Recently, while admiring a postcard of a glowing Hawaiian sunset, I realized how few words we have to describe such a thing. We have "gorgeous" of course, but what of less familiar terms? As I search for words to present to you, so many that I find are negatives: insulting adjectives, cutting nouns and the like. Why is this? Do strong negative feelings stimulating linguistic creativity? Are those who compile word-collections, from which I draw, themselves drawn to the negative?
I do not know – but let us begin to redress the imbalance, with positive adjectives: not just quiet ones such as 'peaceful', but ones of emotive force. I shall not be deterred by those authors who have used these adjectives in negative ways!
refulgent – shining radiantly; brilliant; resplendent
– Bryan Miller, A Suburban Revolution? The New York Observer, March 22, 2004
She stalked past him into the room, dressed in a bright print with matching shoes, the ensemble capped by a bright green turban, as effervescent as the colors she wore beneath. David watched drowsily. "You are fairly glowing. What is Chicago's most refulgent debutante doing out at this hour?"
– Richard Paul Evans, The Letter
gracile [gracillent]– gracefully slender.
[You will often find gracile used in biology, to distinguish species. For example, amoung the hominids (the "human" family, including modern humans, after the evolutionary split between humans and apes) some were gracile, and others were robust.]
Today's quotes are enjoyable enough to justify their length.
– Robert Penn Warren, All the King's Men
Sooty Albatrosses do most of their courtship aloft, during beautifully synchronized flights. They are gracile and exquisitely elegant birds; even among albatrosses, superb forms of life. Albatross courtship is almost certainly the most intricate courtship of any nonhuman being. The reason is that there's a lot at stake. The pair-bond and relationship must last years. The commitment implied is immense. ... So albatross courtship is highly complex. The mutual wooing may last months or years.
– Carl Safina, Eye of the Albatross
Rebecca loved to give Irene tips. "Irene? You fail to see the connection between the candy bar you're eating right now and the five pounds you gain every week."
. . . .Irene needed to lose practically much as Rebecca or Carleen weighed, both of them being gracile and streamlined, built for speed and efficiency and admiring looks from strangers. Their curves were in all the right places and no matter what they ate, they stayed that way. It was sickening, just sickening.
– Linda Bruckheimer, The Southern Belles of Honeysuckle Way
hominid – modern man, or any other member (now extinct) of the biological family hominidae. Hominids descend from the last common ancestor of man and modern apes.
munificent – very liberal in giving or bestowing; very generous; lavish.
" 'I say a night's work, but an hour's would be nearer the mark. I simply want your opinion about a hydraulic stamping machine which has got out of gear. If you show us what is wrong we shall soon set it right ourselves. What do you think of such a commission as that?'
[Holmes:] " 'The work appears to be light and the munificent.'
" 'Precisely so. We shall want you to come to-night by the last train.'
Federal investment in research and development grew steadily until the late 1960s, turned flat for a decade, then burgeoned in the 1980s to levels higher in constant dollars than the munificent post-war heights.
– Daniel J. Kevles, Science in transition ... - funding science research in the 21st century, USA Today (Magazine), Sept, 1998
He gave a great symphony conductor a munificent yearly income, for no work at all, on the sole condition that he never conduct an orchestra again.
– Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead
foudroyant – of dazzling or stunning effect
(that is, like my spouse when dressed for a night on the town - Wordcrafter)
[from the French for "to strike by lightning". In medicine, foudroyant means "occurring suddenly and severely".]
– Joyce Armstrong Carroll, The Unicorns of Composition
puissant – powerful; strong; mighty. (noun: 'puissance')
Most often used in the sense of military or similar power. ("I cried in a loud Voice, Long live the most puissant Emperor of Lilliput!" – Swift, Gulliver's Travels) But our examples show other usages.
– Richard Mullen, United In Grief: Britain And America 'Shoulder To Shoulder', Contemporary Review, Oct. 2001
She held him with a puissant stare that made him increasingly uncomfortable.
– Sandra Brown, Where There's Smoke
There is something frank and joyous and young in the open face of the country. … You feel in the atmosphere the same tonic, puissant quality that is in the tilth, the same strength and resoluteness. – Willa Cather, O Pioneers!
Thanks to the wisdom of the pundits, one can know the outcome of the 1996 presidential election 10 months early. Here at Punditry Central, the task is to examine the predictions, polling and pandering of the nation's most prescient and puissant pundits. And the winner of the 1996 presidential election will be — nobody. ... Careful analysis shows, first, that Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, the Republican front-stumbler, cannot possibly win. The reason is that Dole is too busy serving as a word (usually a verb or adjective) to campaign seriously
– Bruce Chapman, Insight on the News, Feb. 5, 1996
lissom – limber; supple; easily bent; able to move with ease
Some wonderful images use this word.
– Geraldine McCaughrean, Rosamund Fowler, 1001 Arabian Nights (Oxford Edition), The Tale of the Anklet
It was a narrow, twisting path, winding down over a hill straight through Mr. Bell's woods, where the light came down sifted through so many emerald screens that it was as flawless as the heard of a diamond. It was fringed in all its length with slim young birches, white-stemmed and lissom boughed; ... and always there was a delightful spiciness in the air.
– L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables
Then they got married. She was a lovely little rat, and sweetly captivating: slender, lissom, brown-eyed, dimpled, complexioned like a peach-blossom, frisky, frolicsome, graceful--just a picture, she was, just a poem.
– Mark Twain, Autobiography of Eve
Today's word is quite often used improperly, so I'll demonstrate with multiple quotations, starting with the correct usage.
coruscating – 1. giving off bright beams or flashes of light; 2. exhibiting brilliant, sparkling technique or style
The concept is in the Latin root "to twinkle, flash, sparkle". Coruscating can have that meaning literally (1st quote), or figuratively for dazzling visual displays (2nd) or artistic or intellectual performances (3rd and 4th).
– Edward Abbey, Douglas Brinkley, The Monkey Wrench Gang
[of General Miles:] Tall and dignified in his coruscating uniform, he dominated the Senate Committee on Military Affairs hearings on the army bill.
– Edmund Morris, Theodore Rex
The esteemed ensemble gave a coruscating concert at the Kennedy Center on Monday evening ... – The Philadelphia Orchestra, Washington Post, Nov 30, 2004
After the Leisure Class appeared in 1899, Veblen had a reputation ... [The Theory of Business Enterprise] came out in 1904. Factual or not, it was even more coruscating and still more curious than his first. For the point of view that it advocated seemed to fly in the face of common sense itself.
– Robert L. Heilbroner, The Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times and Ideas Of The Great Economic Thinkers
– Editorial: Aboriginal leaders break new ground, The Australian, Dec. 3, 2004
I ask him [Harry Woolf, Lord Chief Justice] about the law and order measures outlined in Blair's party conference speech (zero tolerance of yob culture, £100 fixed penalty fines for drunken louts), and he is corruscating. "When legislation is not fully considered, it normally has very adverse consequences."
– Mary Riddell, New Statesman, Oct 16, 2000
Tomorrow, the David Hume Institute, a Scottish free-market thinktank, launches a corruscating report on wind power ... – John Vidal, The Guardian, April 21, 2004
Beneath the soft Whitehall language, his [Lord Butler's] report contains some of the most coruscating criticism imaginable of political leadership.
– John Kampfner, Blair is weighed in the balance, New Statesman, July 19, 2004
– Bill Edmead, New Statesman, August 2, 2004