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February 2005 Archives

Book Words: bibliophile; vade mecum; polyglot; escritoire; marginalia; frontlist, midlist, backlist

For Valentine's Day: canoodle; epigamic; tentiginous; demi-vierge; nictitate (prurient, diaphanous); courtesan; callipygous; coquette

"Bell" Words: belgard; beldam; campanology; gavial; bellwether; cloche; belvedere

Government and Rule: thalassocracy; malversation; immobilism; kleptocracy; misprision; ptochocracy

Jane Austen #3: superannuated; sedulous; (ossify, assiduous); puppyism; self-consequence; importunate; imaginist; tremulous



Book Words


Oh for a booke and a shadie nooke,
Eyther in doore or out;
With the grene leaves whispering overhead
Or the streete cryes all about.
Where I maie reade all at my ease,
Both of the newe and old;
For a jollie goode booke whereon to looke,
Is better to me than golde.
– Old English song, quoted by Sir John Lubbock, The Pleasures of Life (1887)


This week we shall look at the words of the book,
Some shining with golden hue.
And if some be ironic or slightly sardonic,
You'll surely enjoy them too.

bibliophile – a lover of books; also, a book collector


... an individually owned work was protected for the creator's life plus 50 more years; corporate-owned copyrights lasted a flat 75 years. The [Bono Act] law extended both timespans by two decades, prompting a legal challenge by Eric Eldred, a bibliophile in New Hampshire who wanted to put digitized editions of old books online. When the Court ruled against Eldred, the Disney Corporation issued a collective sigh of relief. Before the Bono Act passed, Mickey Mouse was set to enter the public domain in 2004, with his best-known animated pals following shortly afterward.
– Jesse Walker, Mickey Mouse clubbed, Reason, April 1, 2003


vade mecum – [Latin, go-with-me] a ready-reference book; a manual;
(hence also something regularly carried about by a person)
Wordcrafter note: the term generally conveys superior distain for one who needs such a manual. All quotes below, except the first, illustrate this.


… the Itinerario, which acts as vade mecum for any Java-bound navigators using this map, whom it duly advises "to reach the mouth of the Sunda Strait stay close to the mainland of Sumatra, ..."
– Simon Winchester, Krakatoa: The Day the World Exploded, August 27, 1883

Self-Help [an 1869 book by the aptly named Samuel Smiles] is the ancestor of all self-help and motivational books and audio tapes, the indispensable vade mecums of the person who feels overwhelmed by the tide and tempo of modern life. The emotional anchor Smiles offered his readers was the example of the great who had risen above humble beginnings and conquered adversity.
– Arthur Herman, How the Scots Invented the Modern World

Veblen was about to publish The Theory of the Leisure Class. But unexpectedly, it was a sensation. ... overnight the book became the vade mecum of the intelligentsia of the day: as an eminent sociologist told Veblen, "it fluttered the dovecotes of the East."
– Robert L. Heilbroner, The Worldly Philosophers

And yet these precepts were all uttered before the time of Christ, for example in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, concerning which a leading authority in this matter says, "St. Paul seems to have used the book as a vade mecum." – Bertrand Russell, Can Religion Cure our Troubles?


polyglot – 1. a book with the same text in different languages (esp. the Bible)
            2. someone who can speak multiple languages
            3. a confusion of languages.
            adj. – speaking or writing, or written in, several languages

Two meanings are shown in this biographical sketch of Lazarusludwig Zamenhof:


Founder of the universal language "Esperanto". He compiled many text-books, and was the author of a polyglot phrase-book. Zamenhof's reputation is due to the fact that he is the founder of Esperanto, the new universal language. The idea was suggested to him by the polyglot character of his native town; four different languages were spoken there, and to this fact he attributed the constant dissensions and misunderstandings which disturbed the city.
– Jewish Encyclopedia (1905) (excerpted)


escritoire – a writing table; a desk, particularly, a desk with a top section for books


It's a grand old line, major, a sublime old line; I wanted my Peerage; I'll fetch it myself, presently, and show you a thing or two that will give you a realizing idea of what our house is. I've been glancing through Burke*, and I find that of William the Conqueror's sixty-four natural ah-- my dear, would you mind getting me that book? It's on the escritoire in our boudoir.
– Mark Twain, The American Claimant, ch.V

