Big words

Today’s Bizarro:

So: big in size as printed, all-caps; or long (and “fancy”) — the latter being the ordinary sense of big word.

Which brings me to that remarkable wielder of big words (in the second, ordinary, sense), William F. Buckley, Jr.:

In Buckley: The Right Word (Random House, 1996), he wrote, “I am often accused of an inordinate reliance on unusual words, and desire to defend myself against the insinuation that I write as I do simply to prove that I have returned recently from the bowels of a dictionary with a fish in my mouth.”

… Buckley’s defense was that a writer must use exact words, whether “clean” or “dirty,” common or arcane. (link)

And on to the William F. Buckley, Jr. Vocabulary Quiz:

See if you can come up with a definition for each of the sesquipedalia verba (long words) in bold print. The sentences (in which the Soviet Union still stands and Eastern Air Lines still flies) have been taken directly from Buckley’s old columns. When you’re done, compare your definitions with those on page two of this article.

1. albescent
And there is the albescent matter of a United States with (a) no nuclear weapons facilities, and (b) a lot of unmanageable toxic nuclear waste material.

2. analogue
Will history give us any analogue more indicative of the power of superstition than that of the antinuclear lobbyists over the development of nuclear power?

3. Attican
But if we’re going to set up an Attican theatrical background to commemorate the moment of the Soviet departure from Afghanistan, why doesn’t General Gromov use up his one minute and seven seconds to fire a bullet into his head?

4. auto da fé
Here was a modern auto da fé: not for counterfeiting heresy, but for denouncing it.

5. Cartesian
It required only a little Cartesian gelandesprung to alight at the conclusion that it is the responsibility of the government to maintain monuments that are man-made, as well as those given us by nature.

6. chiliastic
That the existence of the Congress of People’s Deputies, or of the Supreme Soviet, should have meaning at all is positively chiliastic in its implications.

7. deracination
A European figure so august that ladies curtsy when they are presented to him was telling the table at which we all sat about the great mischief being done by the missionaries in Venezuela who move in on native tribes and totally break down their cultural order, resulting in deracination and chaos.

8. dithyrambic
In recent weeks we found ourselves interrupted in our dithyrambic praise for democracy when the guy in El Salvador whom we did not like won.

9. dysgenically
Israel does not like the fact that most Russian Jews express a wish to settle down not in Israel but in the United States because it needs a Jewish population to guard against being dysgenically overwhelmed by Arabs who procreate with the speed of light.

10. epigoni
William Winpisinger, the president of the striking [Eastern Air Lines] machinists, is a socialist and is quick to put a class struggle aspect on any labor-management division, and indeed Mr. Winpisinger lost no chance to do this. And the epigoni jumped in. Sure enough, there was Jesse Jackson joining the picketers.

11. eremitical
To say that Mrs. Jones is unbiased in the matter of Colonel North because she was unaware of him, notwithstanding that Colonel North dominated the news in the press, on radio, and on television for about three weeks two springs ago, isn’t to come up with a fine mind that missed the entire episode because she was absorbed in eremitical pursuits.

12. eschatological
It became clear . . . that communism does not work, i.e., communism does not bring on the redemptive eschatological paradise predicted by Marx, does not ease the burden of the worker, and does not reduce the power of the state.

13. excogitation
Roe v. Wade was a lousy decision, perhaps even an indefensible act of constitutional excogitation, and the choicers know that they are safest by not asking the Court to look again at this century’s version of the Dred Scott decision.

14. ferula
Since it is pre-decided that the Bush Administration will not advocate the legalization of drugs, the Bennett basket is going to have to be chock-full of ferula with which to beat offenders.

15. fons et origo
Mikhail Gorbachev can criticize Constantin Chernenko and Leonid Brezhnev–and Brezhnev can criticize Nikita Khrushchev, who criticized Stalin; but no one will criticize the fons et origo of all that poison, Lenin.

16. fusilier
Deng Xiaoping is seized, in Karl Wittfogel’s phrase, with the megalomania of the aging despot, and rather than acknowledge the right of his citizens peaceably to assemble in order to petition the government for a redress of grievances, he shoots them; and, tomorrow, may hang those his fusiliers missed.

17. hegemonic
In order to maintain the pressure that orients the Soviet Union and China toward reform in the first instance, we need to continue to roam those quarters of the world where the Soviet Union continues to exercise hegemonic influence.

18. periphrastic
Three cheers for Senator Jesse Helms. As ever, he tends to get to the point of a difficult question with carrier-pigeon directness, leaving many of his sophisticated critics lost in periphrastic meaninglessness.

19. tergiversation
[W]e face a concrete problem in Europe given the tergiversation of Helmut Kohl on the modernizing of the remaining nuclear missiles in West Germany.

20. velleity
People get annoyed when you use words that do not come trippingly off the tongue of Oprah Winfrey, but how else than to designate it as a velleity would you describe President Bush’s fair-weather call for landing some people on Mars?

This list lacks one of my favorite Buckley “out-of-town words”: retromingent ‘urinating backwards, pissing into the wind’.

2 Responses to “Big words”

  1. Chris Ambidge Says:

    “showoff” is actually the word that suggests itself to me. Fairly simple, readers probably don’t need a dictionary to know what it means, with at least 20 examples provided.

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