Book of Words: The Math Tutor by Robert Laurence

This blog offers a different type of book review­—one that’s combined with vocabulary building. Included here, following a short review, are a few interesting words I found in The Math Tutor by Robert Laurence.

Laurence’s main character, Sam Butler, is a retired professor of law and a widower who finds his life turned upside down after agreeing to tutor a home-schooled neighbor. Ellie, the sheltered young girl, takes to Butler’s life of caring for off-the-track Thoroughbreds and his enjoyment of state university track events. But Butler is also asked to mentor a law professor struggling to be published in his field. Laurence does an excellent job pulling the reader into the character’s psyche without overdoing it. We feel Butler’s emotions as he confronts difficult people, becomes injured and dependent on those around him, gains respect for Ellie’s young curious mind, and as he loses a very rewarding part of his life. This isn’t my usual mystery/thriller read, but I loved the story and Laurence’s ability to keep your attention glued to the page.

Just a Few Words from The Math Tutor:

  • Punctilio: noun. (Italian & Spanish; Italian puntigliopoint of honor, scruple, frm Spanish Puntillo, from diminutive ofpuntopoint, from Latinpunctum) (1596) 1 : a minute detail of conduct in a ceremony or in observance of a code 2 : careful observance of forms (as in social conduct) The adjective, punctilious: marked by or concerned about precise accordance with the details of codes or conventions. Synonym: careful   The Math Tutor, Page 140: “’Not honesty alone, but the punctilio of an honor the most sensitive.’ But I’m not sure Gwen would agree that the not-honesty-alone part would apply to her. I don’t believe she thinks she has any higher obligation to tell the truth than the rest of us.”
  • Perspicacity: noun. The quality of having a ready insight into things; shrewdness. The adjective perspicacious is defined as “of acute mental vision or discernment: keen.” Synonym: shrewd.  The Math Tutor, Page 160: Rose raised his eyebrows to Lynda, who said. “I’d believe her. I’ve stopped being surprised by her perspicacity.”
  • Pedagogic: adjective.Of, relating to, or befitting a teacher or education.  The Math Tutor, Page 298: “I said that factoring was just like picking all of the oranges out of a basket full of apples, oranges and plums, which I thought was nearly brilliant pedagogic device, though she didn’t, probably because you didn’t say it.”
  • Dreadnought: noun.1 : a warm garment of thick cloth. 2 (Dreadnought, British battleship) : Battleship. 3 : one that is among the largest or most powerful of its kind. The Math Tutor, Page 233: “By the way. I looked up the origins of the word ‘dreadnaught.’ There was a British warship First World War vintage, of that name. H.M.S. Dreadnought, O-U-G-H-T. But Webster’s finds A-U-G-H-T an acceptable variation, though perhaps archaic. I thought you’d want to know.”
  • Entropy: noun.1 : a measure of the unavailable energy in a closed thermodynamic system that is also usually considered to be a measure of the system’s disorder and that is a property of the system’s state and is related to it in such a manner that a reversible change in heat in the system produces a change in the measure which varies directly with the heat change and inversely with the absolute temperature at which the change takes place; Broadly: the degree of disorder or uncertainty in a system. 2 a : the degradation of the matter and energy in the universe to an ultimate state of inert uniformity. b : a process of degradation or running down or a trend to disorder. Synonyms: chaos, disorganization, randomness  The Math Tutor, Page 216: Sam shrugged. “Things fall apart. The universe is winding down. Eventually that dike will fail and the water will head downhill. If you want to be precise, entrophy is on the increase.” 

“What was that word?” “Entropy.”

“Which is…?”

“A measure of the disorder around us. Which is increasing. Everything tends toward confusion and collapse. Every crystal vase on the Earth is destined by the Second Law eventually to break.”

 

Definitions are typically fromThe New Oxford American Dictionarythrough Kindleor Wikipedia.

“The word is only a representation of the meaning; even at its best, writing almost always falls short of full meaning. Given that, why in God’s name would you want to make things worse by choosing a word which is only cousin to the one you really wanted to use?”

Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

What interesting words have you taken note of lately?

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BOOK OF WORDS: Almost Dead by Lisa Jackson

This blog offers a different type of book review­—one that’s combined with vocabulary building.

Included here, following a short review, are a few interesting words I found in Almost Dead, one of dozens of novels New York Times best-selling author Lisa Jackson has under her belt. In researching for this blog, I was surprised to learn that she and another author I love to read, Nancy Bush, are sisters.

Almost Dead is the story of a young mother who’s awash in grief at the sudden loss of her grandmother. Cissy Cahill thinks that grief is making her lose her mind when she hears footsteps and senses strange shadows in the family’s San Francisco home. Then other members of the affluent family suffer sudden brutal deaths. Cissy is forced to dig into the family history to find answers and hope to discover the killer. Almost Dead kept me guessing until the surprise twist in the end, like Jackson’s writing often does.

 

A Few Words from Almost Dead:

Rabbit-Warren: n. a series of underground tunnels where rabbits live; a building or place with many connected rooms, passages, etc., where you can get lost very easily.  “The real work took place behind a solid-core door that led to rabbit-warren work spaces, of which Sybil Tomini’s was one of the largest.”

 Disabused: v. persuade (someone) that an idea or belief is mistaken  “‘It wasn’t all that terrific,’ Cissy disabused them. ‘We Cahills seem to have trouble in the happiness department.’”

Progeny: n. a descendant or the descendants of a person, animal, or plant; offspring.  “They all knew that was wrong, all realized that her father, and all of his progeny, had been scammed by that vile grandfather of Cissy’s.”

 Stygian: adj. of or relating to the Styx River. <SPECIAL USAGE> Poetic/Literary very dark.  “All the while she eyed the shadows and stygian umbras; the wet, shivering plants; the dark sheltered nooks where the exterior corners of the house met.”

Umbras: n. the fully shaded inner region of a shadow cast by an opaque object esp. the area on the earth or moon experiencing the total phase of an eclipse.  “All the while she eyed the shadows and stygian umbras; the wet, shivering plants; the dark sheltered nooks where the exterior corners of the house met.”

Moue: n. a pouting expression used to convey annoyance or distaste.  “Marla made a moue of distaste at the memories of her mother-in-law.”

 Definitions are typically from The New Oxford American Dictionary through Kindle or internet research, including Wikipedia.

“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is… the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” — Mark Twain

“The word is only a representation of the meaning; even at its best, writing almost always falls short of full meaning. Given that, why in God’s name would you want to make things worse by choosing a word which is only cousin to the one you really wanted to use?” — Stephen King, On Writing

What interesting words have you taken note of lately?