Between the windows, a fragile escritoire had been topped by her, earlier in this week. with a bowl of roses -today, the petals began to fall. Some books of her own were wedged among those not hers in the shelves in the arched recesses.
– Elizabeth Bowen, The Heat of the Day


*Note: perhaps our British readers could give us a better understanding of Burke's Peerage?


marginalia – notes made in the margins of a book


Harry brought his Paris guidebooks, replete with his underlinings and marginalia, to Rooie's room on the Bergstraat.
– John Irving, A Widow for One Year


frontlist – [usage ambiguous] publisher's list of new or current titles, or of those being pushed as potential blockbusters

midlist – a publisher's new or current books expected to have less popular appeal than the frontlist

backlist – publisher's list of older titles kept in print

– backlist books give the publisher modest but steady income at little cost;
– frontlist books, though costly, offer the hope of high profits;
– midlist books are getting squeezed out.


The battle for rack space has become so intense that the "frontlist" (new and forthcoming titles) overpowers the backlist. A generation ago 60 percent of sales was backlist; now that has dwindled to about 25 percent. While the frontlist is aggressively promoted and the backlist is kept at a minimum, the midlist disappears.
– James B. Twitchell, Carnival Culture (1991)

At Warner, which is a major frontlist house, unless the book can break out in a major way for us, it probably isn't right for us. That usually means most general midlist nonfiction won't work for us.
– Rick Wolf, Exec. Editor of Warner Books, quoted in Writer's Guide to Book Editors, Publishers, and Literary Agents by Jeff Herman

St. Martin's was so impressed by his [J. H. Hatfield's] work in just eight months that it moved the book up from a midlist paperback to a frontlist hardcover.
– Bobby Tanzilo, On Milwaukee magazine, Sept. 2, 2003



For Valentine's Day

Just in time for Valentine's Day, we bring you some words of love and attraction. Impress your significant other!

canoodle – to kiss and cuddle amorously

Perhaps a better definition is from an 1859 British publication: "A sly kiss, and a squeeze, and a pressure of the foot or so, and a variety of harmless endearing blandishments, known to our American cousins (who are great adepts at sweet-hearting) under the generic name of canoodling. Our quote today also illustrates the sense of light intimacy.


Only a month ago, Hollywood's golden couple broke the sad news that their fairytale marriage was the Pitts. So what were Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston doing playing the loved-up couple on a secret dinner date in a posh Los Angeles restaurant? ... they made no attempt to hide their obvious affection for one another as they spent the next three hours canoodling over a candle-lit dinner. A source tells us: "Brad and Jennifer came in giggling and holding hands, they looked totally happy. Over dinner they were whispering and chatting quite intimately - they couldn't keep their hands off each other."
– The Mirror, Feb. 2, 2005


And since a picture is worth a thousand words, you might want to check here.


The word 'epigamic', though rarely found outside of scientific writings on natural selection, would seem wonderfully apt for everyday speech. For example, one could speak of a tight-fitting, alluring dress as epigamic. I'll give examples of a dry scientific use, and of a rare non-scientific one.

epigamic – (of a trait or behavior) tending to attract a mate, such as large antlers or bright colors. (See picture here )


He was commanding, brave, dignified and surprisingly epigamic, as Livia pointed out. – Allan Massie, Augustus

Darwin introduced the concept of sexual selection, a special case of natural selection in which selection is acting on variations in the ability to obtain mates. Darwin identified two modes by which sexual selection could operate: contest competition: among members of one sex for access to mates – known as intrasexual selection – and competition to attract members of the other sex, referred to as epigamic selection.
– Charles W. Fox, Evolutionary Ecology (excerpted)


Intriguingly, the science literature tends to conceive of and define epigamic traits as male displays attracting the female, shouting out 'choose me'. But of course, the female too has her attractive mechanisms.


The obsolete word tentiginous has an interesting pair of meanings.
            1. Stiff; stretched; strained.
            2. Lustful, or pertaining to lust.

