With Thanks to Mr. Dickens

Call me old-fashioned, but I like it when books send me to the dictionary.

I didn’t always. In fact, it really used to bother me– I disliked anything that took away from the narrative flow of a book, especially if authors went out of their way to be convoluted. I could barely sit still in high school as it was; I had neither the attention span nor the patience for books whose language went too often beyond my grasp. Studying for the SATs was bad enough!

Even now I almost never actually stop in the middle of reading to look up a word I don’t know (though in the better writing I have seen, you often don’t need to because enough context is given to derive meaning).  Instead I note words I don’t know on my bookmark. Then, when I finish the book (or when my scrap of paper fills up– whichever comes first) I’ll look up all of the words and print myself out a neat a little vocab sheet.

Ta-da! Learning!

Recently I finished Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. Have you read it?

If not, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Engaging, haunting, and humorous (dry as well as whimsical; wonderfully European), it is the Brit Lit to end all Brit Lits. As the blurb by Sir Philip Sidney above puts it,

A tale which holdeth children from play and old men from the chimney corner.

Read it. You won’t regret it.

But to the point. Thanks to Mr. Dickens, I add twenty-some words to my verbal arsenal:

antipode: (n.) a direct or exact opposite

bagatelle: (n.) a trifle; an easy task; a short piano piece

buxom: (adj.) [of a woman] plump, well-endowed

chary: (adj.) cautious, wary; cautious about the amount one reveals

connubial: (adj.) of or relating to marriage

contiguous: (adj.) sharing a common border; touching; next or together in a sequence

contumacious: (adj.) stubbornly disobedient to authority

despondent: (adj.) in low spirits from loss of courage or hope

diadem: (n.) a jeweled crown or headband worn as a symbol of sovereignty

disconsolate: (adj.) without comfort; unhappy; cheerless

kosher: (adj.) food prepared according to Jewish law

lurcher: (n.) a crossbred dog (collie or sheepdog + greyhound) usually used in hunting; a prowler, swindler, or petty thief

necromantic: (adj.) divining through alleged communication with the dead

ophthalmic: (adj.) of or relating to the eye and its diseases

paroxysm: (n.) a sudden attack or violent expression of a particular emotion or activity

plenipotentiary: (n.) a person (diplomat) invested with full power of independent action on behalf of their government (often in a foreign country)

pugilistic: (adj.) fist-fighting; boxing

rapacious: (adj.) aggressively greedy or grasping

rubicund: (adj.) having a ruddy [red] complexion; high-colored

sagacious: (adj.) shrewd; having keen mental discernment

sententious: (adj.) 1. abounding in aphorisms and maxims; 2. given to excessive moralizing

truant: (n.) a student who stays away from school without leave or explanation; wandering, straying; skipping out

truculent: (adj.) eager to fight or argue


4 thoughts on “With Thanks to Mr. Dickens

  1. Yes, it is indeed a brilliant work! Now, I cannot tell you a joy I just experienced by reading this piece and thus realizing that even native English speakers need to do what I always do – learn new English words! Guess what – I do the lists too!
    Take Care,

    • Wonderful! Your English has always impressed me, Daniela…and I’m sure will only continue to impress me more, especially if you are reading literature rife with words that even native speakers have to look up! Cheers 🙂

  2. I absolutely LOVE reading books and every time I pick up a book I make sure to underline the words that I don’t know and then look them up.
    Initially it used to annoy the hell out of me but since then my vocabulary has improved a great deal.

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