow.
For your murderous sins: hell’s flambeaux.
But your reasoning’s ex nihilo:
To slake the unslakable,
or placate th’implacable –
Is impossible. (Thought you should know!)
Be humble and gentle in your conversation; and of few words, I
related to actors or acting; overly dramatic;
deliberately affected or self-consciously emotional.
Also, sometimes seen as histrionical
behavior or speech for effect, an insincere or exaggerated expression of an emotion;
Princess Pooh-bah flings her hair,
assumes a shocked, offended air,
transitions to her willful glare
then drops her pert, indignant jaw;
while glowering, and baring claw.
All with dramatic flair and histrionic awe.
She’s peeved, irate, and tightly wound.
Coiled for action. Looks around
for willing ears. Primed to expound,
she goes off on a royal rant.
She’s pouting, prissy, petulant,
(The spoiled young thing just heard the answer: . .
. . . “No. You can’t!”)
SAJones 6/2018, rev. 8/2019
The moral duties and doubts of adulthood are swapped out for the histrionic creeds of
Steve Almond, in The Daily Beast, 9/2014
God wove a web of loveliness,
Of clouds and stars and birds,
But made not anything at all
So beautiful as words.
Anna Hempstead Branch, Songs for my Mother.
gossamer, n. or adj. (goss' uh mur)
Noun - Something light, delicate, flimsy, or insubstantial.
A soft, sheer, gauzy fabric.
Adj. - Sheer, light, delicate, tenuous, airy.
A trip to the moon on gossamer wings.
Cole Porter, Just One of Those Things
I'd like to weave a fantasy
With words of gauze and crystal thread,
And laced with whimsy, sans souci,
Transparent wings outspread.
Diaph'nous feathers interlaced,
I'd burst, unfettered, life's cocoon;
And soar, by gossamer embraced,
Ecstatic, to the moon.
… and a word in season, how good it is!
festal, adj. (fĕst’ ul)
Of, relating to, of the nature of, or pertaining to a holiday, feast, or festival;
festive. Joyous, offering fun and gaiety.
Each age has deemed the new-born year
The fittest time for festal cheer.
Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832)
Here, harmony adorns our Christmas hearth.
With table, groaning ’neath a heavy load,
And gifts with care selected and bestowed.
With joyous hearts, warm wishes, festal mirth,
And cordial feelings, and the wassail flowing,
And friends and kin and children, faces glowing,
We celebrate again a wondrous birth –
Then, welcome in a new year. And, although
Our prayers but echo angels long ago,
We say once more:
Good Will and Peace on Earth.
The above verse is patterned after the sonnet,
“New Year’s Day,” by John Moultrie 1799-1874.
Take a look at my "blahg" page.
Words, I think, are the one great exhaustless
charm and resource of life
Gamaliel Bradford (1863-1932)
ensorcell, verb (en sor’ sǝl)
Sometimes seen as ensorcel – (one “l”) –
as in the Kilpatrick quote below.
To enchant, bewitch, fascinate, cast a spell upon.
Use sorcery on, becharm, beguile, spellbind, mesmerize, bedevil.
E.g., Her writing sparkles, and her plots and characters ensorcell.
From the Old French ensorcerer, from en- + -sorcerer, from sorcier (a sorcerer)
Words beguile. And sparkling style
can put me in a trance.
Phrases apt compel my rapt
attention and applause.
Speech disarms. Spellbinds. Charms.
Clever verse enchants.
Poetry ensorcells me –
fascinates and awes.
. . .Believe me, I am not against exotic words.
I love them. I venerate them. They ensorcel me! Got that?
James J. Kilpatrick (1920-2010),
Chicago Sun-Times, Nov. 24, 2002.
I sometimes hold it half a sin
to put in words the grief I feel;
Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)
Remember the little verse about Monday's Child? (Full of grace? And Tuesday's, Wednesday's etc,
through the week?) It was supposed to help children remember the days of the week, AND It was
supposed to tell a child's character or future based on his or her birth day.
Well, here's a more-than-slightly updated version of the verse, and considerably less sunny. And, it
attempts to include a bit of a pun at the end and to highlight the word
dolor, n. (dō’-lər) –
Sorrow, grief. Painful anguish, suffering.
With this new word/verse posting, you get two-for-the-price of one.
Since we're talking about something happening weekly (AND grimly) we've given the verse a
A note regarding the pronunciation of dolor:
Most dictionaries still give what I've shown above, with the first syllable having a long "o."
However, m-w.com gives a second, therefore acceptable pronunciation of "dollar." One of
my favorite websites, rhymezone.com, doesn't give a pronunciation, but the rhymes it gives
all rhyme with "dollar." Hmmm.