I trust no comment is necessary.


Scholar Eric Partridge says, in Shakespeare's Bawdy:
It was a Frenchman who coined the term demi-vierge, 'a girl or woman still undevirginated, yet far from innocent with her compliance in vulval digitation and mamma-caresses': fear-held from frankness, they may be habitual c.t.'s

The term was introduced into English by Marcel Prιvost's novel Les Demi-vierge (1894, tr. 1895). Our long quotes give noted authors' very different perspectives. Note Lawrence's sad sense of being trapped in an unhappy limbo, "so intimate, and utterly out of touch".


Sinclair Lewis, Babbitt:

"Why don't you divorce Zilla?"
"Why don't I! If I only could! But honestly, I'd be tickled to death if she'd really go making love with somebody. Fat chance! Of course she'll flirt with anything--you know how she holds hands and laughs--that laugh--that horrible brassy laugh--the way she yaps, 'You naughty man, you better be careful or my big husband will be after you!'--and the guy looking me over and thinking, 'Why, you cute little thing, you run away now or I'll spank you!' And she'll let him go just far enough so she gets some excitement out of it and then she'll begin to do the injured innocent and have a beautiful time wailing, 'I didn't think you were that kind of a person.' They talk about these demi-vierges in stories--"
"These WHATS?"
"--but the wise, hard, corseted, old married women like Zilla are worse than any bobbed-haired girl that ever went boldly out into this-here storm of life--and kept her umbrella slid up her sleeve!

D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterly's Lover:

He wanted to say something later to Connie about the demi-vierges business...the half-virgin state of her affairs. But he could not bring himself to do it. He was at once too intimate with her and not intimate enough. He was so very much at one with her, in his mind and hers, but bodily they were non-existent to one another, and neither could bear to drag in the corpus delicti. They were so intimate, and utterly out of touch.

Germaine Greer When I left school I was faced with this ghastly thing called dating. I didn't know what the hell it was supposed to be about. … my convent training just said: look, by all means, if you want to make love to a man, do it and take the consequences, but this ignoble business of groping and finger-fucking, keep out of it. It's vile and it's called hypocrisy. It's no use being a demi-vierge; you have to be either fiercely virginal or fiercely non-virginal.
– The habit of a lifetime: Germaine Greer looks back fondly on her strange, sex-obsessed school days as a convent girl, The Guardian, Nov. 27, 2003


nictitate – to wink
Add the prefix con- = 'with' to the same 'wink' root, and you get our word connive, literally to wink together at.


Terry's Guide to Cuba [1921] gave tourists precise directions to Havana's waterfront red-light district – "the prurient spot resorted to by courtesans, varying in complexion from peach white to coal black, 15-year-old flappers and ebony antiques; chiefly outlanders who unblushingly loll about heavy-eyed and languorous, in abbreviated and diaphanous costumes; nictitating with incendiary eyes at passing masculinity; studiously displaying their physical charms or luring the stranger with flaming words or maliciously imperious gestures."
– Louis A. Perez, Jr., On Becoming Cuban : Identity, Nationality, and Culture


Bonus words:
– having or causing an excessive interest in sex
[from Latin for 'to itch; have a craving'.]

diaphanous – so light and delicate as to be see-through
[Greek dia through + phainein to show. Thus related to 'phantom']
. . .(also fig: vague or insubstantial: diaphanous hopes)

courtesan – a prostitute, especially one with wealthy or upper-class clients
[Wikipedia delicately says "a person paid and/or supported for the giving of social companionship and intimate liaisons to one or more partners. The word is generally reserved for those who enjoyed the most social status for such services."]


callipygous or callipygian – having shapely buttocks


Nurse Sue Ann Duckett despised Aaryf, and that was another one of the numerous fetching traits about Nurse Duckett that Yossarian enjoyed. He enjoyed Nurse Sue Ann Duckett's long white legs and supple, callipygous ass …
– Joseph Heller, Catch 22

