Politics Magazine

Increasing Your Word Power: Susan Sontag and Eric the Blue

Posted on the 02 February 2014 by Erictheblue


Who would have guessed that the hyper-smart Susan Sontag, whom John Updike once described as our camp follower of the French avant garde, kept journals in which she set down unfamiliar words she came across in her reading?--"persiflage," for one, and "integument." The author of an in-progress biography of her reveals this detail here.  I'd love to know what other words she was unsure of.  It would be a tremendous resource for teens preparing for the SAT.

I just walked over to the book shelf and took down a battered Modern Library paperback of William Faulkner's Light in August.  Sure enough, the inside of the back cover and the blank page facing it are filled with the definitions of words I came across while reading the novel for a college class in the 1970s.  I couldn't make much of the book, but I was too dutiful a student not to turn the pages, so had decided, what the hell, I will at least make my vocabulary more Faulknerian.  Here are the words, together with their definitions--only thing I know about the source for them is that it was not an online dictionary.

avatar: one regarded as the incarnation or embodiment of some known model

irascible: prone to outbursts of temper

immanent: existing within; inherent

augur: a seer or prophet; soothsayer

mendacity: the quality or state of being a liar

meretricious: pertaining to or resembling a prostitute

importunate: stubbornly or unreasonably persistent

veracity: habitual adherence to truth

redolent: having or emitting fragrance

ratiocination: to reason logically and methodically

soporific: tending to induce sleep

purlieu: an outlying or neighboring area

incipient: just beginning to exist or appear

spurious: lacking validity; false; counterfeit

visceral: intensely emotional

perspicuous: easy to understand; lucid

putrefaction: the decomposition of organic matter

inscrutable: not able to be fathomed or understood

apotheosis: deification

catafalque: what a coffin sits on

abrogate: to abolish; annul by authority

lassitude: a state of exhaustion; torpor; lethargy

paramour: a lover, esp adulterous lover

If you know nothing of Light in August, I bet you wouldn't guess from the above that it's about poor whites in Mississippi.


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