Abomidable Hebdomadal* (Bleakly Weekly)
Monday, as is oft the case,
a new week hit me in the face.
Tuesday’s madcap gosling chase
put me squarely in last place.
Two more laps in life’s rat race.
Wednesday ebbed, but wouldn't flow;
Instead of “to,” it just went “fro.”
Hoping for some weal, but nooo. . .,
Thursday brought me only woe.
Two more days, ho-hum, hum-ho.
Friday – fraught with cares and sighs,
darkened prospects, and bleak skies.
Saturday. Soooo, should I rise?
“Why get up?” my being cries.
Two more days. Gloom magnifies.
Now comes Sunday: absence solar –
Sun-less. Storm clouds. Gray steamroller.
Another day. Another dolor.
*hebdomadal, adj. (accent on the second syllable), weekly
Footless words may travel out a thousand miles.
It's getting to be graduation time.
In most communities, schools will soon be closed for the summer.
What that means for many families is the yearly summer vacation. Where shall we go this
year? What did we learn from last year's experience? Stella Benson (1892–1933), in Pipers
and a Dancer, wrote, "Family jokes, though rightly cursed by strangers, are the bond that
keeps most families alive." Let's get the car, the van, the SUV loaded. It's almost time to
make more family jokes and memories on that yearly . . .
caravansary, n, kăr’ uh vann’ suh ree – also kăr’ uh vann’ suh rī
A large inn or hotel.
Originally, a large inn built around a court,
designed for accommodating caravans at night in the Near or Far East.
Think, in this batter’d Caravanserai
Whose Doorways are alternate Night and Day,
How Sultan after Sultan with his Pomp
Abode his Hour or two, and went his way.
Edward Fitzgerald (1809-1883)
Bedraggled, weary, exiting the van,
Are (count them!) – one, two, three, four, five. Our clan.
We’re on our yearly bonding ritual,
The touted holiday familial.
Each somehow like the one before,
whose varied tellings pass into our lore.
I know you’re hot. (Somehow, we’ve lost the air
conditioning.) Yes, dear, we’ll soon be there.
Wrong turns get made. We’re lost. Let’s pin some guilt!
He’s jabbing me. Look, Mom, my Coke just spilt.
More squabbling from the rear. She hit me first!
They’re crowding me. We’ve got to stop. I’ll burst.
A tire goes flat. And one of us throws up.
There’s Mom, jaw set in patience. Dad blows up.
At long, long last, (Now, aren’t we having fun?)
We see both neon sign and setting sun.
An end in sight. Farewell, sweet odyssey:
We’ve reached our (budget) caravansary.
A fool and his words are soon parted;
a man of genius and his money.
William Shenstone (1714-1763), On Reserve
My first guess is that you have encountered some very smart and very talented people. I
My second guess is that you have also discovered that the most intelligent and talented
among them are also the most unassuming. Modesty and humility seem to expand with
giftedness. That’s what I’ve found, anyway.
That’s why I was so stunned to read that a person in a very high office felt the need to
declare himself a genius. And a stable one at that! Could he be called a
brainiac, n. (brā’ nē ak) ?
An extremely intelligent person. From the villain, Brainiac, in Superman comics, a
mechanical, emotionless cohort of Lex Luther. Probably a combination of brain and maniac.
Today, it is used more in a humorous sense to denote a highly (exceptionally, even)
intelligent individual. You will sometimes see it capitalized.
Again, the stable, well-grounded people I know don’t announce that fact.
They don’t need to! (Because they’re . . . stable!)
However, I tried to empathize and imagine and to put myself in the mindset of such a
person. I came up with the following verse:
Genius. And sharp as tacks – that’s me.
But . . . firmly grounded!
And charges I’m quixotic and small-minded are unfounded.
Rash decisions? Made-up “facts”?
I haven’t the capacity,
'cuz mine’s a solid, level-headed perspicacity . . .
fueling smart, yet steady acts.
I’m not some dotard maniac.
No, I’m a stable, balanced, even-tempered brainiac.
Gut reactions? Not the track
for me. It’s just the consequence
of my intense, High-Q, unflappable intelligence.
Do you have to use words like that?
It really disempowers you.
From the movie Beautiful Thing
I've been substitute teaching in the local school district for almost two years. It seems to be
a common belief among the students that their (and their colleagues') inappropriate
language and behavior should be overlooked, since "that's just the we are!"
Why modify this behavior, when we just can't help it? It brings to mind the word
appetence, n. (ăpp’ ĭ tuns)
A strong, intense craving or desire.
