I have always had a lame vocabulary. I didn't realize it until standardized testing hit, and my verbal scores consistently came in low, year after year. On the SAT and years later on the GRE verbal was at least 200 pts below math. The inaptitude turned out to be interlingual, when, after 27 college credits of Spanish, my oral examiner gave me high marks in every area except vocabulario. Same for my ASL tutor. More recent evidence was produced when my blog received an "Elementary School"* readability rating (thanks a lot, Mr. Genius.) I did invest in a hefty dictionary-thesaurus set to see me through college and grad school, but I admit I only used it for writing, almost never for reading.
Like everyone else, I was taught by my English teachers to use context when I came across a word I didn't know in literature. But this technique's limitation is the context itself! For example, I can glean that delft is a color, but what color? Erysipelas is obviously a disease, but I know nothing else about it. My vocabulary is not expatiated by using this method alone because I don't learn the words well enough to reuse them in my own language, and certainly not the multiple times necessary for lexicon incorporation. I suppose some people actually keep a dictionary nearby and look up new words, but that's too disruptive for me. My reading windows are small enough - if I looked up all the words I don't know, I'd never get anywhere. Instead, I just gloss over the obscurities and continue in ignorance. I don't understand how other people do it.
Ex Libris essay #2 is called The Joy of Sesquipedalians. Anne Fadiman grew up in a highly literary family - she and her brother used to compete to find the longest and strangest words. So she was both thrilled and horrified when, as an adult, she read a book** that contained 22 words she had never even seen before. She wrote them down and ran them by her family, then made a quiz to give to colleagues and friends. She also looked them up and used as many as she could in the writing of this piece, providing definitions for the others at the end.
About 15 pages later, I was having the same experience with Ex Libris, minus the thrill. The horror turned to frustration and embarrassment as I read page after page of words I didn't know, stuck in with a few I did. So I decided to follow Fadiman's example. I wrote down the words and you shall now be polled. Below are the 56 words I did not know in 140 pages of prose. They're in alphabetical order, followed by page number. As you look through the list, keep in mind that I'm starting off at 0, so if you even know 1 you beat me - and you don't even have context like I did! And if you do think you know one, look it up just to make sure. Ed, the king of fabricated word pidgins and near-homophones, took a look and said, "You don't know what provenance is?"
"It's provenance, not providence," I responded.
"Oh. Well what about patency?"
"Patency, not potency." Et cetera.
chrestomathy (back cover)
peroration (back cover)
Ok, let's have your numbers. And any other recent new words you've learned. And how you learn and keep new words. And anything else you want to say about it. And let's hear from you ghost readers on this one, too - I know you're out there! Hmm, maybe we can play some kind of blog Balderdash with these...
Ex Libris has inspired me to read more, write more, learn and use more words, and do more to pass a love of reading and learning to my children. Thank you, Ms. Fadiman. It has been a fructiferous read.
*Upped to "High School" after this post - imagine that!
**The book was The Tiger in the House by Carl Van Vechten. The words she didn't know are: monophysite, mephitic, calineries, diapason, grimoire, adapertile, retromingent, perllan, cupellation, adytum, sepoy, subadar, paludal, apozemical, camorra, ithyphallic, alcalde, aspergill, agathodemon, kakodemon, goetic and opopanax.
I knew grimoire from Outlander and alcalde from Zorro, the Gay Blade.