The Greeks, who had a word for everything, provided us with a lovely one to describe the sleekly rounded, well-proportioned bottom. In five flowing syllables, the word "callipygian" says it all and says it ever so much more suavely than does the lame literal rendering, "having beautiful buttocks."
. . .All of this was updated, in pretty stark terms, when a reader wrote to me in desperation asking, "Do you know where I can buy a foam-rubber fanny?" I replied that I never heard of poopdeck falsies, but if I did I would fill her in with a view toward filling her out.
– Abigail van Buren The Best Of Dear Abby


Bonus: Tutu was euphemistic baby talk in 19th century French for cucu, a derivative of cul, a rather coarse word for the backside. It was originally applied to the tight fitting underwear worn by dancers and then to the dress covering the underwear.


coquette – an insincerely flirtatious woman [adj. coquettish]. to coquet – 1. to trifle or dally in love 2. to deal playfully instead of seriously as, we have coquetted with political crime

Webster's 1913 puts it well: she "endeavors to attract admiration from a desire to gratify vanity". I think of the opening scene in Gone With the Wind, where Scarlett, surrounded by a crowd of admiring young men, flirts with them all.

The rare masculine form, coquet, seems to be the original. Derived from Old French coc from Late Latin coccus, rooster.

Popularity, I have always thought, may aptly be compared to a coquette – the more you woo her, the more apt is she to elude your embrace.
– John Tyler, U.S. President 1841-1845 (nicknamed Accidental President and His Accidency)

"You've remained so faithful to dear Charlie, though you could have married dozens of times. Melly and I have often said how loyal you were to his memory when everyone else said you were just a heartless coquette." Scarlett passed over this tactless confidence.
– Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind



"Bell" Words

Happy Valentine's Day! A Valentine word, fitting last week's theme, will begin this week's theme of "Bell Words". This word is rare and obsolete, basically last used by Edmund Spenser (Shakespeare's contemporary) quoted below, who was consciously using an archaic style. But oh! what lovely quotations!

belgard – a sweet or loving look


Sometimes upon her forhead they behold
A thousand graces masking in delight;
Sometimes within her eye-lids they unfold
Ten thousand sweet belgard, which to their sight
Doe seeme like twinckling starres in frostie night
- An Hymne In Honour Of Beautie

Upon her eyelids many Graces sate,
Under the shadow of her even browes,
Working belgard, and amorous retrate,              [retreat]
And every one her with a grace endowes:
And every one with meekenesse to her bowes.
- Fairie Queen

Happy Valentine's Day to my darling.


Today we see that the 'bel' is not always a beauteous belle with her belgards.

beldam – a elderly woman, esp. an ugly evil-looking one
[Wordcrafter note: I would say, "a hag or harpy."]

The authorities say this is from bel beautiful, + dame. Perhaps. But the beldam is certainly not beautiful.


[At an open-air market] More than once, I was elbowed fiercely in the ribs by one of these bargain-hunting harpies, and my shins still bear the bruises from the kicks of zip-up suede bootees. Most were accompanied by bewildered menfolk, blinking nervously at the carnage all round, and slowly disappearing beneath the mounds of "bargains" they were expected to carry round, ultimately paying for. Mrs Hextol was of course oblivious to the Hogarthian horde, except when one bright-eyed beldam tried to help herself from the pile of trophies of the hunt I was supposed to be guarding.
– Hexham Courant, Jan. 28, 2005


Would someone more knowledgeable than I care to explain 'Hogarthian'?

A reader notes: A Supreme Court Justice once said he could not define pornography, but knew it when he saw it. The same is true of Hogarth, a portrayer of the roiling, moiling underclass of 18th century London. Check out especially the classic Gin Lane print from 1750.


campanology – the art of ringing bells; campanologist
[Also, say some dictionaries, the art of casting or tuning bells. I cannot confirm that usage, and I have made inquiry of Whitechapel Bell Foundry Ltd., which is noted in that art.]

Are any of our readers fans of Dorothy L. Sayers and her Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries? Campanology is a major part of her novel The Nine Tailors, and is essential to the plot. Here are two quotes come from that novel, followed by a more recent citation.


