This week we look at some adjectives to spice up conversation (not so rare as to be obscure to the hearer, but not so common as to be ordinary).
We start with one that has a spicy meaning. But the figurative sense is much more attractive.
piquant – (accent on first syllable)
1. of pleasantly sharp (esp. spicy) taste (“crisp, piquant flavor and fragrance” – Weight Watchers New Complete Cookbook)
2. pleasantly stimulating or exciting; engagingly provocative; also : having a lively arch charm
[French, 'stinging, pricking'.]
– Kathleen Winsor, Forever Amber
A shiver chased along his spine. The danger had a certain piquant quality, something like the thrill experienced by a soldier, he felt sure.
– John Jakes, Love and War
From the same 'pricking' root:
pique – a feeling of wounded pride (verb: 1. to cause resentment 2. to provoke; arouse: to pique one's curiosity
pike – a kind of spear
pike – a certain large freshwater fish [ probably referring to its long, pointed jaw]
turnpike – originally, a spike barrier obstucting a road, as a defense [Note: a pricking spike might seem related to pike, but I can find no connection.] Later, turnpike came to mean 'a tollbooth obstructing a road', the road coming to be called a 'turnpike road', and then simply a 'turnpike'.
frenetic – frenzied; fast and energetic in a wild and uncontrolled way
[traces back to Greek phrenitis 'delirium']
– John Grogan, Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog
… the holiday season is chaotic: chock-full of frenetic shopping trips, party planning and a packed calendar of events …
– Peter Walsh, How to Organize (Just About) Everything [etc.]
I like today’s quotes for obstreperous. (In them we'll also see turgid, but we’ll save that word for another theme where we’ll try to distinguish turgid, torbid and tumid. Not to mention torpid. )
obstreperous – 1. noisily and stubbornly defiant 2. aggressively boisterous
– Anthony E. Wolf. Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me & Cheryl to the Mall: A Parent's Guide to the New Teenager
. . ."Honey, you can't go around calling people--"
. . . "You ain't fair." I said, "you ain't fair."
. . . Uncle Jack's eyebrows went up. "Not fair? How not?"
. . . "You're real nice, Uncle Jack, an' I reckon I love you even after what you did, but you don't understand children much."
. . . Uncle Jack put his hands on his hips and looked down at me. And why do I not understand children, Miss Jean Louise? Such conduct as yours required little understanding. It was obstreperous, disorderly, and abusive--"
. . . "You gonna give me a chance to tell you? I don't mean to sass, I'm just tryin' to tell you. ... you never stopped to gimme a chance to tell my side of it--you just lit right into me. ... you told me never to use words like that except in extreme provocation, and Francis provocated me enough to knock his block off--"
– Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird
. . ."He's very clumsy, that boy," the girl said.
. . ."He can be. He gets into everything."
. . ."Boys can be very obstreperous."
. . .Tessie smiled. "You have quite a vocabulary."
. . .At this compliment the girl broke into a big smile. "'Obstreperous' is my favorite word. My brother is very obstreperous. Last month my favorite word was 'turgid.' But you can't use 'turgid' that much. Not many things are turgid, when you think about it."
. . ."You're right about that," said Tessie, laughing. "But obstreperous is all over the place."
– Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex: A Novel
mordant (or mordacious) – (especially of humor) caustic; biting; sharply sarcastic (also has noun senses)
[from Latin mordere 'to bite']
– Robert A. Caro, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York (Pulitzer Prize winner)
(Jack, in Guy Wetmore Carryl's poem How Jack Made the Giants Uncommonly Sore, is young man who had been raised by a domineering father.)
In the editor's seat / Of a critical sheet
He found the revenge that he sought;
And, with sterling appliance of / Mind, wrote defiance of
All of the giants of / Thought.
He'd thunder and grumble / At high and at humble
Until he became, in a while,
Mordacious, pugnacious, / Rapacious. Good gracious!
They called him the Yankee Carlyle!
I've fallen behind, so today you get two words as partial catch-up.
salubrious – health-giving; healthy
– William Manchester A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind [etc.]
timorous – timid; or (as in final quote) expressing timidity
– Robert Burns, To a Mouse
Several witnesses … spoke well of her; but fear and hatred of the crime of which they supposed her guilty rendered them timorous, and unwilling to come forward.
– Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
Still, in Pete's presence, Schlichtmann's demeanor underwent a drastic change. He always spoke softly, in a meek and timorous voice, and he would quickly defer to Pete's judgment in all matters.
– Jonathan Harr, A Civil Action
strident - 1. loud, harsh and grating 2. presenting a point of view in an excessively forceful way
[form Latin for 'to creak']
The former is the original meaning, and to my surprise seems to be more common than the latter, figurative sense. We illustrate each, and end with a third quote which interestingly combines both senses.
– Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
… the roll of the strident, often vicious press was changing the whole political atmosphere.
– David McCullough, John Adams
The telescreen had changed over to strident military music.
– George Orwell, 1984