A tendency, propensity, natural attraction, or affinity.
From Milton’s Paradise Lost, Book XI,
Bred only and completed to the taste
Of lustful appetence, to sing, to dance
to dress and troll the tongue, and roll the eye.
Also appetency, a longing or desire.
Maybe I should adopt the attitude of my students. In fact, I do just that in the following
I am inclined. I have a bent.
(A predilection.) Heaven sent,
this tendency? Or born of hell?
A curse or blessing? Who can tell?
I zig – or zag – ruled by intense
proclivity – or appentence.
Free will gets trumped by inclination –
I’m victim of predestination.
I simply know inherent needs
precipitated these base deeds.
I had to. I was predisposed.
I couldn’t help it. Case is closed.
|All persons are puzzles until at last we find
some word or act the key to the man, to the woman; . . .
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
koan, n. (kō’ än)
A puzzle. A verbal riddle, especially as used in Zen Buddhism, to show the
inadequacy of logic and reason in reaching enlightenment.
A paradoxical question that cannot be answered logically, but that can help the
seeker transcend seeking. (And if there is an answer it is largely immaterial.)
It is meant to inspire meditation, reflection and enlightenment.
From the Japanese kō (public) + an (matter)
With a koan, there’s no knowin’
what the answer just might be.
With no clues to help in choosing
answers to this mystery,
Zen-like musing turns confusing
paradox to clarity.
Riddle. Koan. Something no one
can intuit logically.
Whether you think of it as a Buddhist riddle (termed a "koan"), a mystical
allegory, or an inner-world travelogue; if you're in the right frame of mind,
you will surely be fascinated by this demanding but intelligent and visually
John Farr: "In An Accelerated World - Ten Movies to Soothe the Soul"
A new word is like a wild animal you have caught. You must learn
its ways and break it before you can use it.
H. G. Wells
(ly kann’ thruh pee)
The delusion that one has become a wolf. OR
In folklore, the magical ability to assume the form and characteristics of a wolf.
Since ancient times, belief in lycanthropy has been widespread. The stories have existed
since Ovid and Pliny about humans who became wolves at night, but who returned to their
human form by day. Often, this transformation was triggered by a full moon.
The sudden appearance of unsightly body hair aside, there are, it turns out, certain
advantages to lycanthropy, especially in its early stages. Unnoticed by previous
wolfman epics, they prove useful to Will Randall (Jack Nicholson), an editor fighting for
his professional life, and equally beneficial to Wolf in establishing a tone – half social
satire, half dark romance – that is unique in the annals of horror movies.
Richard Schickel, “Sympathy for the Bedeviled,”
Time, June 20, 1994
Daylight yields to gloom nocturnal.
See that moon?
Fangs get bared; skin grows hirsute,
and I turn into a brute –
Crazy like a wolf infernal –
(not a loon!)
Moonlit eventides imperil,
and I growl.
And my attitude turns feral,
and I prowl.
Smitten by lycanthropy,
I submit to lunacy –
I’m a man in wolf’s apparel –
Hear me howl!
Question everything. Every stripe, every star,
every word spoken. Everything.
Ernest J. Gaines (b. 1933), “The Sky is Gray”
(African-American author, e.g. A Lesson Before Dying)
zetetic, adj. or n. (zǝ tet’ ik)
noun A seeker or skeptic.
The word comes from the Greek followers of the skeptic Pyrrho (c 360–c 270 BC).
Pyrrhonians (or Pyrrhonism) can be subdivided into those who are ephectic (a
"suspension of judgment"), zetetic ("engaged in seeking"), or aporetic ("engaged in
Usually, in investigating the word itself, the “zetetic” word-aholic will inevitably find
references to Samuel Birley Rowbotham, a radical 19th-century British socialist who wrote
under the pseudonym Parallax, and to his "modern public revival of the flat-earth idea",
which he called "zetetic astronomy."
. . . my current favorite word, “zetetic”, meaning skeptical of all established canons of
skepticism or bias for or against likelihood, even one’s own, . . .
From a book review, Denver Examiner, April 1, 2012.
The ascetic zetetic will turn off the phone,
unplug the TV, and will ponder alone.
No enigma’s too puzzling or tough.
His more sociable colleagues, their minds in a huddle,
while they skeptically probe some perplexing muddle,
sort the logical grist from the fluff.
They will question their theories and pose hypothetic-
al theorems and concepts, their methods zetetic,
thinking through to the bottom of stuff.
Words are female, deeds are male.
Italian proverb or saying.
