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Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014 03:49 pm

Big words

 In next week's column, “What do you mean by that?” I ask the perennial question: Big words – what are they good for?

One man who has some very good answers to that question is writer James S. Murphy, who offers them in “The case for SAT words,” published on-line on Dec. 11, 2013 at The Atlantic site.

I cited several big words I encountered while reading Edmund Crispin’s 1948 detective novel Love Lies Bleeding, and promised definitions.


Infusoria – the host of microscopic creatures such as ciliates, euglenoids, protozoa, unicellular algae and small invertebrates one finds in freshwater ponds.

harmattan -- a hot, dry and dusty wind blowing over West Africa from the Sahara Desert from late November until mid-March

vintem -- a Portuguese coin first issued in the late 15th century

cryptogamic — of one of the plant species that reproduce by spores

congener -- a thing or person of the same kind or category as another

eremitical — hermit-like or reclusive

ferial – denotes a weekday in the Catholic or Anglican liturgical calendar that is not devoted to a festival or fast

irrefragable — impossible to refute, according to some dictionaries, but then that would call for irrefutable. Its origins suggest irrefragable is better used to describe not that which cannot be refuted, but that which oughtn’t to be refuted, as a church might consider its doctrines


Speaking of Edmund Crispin, I read his book on the recommendation of English popular novelist Christopher Fowler, who enjoys a good big word after dinner as much as the next man. Noting that the Times of London – now in the bloody clutches of Rupert Murdoch – referred to one of the Kardashians as ‘lavishly-arsed.” “Now, the correct word for this is, as many of us know, is ‘steatopygous,’” chided Fowler, tongue in cheek, “and the Times has missed an opportunity to improve the wordpower of its readers by using it.” 
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