…..[Wimsey speaking] "It's a pity you can't relieve me at the rope, Bunter."
….."I assure your lordship that for the first time in my existence I regret that I have made no practical study of campanology."
….."Did you ever try?"
… "Once only, my lord, and on that occasion an accident was only narrowly averted. Owing to my unfortunate lack of manual dexterity I was very nearly hanged in the rope, my lord."

The art of change-ringing is peculiar to the English, and, like most English peculiarities, unintelligible to the rest of the world. To the musical Belgian, for example, it appears that the proper thing to do with a carefully-tuned ring of bells is to play a tune upon it. By the English campanologist, the playing of tunes is considered to be a childish game, only fit for foreigners; the proper use of bells is to work out mathematical permutations and combinations.

the two cathedrals - Anglican and Catholic - faced one another in Hope Street (an ironic name). I liked the fact that the rivalry was mainly expressed in campanology - sectarianism as a load of bells.
– Robert McNeil The Scotsman, Jan. 19, 2005


Campanology update: A most helpful e-mail from Alan Hughes of Whitechapel Bell Foundry Limited, states as follows after noting the Chambers definition by way of introduction:

That being said these expressions are very rarely used by bell ringers or anyone involved with the casting or making of bells when referring to bells. They are usually used by non-bell people.

My thanks to Mr. Hughes.


gavial – a crocodile-like animal of northern India, with a long slender snout; picture here
Why is this a "bell" word? Because the name, from Sanskrit, is probably derived from the Sanskrit for "bell," alludng to the bulb at the end of the animal's snout.

bellwether – a leader of trends, or a leading indicator of trends
From the original meaning: the sheep that leads the flock (that sheep is often belled)
[bell + wether = castrated ram]

Our quotes illustrate all three meanings. You'll find it a great pleasure to read, at the link, the full poem from which the last quote is taken.


... the [New York] Times, bellwether and fashion setter for the city's press ...
– Robert A. Caro, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York

In 1996, in a 50-50 race for president the swing state was New Jersey. By the 2000 election, New Jersey was solidly Democratic; Florida, a state that historically leaned Republican, was the new bellwether.
– Dick Morris, Rewriting History

And then a wise bellwether sheep
Pursued the trail o’er vale and steep,
And drew the flock behind him, too,
As good bellwethers always do.
The Calf-Path by Sam Foss


cloche – [from the French for 'bell'] either of two bell-shaped covers:
1. woman's hat, close-fitting and bell-shaped
2. a cover, usually bell-shaped, to protect plants from frost

You'll understand readily when you see a picture such a hat here or here.


Most readers today, if asked what era these characters [of P.G. Wodehouse] belong to, would probably answer vaguely in terms of the interwar years, or more precisely the Jazz Age of the 20's, with its Bright Young Things in cloche hats.
– George Watson, The Virginia Quarterly Review, Autumn 1997


belvedere - a structure designed to command a view (e.g., gazebo, cupola, tower)
[Italian, 'beautiful sight']


As a concession to urban life they had large glass-paned windows opening onto courtyards, and belvederes with many ornamental pinnacles on the roofs from which a watch could be maintained on all sides.
– Barbara W. Tuchman, A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century

They also say he liked his drink; once or twice a year he would shut himself up in the room in the belvedere, and two or three days later he would emerge as though from a battle or a spell of dizziness – pale, shaking, befuddled, and as authoritarian as ever.
– Jorge Luis Borges, The Shape of the Sword (trans. Andrew Hurley?)



Government and Rule

We'll look this week at some words concerning governmental rule, power, and functions – or malfunctions.

thalassocracy – maritime supremacy; command of the seas (naval power or commercial power) (thalassocrat)


It was not that resources did not exist elsewhere which could have wrested naval supremacy from Great Britain. But to do so would have demanded a huge effort. No other nation operated either the number of ships or possessed the bases which could make it worth while to challenge this thalassocracy. There were advantages to other nations in having the world's greatest commercial power undertake a policing of the seas from which all could benefit.
- J. M. Roberts, The New History of the World


malversation – corruption by one in public office or a position of trust.
[French, from Latin male badly + versari behave]

Though the term applies to such corruption in any form (Emerson and E. Burke quotes below), it is typically used for corrupt taking of funds (quote 3); indeed, indeed Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations (quote 5) seems to limit it to that meaning.