Also attributed (sometimes using masculine/feminine or men/women) to John Florio,
Baltazar Gracian, and George Herbert. And others!
yin and yang, n. phrase (yin’ and yāng)
Opposite sides, elements, or extremes.
From the Chinese (Peking) yin – dark, and yang – bright.
Two forces in the universe, according to a Chinese theory: yin is the passive, negative
(feminine) force, and yang the active, positive (masculine) force. Their interaction
influences the destinies of creatures and things.
Within each of us lies conflicting forces: yin and yang, light and dark, good and evil.
from “The Tiger and the Pussycat,” 2001 episode of The Jackie Chan Adventures TV
I’m such a mix of clashing forces.
The dark’s inside me. Too, of course, is
Light or bright. A simple fact.
Active, passive; good and evil . . .
meet, butt heads; create upheaval –
Seeking balance, union, pact?
I’m nice and nasty; gloom and glee;
I’m Tweedledum and Tweedledee.
I complement and interact.
I’m masculine and feminine;
My yang must coexist with yin.
Will my opposites attract?
What a narrow groove of vocabulary authors travel –
they use the same words all the time.
Mark Twain (1835-1910)
xenagogue, noun (zēn’ ǝ gog)
(Rare, and not found in many dictionaries.)
A guide. One who conducts strangers, tourists, or guests.
From the Greek xeno, meaning foreign or strange and agogos, meaning leading or guiding.
A xenagogy is a guidebook. Here’s an example from the 16th century:
The places, whereof I ment to make note in this my Xenagogie and perambulation of
“It's official," crows the Oxford English Dictionary Web site, "we are a nation ruled by
time.". . . But doesn't it seem just a little curious that the top English noun now in use is the
word time . . . What's amazing is how this rather mundane word suddenly stands above
the other 615,000 entries listed in the Oxford book, which is more or less the official
receptacle of all words English. But how does time trump words like xenagogue (a
person who guides strangers) and the ever-popular blog (which is computereze for
boring*)? . . .
John Bogert, “It's time for you xenagogues to push us ahead of the curve,”
Daily Breeze [Torrance, Calif] 29 June 2006: A2.
*blog, "computereze for boring" - I like that.
Hence, my verse:
If you’re boring, and you know it, write a blog.
I’m imploring, though: Forgo it! Go whole hog
to a different type of writing –
wander- wonder-lust inciting –
(the exploring, go-it, show-it travelogue).
Change your style. Become a travel pedagogue.
Don a smile, and hum a meanderin’ dialog.
Guide some tourists round about.
Lead some guests, and I’ve no doubt,
In a while, you’re one unboring xenagogue.
Poetry is boned with ideas, nerved and blooded with emotions, all held together by the
delicate, tough skin of words.
Paul Engle, New York Times, February 17, 1957.
noun (waht’ l)
The wrinkled, fleshy, often brightly-colored folds of skin under the necks of
certain birds and lizards.
By association, then, can be taken to describe the similar folds of skin seen under the chins
of some older people.
The years press on, like it or not,
Remorseless as a juggernaut.
My prime is passing on all fronts.
I’m not the fellow I was once.
My youthful grins have drooped to scowls;
I’ve sprouted paunch and sagging jowls,
And wrinkles, bags, and liver spots;
My vim and gut have gone to pot.
My mind has slowed, as has my gait.
Receding hair and graying pate
Contribute to my outlook surly.
My hearing’s dim; my bedtime early.
Attached to my hot water bottle,
I creak and groan and snooze and dawdle.
Forgetfulness and slowed response
Are bad enough. But what most daunts,
Dismays, disgusts, and gets my goat
Is all this flesh around my throat.
Yes, what most makes me overwrought ’ll
Have to be this wretched wattle.
Nels Gudmundsson, the attorney, … rose to cross-examine Art Moran with a slow and
deliberate geriatric awkwardness, … . raised his chin, fingered his bow tie, and pinched
experimentally the wattles of skin at his neck – a habit of his when he was thinking.
Snow Falling on Cedars, David Guterson.
Words are such temperamental beings
that the surest way to lose their essence is to take them at their face.
Learned Hand (1872-1961)
visage, n. (viz' ǝj)
The face, countenance, or facial expression of a person.
Why hast thou not the visage of a sweetie or a cutie?
Why glitter thy spectacles so ominously?
Why art thou clad so abominously?
Why art thou so different from Venus
And why do thou and I have so few interests mutually in common
Ogden Nash, "Kind of an Ode to Duty"
And thou, O Obligation,
Sterner Lawgiver than Duty and homelier than tarnation,
Whenever I look upon thy unsmiling visage,
Thou throw'st my freedom-loving spirit into a tizzage.
