Monday, August 13, 2012

Increase Your Word Power with Patrick O’Brian

In the past two years, I’ve posted a couple of vocabulary quizzes incorporating some of my favorites among the words I associate with Charles Dickens. Most of these words I didn’t know when I first came across them; I learned them while reading the Great Man and always think of them as his.

Patrick O’Brian also fills his books with words I couldn’t define the first time I came across them. The special jargon of nineteenth-century sailing, of course, make up the bulk of this category. But this year quite a few nonnautical terms came to my attention. Today I present a short quiz based on ten unusual words from The Nutmeg of Consolation, most of them unrelated to ships and the ocean. Match each word with one of the lettered definitions given. I’ll provide answers at the bottom of the post, so don’t scroll down all the way!

1. barmecidal
2. bight
3. carious
4. catholicon
5. coriaceous
6. crapulous
7. orlop
8. strake
9. thaumaturgical
10. wether

a. intemperate in eating or drinking; ill from liquor
b. a stripe
c. capable of performing miracles
d. panacea
e. plagued by tooth decay
f. the bending coastline of a bay
g. the lowest deck of a ship
h. providing only the illusion of abundance
i. a castrated sheep
j. resembling leather

I use many of my Dickens words from time to time, enough that some of my friends associate them with me. Will any of the words from this post become useful or make their way into my vocabulary at all? (In other words, have I really increased my word power?) I have great confidence that I won’t ever find myself in a position to refer to the castrated state of a sheep, not having come near that situation in my first fifty-three years of life. I already know several means of describing someone who has consumed too much alcohol. But I suppose I might want to put a word to the substitute leather of some car seats, and I feel certain that I will find occasion to expose the illusion of abundance in the near future. Now if only I can retain the new vocabulary. Actually remembering the words and having the presence of mind to use them when opportunity arises may provide evidence that I’m thaumaturgical.


(Don't scroll farther until you're ready!)

OK, here are the answers:

1-h, 2-f, 3-e, 4-d, 5-j, 6-a, 7-g, 8-b, 9-c, 10-i

By the way, Blogspot’s editor recognizes only eight of the ten words.


  1. Thanks for this - I got 8/10. I have posted a link to it at:

    1. Thanks for commenting and reposting, Rob's Uncle. I tried your link, though, and got a "fatal error" message. I'd love to look at your Patrick O'Brian forum, but I couldn't open the page. --Ken

  2. I got two right, thaumaturgical and strake. But strake was only a guess, I actually knew the other, having just learned it from Brandon Sanderson's lecture on writing posted on "Write about Dragons."