“The difference between the almost right word and the right word is… the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” — Mark Twain
This blog offers a different type of book review—one that’s combined with vocabulary building. The words chosen may be familiar, but used in a unique way or not commonplace.
Included here, following a short review, are a few interesting words I found in Wilde Lake, a book released earlier this year by author Laura Lippman. Lippman, a best-selling author and absolutely superb storyteller, is one of my very favorite writers.
Wilde Lake is the story of a family, a family full of secrets. It’s also a tale about prejudice and how we may try to deny its existence but cannot truly shed the ingrained nature of it in our society, and in turn, ourselves. Lippman’s skill at pulling multiple tentacles of a story together thrives in this tale, but she eloquently succeeds at something unique even for her. The story is told from the perspective of one character, but some of it comes to us in the first-person account of a remembered childhood, while the rest is told in third-person present tense as all those story tentacles come together for Lu Brant, a newly elected state’s attorney. The combination of first and third person from the same protagonist is so competently handled that I didn’t catch it until well into the book. It seems to bring a more intimate view into the life unfolding in Wilde Lake. The unique characterization provides a deeper grasp of what is happening in Lu Brant’s life as she digs into her own family history while sorting out the facts of her first capital murder case in her new position. The layers of revelations and connections to Brant’s past keep the pages turning. From the book jacket: “If there is such a thing as the whole truth, Lu realizes—possibly too late—that she would be better off not knowing what it is.”
Words from Wilde Lake:
Suborn: v. bribe or otherwise induce (someone) to commit an unlawful act such as perjury. “They might have been led during the interviews. But I don’t think my father suborned perjury, not over so trivial a thing.”
Ascetic: adj. characterized by or suggesting the practice of severe self-discipline and abstention from all forms of indulgence, typically for religious reasons. “AJ stands, walks to the edge of his pool. A lap pool, he defended to Lu when she mocked this expense by ascetic.” AND “He then made his own Eat, Pray, Love pilgrimage around the world, although ascetic AJ skipped the eating part.”
Canard: n. an unfounded rumor or story. “Everyone knows the old canard that an attorney never asks a question to which she doesn’t know the answer, but that’s for court, after investigations, depositions, discovery.”
Polemics: n. a strong verbal or written attack on someone or something. “’No,’ he says adamantly. ‘No more polemics disguised as memoirs.’”
Ersatz: adj. (of a product) made or used as a substitute, typically an inferior one, for something else. “Heck, her father has had an ersatz wife in Teensy all these years.”
Imprecation: n. a spoken curse. “The EMT guys decide to let her go home, although with muttered imprecations about concussions, and while Lu scoffs at them, she finds herself unaccountably nervous as bedtime nears.”
Perambulate: v. walk or travel through or around (a place or area), esp. for pleasure and in a leisurely way. “’Your house? No, I just—I just sometimes like to . . . perambulate,’ Davey said.”
Frisson: n. a sudden strong feeling of excitement or fear; a thrill. “Lu feels a strange frisson of nerves when she goes before the grand jury to obtain a formal indictment against Rudy Drysdale.”
Nascent: adj. (esp. of a process or organization) just coming into existence and beginning to display signs of future potential. “I wish he had saved his nascent memoir. I would have loved to read his version of his life, then and now.”
Scrim: n. strong, coarse fabric, chiefly used for heavy-duty lining or upholstery. “As the song reached its climax, a scrim depicting the Tree of Life fell and somehow it seemed as if the chorus had become a living, breathing Tree of Life.”
Pejorative: adj. expressing contempt or disapproval, or n. a word expressing contempt or disapproval. “The original ‘villages’ of Columbia are now called the ‘inner villages,’ and the pejorative echo of inner city is not accidental.”
Dilettante: n. a person who cultivates an area of interest, such as the arts, without real commitment or knowledge. “During the campaign, Fred called her a dilettante, tried to suggest that she wanted his job so she wouldn’t be bored.”
Definitions are typically from The New Oxford American Dictionary.
What interesting words have you taken note of lately? What do you do when you come across an unfamiliar word while reading?