Thou cloud’st my frail humanity with responsibility’s onus;
And I respond to thy strict, reproving, unchanging visage
with incredible slowness.
There’s something in thy visage
On which I dare not look, . . .
Parr’s Life Pills (Anon)
Do not go forth on the gale with every sail set into an ocean of words.
undulating, adj. (un’ dyoo late ing)
Moving in the manner of waves; rising and falling. From the verb,
undulate, To form or move in waves; fluctuate; rise and fall. To present a wavy appearance, or
to move or cause to move in a wavy, sinuous, or flowing manner.
undulate, adj. (un’ dyoo lut, or late) – Having a wavy surface or manner.
undulation, n. Rising and falling in waves; waviness or pulsating in motion.
undulatory, adj. Of or relating to undulation. undulant, adj. – Wavy, wavelike.
The llama is a woolly sort of fleecy hairy goat,
With an indolent expression and an undulating throat.
Like an unsuccessful literary man (Hilaire Belloc)
When I consider undulating things, unlike Hilaire,
I don’t imagine pulsing throats. No, I think mal de mer.
With that undulating, fluctuating motion of my boat,
There’s no quelling or dispelling what is welling in my throat.
Rippling, rolling, ebb-and-flowing in my to-and-fro-ing ketch,
Surging billows make me bilious, and I think I’m going to retch.
Woozy, flailing, in this oscillating, vacillating sway,
I am failing at this sailing. So I’m bailing. (SAJ) 1999
To watch the gently undulating billows, rolling their silver volumes.
Washington Irving, Sketch Book
For whatever is truly wondrous
and fearful in man, never yet
was put into words or books.
Herman Melville (1819-1891)
timorous, adj. (tim’ ǝr us)
Timid. Full of apprehensiveness or fear.
From the Latin timor – fear.
… those mere aggressive glances had put her timorous little heart into
such a flutter that she was ready to surrender...
William Makepeace Thackeray,
Regardless of how hard I try
and look straight at that passerby,
and offer up a friendly “Hi,”
. . . I’m timorous . . .
I can’t. Oh, why . . .
do better impulses defy,
and my best struggles to untie
this timid tongue all go awry?
My apprehensions multiply.
I’m very shy.
There are ... intangible realities which float near us, formless and without words;
realities which no one has thought out, . . .
Natalie Clifford Barney (1876-1972)
simulacrum, n. (sim yū lā’ krum) simulacra, pl.
A mere image or imitation of something, specious perhaps.
A slight, unreal, or superficial likeness or semblance.
An effigy, image, or representation, e.g. a simulacrum of Medusa.
. . . the sky, with silver swirls like locks of toss’d hair, spreading, expanding – a vast, voiceless,
formless simulacrum – yet maybe the most real reality and formulator of everything – who knows?
Walt Whitman (1819-1892),
“A July Afternoon by the Pond”
A Swirl of Whitman
Encircling in vast skies – blue, gray – come
clouds with shapes. A simulacrum.
Images and semblances, maybe?
Likenesses? Or real reality?
How can these fancies in the yonder
change to real? Transformed, we wonder,
from illusion? -- shed their misty shrouds?
Are our heads too high up in the clouds?
Vast and gray, the sky
is a simulacrum
to all but him whose days
are vast and gray, . . .
William Carlos Williams (1883-1963), “The Desolate Field”
Madame, it is an old word and each one takes it new and wears it out
Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) Death in the Afternoon
raddled, adj. (radd’ ld)
Showing the effects of overwork or suffering.
Unkempt, run-down, or haggard in appearance.
Worn out; broken down.
E.g., Well, Henry, no one can say you're not experienced.
In fact, the word I'd use is old, old and raddled.
“Sally’s Arrival,” episode from Drop the Dead Donkey (1990 TV Series)
Time’s and tide’s effects are such
that languor has me in its clutch.
My timbers, once shipshape, are shivered.
My beauty spots, now aged, are livered.
I blame the ravages of time
for waning wits and insights I’m
not grasping. Yes, I’ve lost my steam.
My headlights are on lowest beam.
My metaphors are mixed – at best,
(as these anemic lines attest.)
My looks have faded, and my hair
(now gray) requires Ms Clairol’s care.
I’m looking haggard, truth be told.
I’m raddled. Raddled, yes. And old.
She was a little grotesque, a raddled caricature of a fading beauty.
Margaret Drabble, “Portraits of the Artists,” The Guardian, March 4, 2011