Saturday, February 25, 2012

Increase Your Word Power with Dickens – 2012

In the first year of this blog, I posted a vocabulary quiz based on words I associate with Charles Dickens and loosely modeled on a long-running Reader’s Digest feature. The first quiz included these ten words: alacrity, capacious, encomium, ignominy, lucubration, obsequious, obstreperous, paroxysm, sagacious, stentorian. If you read that post, no doubt you sagaciously committed your capacious mind to lucubrations so now with stentorian voice you can bestow an encomium upon yourself for your alacrity without suffering any ignominy. Did that sentence give you a paroxysm? Forgive me for being so obstreperous.

For 2102, I’ve picked a new list of ten words, several of which I have come across again recently in Bleak House. Here are the definitions:

a. biased
b. compensation for employment
c. diligence; persistence
d. embellishment; decoration
e. emotionally steady
f. given to speaking in adages, especially moralizing adages
g. punch bowl; punch
h. to rebuke
i. to address an absent person or inanimate object
j. to express disapproval of

Now match those definitions with these ten words:

___ apostrophise
___ assiduity
___ deprecate
___ emolument
___ equable
___ garniture
___ jorum
___ objurgate
___ sententious
___ tendentious

The Answers:

In my first post, I offered three theories as to why Dickens used these words: (1) they have more intensity because of their length, their rarity, or other features, (2) they can be used for humorous effect, and (3) Dickens probably just liked them. Theory no. 1 certainly applies in the case of deprecate: those hard consonants in the middle sound judgmental. And I would rather suffer a rebuke than an objurgation. Rebuke sounds like Dubuque, and who has anything against that honest city? But an objurgation sounds like a dreadful ordeal. And equable sounds businesslike, like some equable people.

This set includes a couple of words that suggest yet a fourth reason for using them: a coupling of brevity and precision. It’s much more efficient to call someone sententious than to say, “You know how he always gives you some trite saying to make you think he’s smarter than everybody else?” And what other single word means the same as apostrophise? We all do it – we all talk to people and things that can’t answer as if they could. But isn’t it better to use the one word than to say, every time you want to say it, that someone spoke to an object as if it could answer when really it can’t? As a bonus, Dickens, by knowing the word for this peculiarly human habit, thinks to have his characters do it, making them sound more real in the process.

Be assiduous in learning these words. After you have added their garniture to your daily vocabulary, you can celebrate with a jorum.

1 comment:

  1. I switched two pairs of them. I guessed i,c,h,g,e,d,b,j,f,a. "Garniture" is my favorite!