… in the prevalence of sense and spirit over stupidity and malversation, all reasonable men have an interest. … – Ralph Waldo Emerson

And be it enacted, that after the arrival of any ship transporting negroes, the said protector of negroes is hereby authorized and required to examine the state of the ship and the said negroes; and upon a sufficient proof of any cruelty to the negroes, or any other malversation of the said captain, or any of his officers, the protector shall impose a fine on him or them.
– Edmund Burke, Sketch of a Negro Code, 1792, directed to one of the King's advisors (ellipses not shown)

The assassination of Sadat brings an end to an era marked by the growth of the black market, currency speculation and the malversation of public funds.
– UNESCO Courier, Oct., 1992

Removal from an office ... seems to be the utmost penalty to which any committee-man is liable, for any fault, except direct malversation, or embezzlement, either of the public money, or of that of the company, and the fear of that punishment can never be a motive of sufficient weight to force a continual and careful attention to a business, to which he has no other interest to attend."
– Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations


A reader notes correctly: Is "vers" perhaps closer to the idea of turning, than behaving? Thus a bad turn. Cf. adverse, adversary, animadversion, averse, verse, version…

Wordcrafter: The above etymology comes from Compact OED. Nonetheless, I would agree with you: my own reaction is that you are right and COED is mistaken. But I'm no Latinist. Can others chime in?


capitation – a tax levied on the basis of a fixed amount per person; also, a payment or fee of a fixed amount per person
Note: can be either a charge to a person, or a payment made to or for him.


The capitation payments to primary schools must be reviewed at once to ensure that children with special learning are catered for, according to Westport Deputy, Michael Ring.
– Marian Harrison, Western People, Ireland - Jan 26, 2005

No Capitation, or other direct, Tax shall be laid, unless in Proportion to the Census …
– U.S. Constitution
[MW's law dictionary, with this example, misleads by omitting the 'unless' clause.]


immobilism – extreme political resistance to change (whether due to conservative philosophy, self-interest, tactical delay, gridlock, or dithering)

kleptocracy – a government of widespread greed and corruption ['government of thieves']

The few on-line dictionaries defining immobilism speak of being 'conservative' or 'reactionary'. But I suggest, per the usage examples, as below, that it apples to other forms of change-resistance.


[philosophy] As super-patriots their reluctance to stir the pond is logical. Nationalism and social immobilism go together. If we are inherently superior, why change anything?
– George Walden, New Statesman, June 27, 1997 [speaking of attitudes in UK]

[gridlock] Stockwin argues sectionalism, compounded by entrenched, clientelist relationships among bureaucrats, politicians, and businesses, has produced policy immobilism.
– Kim Eric Bettcher, Pacific Affairs, Summer 2000 [speaking of Japan]

[self-interest] [After overthrow of the Congo dictatorship] there was a general sigh of relief and unbridled enthusiasm about the prospects for democratic political dispensation after thirty-two years of despotism, kleptocracy, and immobilism.
– Paul S. Orogun, World Affairs, Summer, 2002

[tactical delay] As one of Arafat's close associates explained, what was needed was to gain time. One of [the Arab regimes] was bound to fall, which would alter the balance of power. It was this strategy of "movement within immobilism," as it was called with a straight face, that gained the day at the 12th Palestine National Council, humorously dubbed "the conference of the yes-no." Arafat declared: "We can't afford to say no to everything. We can't say yes to everything either. So we have to learn to say 'yes, but', and 'no, but' …"
– Eric Rouleau, Foreign Affairs, Fall 1983

[dithering] But in an incredibly protracted case of policy immobilism, Japanese policymakers dawdled and allowed the problems to get progressively more debilitating.
– Masaru Kaneko, Electronic Journal Of Contemporary Japanese Studies, Aug. 29, 2001


The s in today's word is pronounced zh as in azure or Zsa Zsa; it would be wrong to pronounce the ending like 'prison'. The word has two entirely different senses.

misprision – neglect or malperformance in office (not implying corruption)
also, failure to report treason or felony; also, sedition
[from mes- wrongly; + prendre to take, seize]


