Nov 25, 2014

Vocabulary Words - A Guest Post by Momma

Here she is again: my beauteous mother, this time talking books and phraseology.


Do you look up words that you don't know as you are reading? I generally don't. I've become lazy over the years, and I figure I can get the general gist from context, the details don't matter. But recently I read a book that inspired me to look things up.

Alexander McCall Smith is one of my favorite authors. I love his "Ladies #1 Detective Agency" series, set in Botswana, Africa. But I was at first disappointed when I ventured into his Isabel Dalhousie series, set in Edinburgh, Scotland. Isabel is a philosopher, who drifts into internal debates and side topics in the middle of conversations, so the books are a little slow-going. McCall Smith is a beautiful writer. I love his word choice, and the philosophical musings, but there is only a very mild story line in these books to hold the reader's interest.

However, the third book in the series was a little better for me than the first two. It features a love affair between an older woman and younger man (which of course appeals to an older woman like me). Also there is a surprise ending to spice things up.

I liked it well enough to read it a second time. And I found that these books take a second reading remarkably well… far better than books whose main appeal lies in plot development. On my second reading, I jotted down all the things I didn't understand fully and want to research more. My list is 75 items long! Some are vocabulary words… I rarely find this many words I've never seen before in a book. But some are historical items, or cultural, or even medical in nature. If I find the results interesting enough, some of them could be the subject of a future post.

But in the meantime, I wanted to share three absolutely wonderful passages with you. I imagine that McCall Smith might keep a notebook somewhere, in which he writes random paragraphs or phrases when an inspiration occurs, and then he works them into his books as the opportunity arises.

p.134 "As she made her way down the stone staircase to the front door, Isabel encountered the cat she had seen on her first visit to Florence's flat. He was sitting on a chair on a landing, his tail hanging down beneath the seat. He watched her warily as she walked past, looking up at her, holding her gaze for a moment, before he turned his head away to stare at the banisters with affected interest in something invisible to a human being. Then he closed his eyes, as if to dismiss her, and she walked quietly on. Many people in pursuit of the cool, thought Isabel, would give anything to appear as indifferent, as insouciant, as this indolent cat, but they would never make it. Wrong species: we are too engaged, too susceptible to emotion, too far from the consummate psychopathy of cats."

p.152 "How many people in the United States believed that they had been abducted by aliens? It was a depressingly large number. And the aliens always gave them back! Perhaps they were abducting the wrong sort."

p.177 "Isabel smiled; there was a certain point in the teen years, for boys, when the sheer embarrassment of being alive was too much. And this came out in the form of hostility, of grunts, of silent glowers. The world was just wrong to the teenage boy, quite wrong, and all because it failed to understand just how important that particular teenage boy was."


As a bonus, I'm including some of the words Momma had to look up.  I know I always get really smug when I know something my parents don't because until 2 or 3 years ago, I was convinced they were infallible and had all the answers.  So now you can feel smug too!

Vocabulary Words Even Momma Doesn't Know

  • Crabbit (Scottish) - ill-tempered, grouchy
  • Immutable - Unchanging over time or unable to be changed
  • Fey - Giving an impression of vague unworldliness (Jenn's Note: like supernatural, or fairyfolk)
  • Comity - Courtesy and considerate behavior towards others
  • Specious - Superficially plausible, but actually wrong
  • Insouciant - Showing a casual lack of concern; indifferent
  • Psephologists - One who studies political elections (Jenn's Note: from Psephology, an obscure branch of political science, which probably doesn't need a specific name)

Do you look up words you don't know?  Do you like "fancy" words or would you rather eliminate synonyms in favor of the simplest words (a topic Momma has much to say about)?


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