What is genuinely alarming is the silence on such issues. When was the last time you heard Tony Blair make a speech about climate change? … television news bulletins do not bother to mention climate change … If the consequences were not so awful, one could dismiss it as merely bizarre - a wilful misprision, a strange collective act, in the psychotherapeutic sense, of denial.
– David Nicholson-Lord, New Statesman, March 6, 2000

Henry VIII was assured by advisers in 1527 that he would soon be able to put away his wife Katherine. But he had to wait till 1533 to marry Anne Boleyn; the pesky octogenarian Archbishop of Canterbury, Warham, went on and on, only finally succumbing when delivered a trumped up charge of misprision of treason.
– Christopher Howse, The Telegraph, Feb. 24, 2005


misprision [noun form of misprize] – misinterpretation, esp. undervaluing; also, contempt, scorn
[concept of mis- wrongly + prize]


Everything mental for Gately was kind of befogged and prone to misprision …
– David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest: A Novel


Today's word is extraordinarily rare, but how can I pass up the rare opportunity to use a word beginning with pt? Our quote comes from a satire that is well worth reading in full, at the link.

ptochocracy – government by the poor
[The counterpart word is much more common: plutocracy - government by the wealthy class.]


Perhaps the most memorable occurrence of that period was that two months one winter when the beggars went on strike.

And this was, ultimately, what was most surprising about the whole affair: initial disbelief had become general derision had turned to a period of suspicion had evolved into, finally, a real sense of rage that the beggars no longer felt it their duty to occupy their usual positions in doorways, beneath bridges, at the rear of restaurants pleading for scraps, etcetera. Some people, for example, pointed out that because there was no longer anyone worse-off to feel superior to, previously undealt-with feelings of worthlessness were wont to resurface. Many parents, meanwhile, bemoaned the lack of opportunities for wagging a finger at a beggar-family in order to warn their own children. Lastly there were the political parties to consider.

Should Beggars Be Choosers? the quality papers enquired; and, what exactly was the Beggars Belief? Had society, the tabloids wondered, previously only been Paupering Over The Cracks?

Then, in a celebrated editorial, our leading newspaper of record declared that, in such unusual circumstances, with the homeless and vagrant setting the agenda, a ptochocracy, or rule by beggars, could not be regarded as entirely out of the question. Soon the word was on everybody’s lips, enunciated of course with varying degrees of success.
- Paul Lenehan, Irish Times, Dec. 16, 2000 (excerpted; full text here)



Theme – Jane Austen #3

Once again, we'll take our theme from the divine lady of letters.

superannuated – 1. ineffective, or sent out to pasture, because of old age. 2. outmoded; obsolete.


I have known a great deal of the trouble of annuities; for my mother was clogged with the payment of three to old superannuated servants by my father's will, and it is amazing how disagreeable she found it.
– Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility, ch. 2

The unreliability of the superannuated helicopters has become a byword in Canada and they should have been replaced years ago.
– Janes, Canada struggles to define military role, Feb. 21, 2005

A nap, my friend, is a brief period of sleep which overtakes superannuated persons when they endeavor to entertain unwelcome visitors or to listen to scientific lectures.
– George Bernard Shaw


sedulous – showing dedication and diligence. (noun: sedulity)
(negative connotation? see questions below)


… nothing would have induced Fanny voluntarily to mention [Edward's] his name before [Elinor]; because she believed them still so very much attached to each other, that they could not be too sedulously divided in word and deed on every occasion.
- Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility, ch. 34

With all of our sedulous care in training supple young minds, I wonder if much of College training doesn't ossify the brain rather than flex it to its fullest potential.
- Arlen Collier National Forum, Fall 1996

America's educated classes in general being notorious worldwide for their sedulous conformity to whatever norm comes into fashion.
- Richard Grenier, Insight on the News, July 3, 1995


Bonus words:
(trans. or intrans.) – to make into bone; hence, to cease developing, and become rigidly set in conventional patterns
assiduous – working with constant, persistent attention; unremitting

Questions; can readers help?
1) To me the word sedulous carries a strong negative sense, as quoted above, but I can't put my finger on it.

2) What's the difference between sedulous and assiduous?

Ms. Dot Wordsworth (apt name!) asks that question in The Spectator and, admitting that she cannot give an answer, enjoyably tells of the words' interesting histories.


[Readers' responses to question 1: several say  "no such negative sense." But one reader notes that a significant fraction of its Google hits for sedulous also include the word 'devil', and he states, "I think that sedulous is often linked to the Devil/Satan, in the notion that evil is always working to triumph. I think from there it is linked by its similarity to seduction (a word that has some negative connotations as well). I remember that I thought it meant the movement of a snake for the longest time." ]

puppyism – extreme meanness, affectation, conceit, or impudence

On the torture of waiting in line behind a slow, fussy customer:


He was giving orders for a toothpick–case for himself, and till its size, shape, and ornaments were determined, all of which, after examining and debating for a quarter of an hour over every toothpick–case in the shop, were finally arranged by his own inventive fancy, he had no leisure to bestow any other attention on the two ladies … Marianne was spared from the troublesome feelings of contempt and resentment, … on the puppyism of his manner in deciding on all the different horrors of the different toothpick–cases presented to his inspection, by remaining unconscious of it all …
     At last the affair was decided. The ivory, the gold, and the pearls, all received their appointment, and the gentleman having named the last day on which his existence could be continued without the possession of the toothpick–case, drew on his gloves with leisurely care …
- Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility, ch. 33


self-consequence – self-importance; an exaggerated estimate of one's own importance


Lydia was a stout, well-grown girl of fifteen, with a fine complexion and good-humoured countenance; a favourite with her mother, whose affection had brought her into public at an early age. She had high animal spirits, and a sort of natural self-consequence, which the attention of the officers … had increased into assurance.
– Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice, ch. 9


As you may have noticed, our Austen quotes this week feature her deft skewering of her characters' foibles.

importunate – pesteringly urgent and overly pressing in request (as a pushy beggar)
[importune – to harass with persistent requests; (also; to offer one’s services as a prostitute)]


… they were making themselves agreeable to Lady Middleton. With her children they were in continual raptures, extolling their beauty, courting their notice, and humouring their whims; and such of their time as could be spared from the importunate demands which this politeness made on it, was spent in admiration of whatever her ladyship was doing.
– Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility, ch. 21


Today's word seems to be Jane Austen's own coinage. Her word would be very useful, but almost no one has used it (except in a different sense, a movement in poetry and architecture), so I must provide a definition.

imaginist – one who lives in a world created by his or her active imagination


... a fine young man and a lovely young woman thrown together in such a way, could hardly fail of suggesting certain ideas to the coldest heart and the steadiest brain. So Emma thought, at least. Could a linguist, could a grammarian, could even a mathematician have seen what she did, have witnessed their appearance together, and heard their history of it, without feeling that circumstances had been at work to make them peculiarly interesting to each other?--How much more must an imaginist, like herself, be on fire with speculation and foresight!--especially with such a groundwork of anticipation as her mind had already made.
– Jane Austen, Emma, ch. 21

Florida has always bred good writers, but not many write of dragons and centaurs and alternate worlds. Except for Piers Anthony. Decades ago, the millionaire imaginist mixed his love of Florida with a bit of magic and came up with the kingdom of Xanth, a place where dreams are real and non-Xanth citizens (read: you) live in a land called Mundania (read: mundane).
– Adrienne P. Samuels, Hillsborough County Times, Feb. 9, 2005


tremulous - shaking slightly, quivering, as with nervousness, timidity, or excitement


… he showed himself so intimately acquainted with all the tenderest songs of the one poet, and all the impassioned descriptions of hopeless agony of the other; he repeated, with such tremulous feeling, the various lines which imaged a broken heart, or a mind destroyed by wretchedness, … that she ventured … to say, that she thought it was the misfortune of poetry to be seldom safely enjoyed by those who enjoyed it completely; and that the strong feelings which alone could estimate it truly were the very feelings which ought to taste it but sparingly.
– Jane Austen, Persuasion, ch. 11