Monday, July 18, 2011

News Bits + Word Quiz (Angela Carter)

Nelson Mandela, 93! & family
(Peter Morey/EPA)
Some news links that struck me today:

NY Times: "Obama taps former Ohio official for Consumer Agency"
(No Elizabeth Warren, but Obama does pick one of close associates and foe of the banks' excessive power and sway)

McClatchy: "Justice Dept. lawyers contradict FBI findings in anthrax case"
(i.e., the case against Bruce Ivins was weak, and the real culprits remain out there, as Glenn Greenwald and others argued long ago)

Guardian UK: "News Int'l hacking whistleblower Paul Hoare found dead in his apartment"
(Talk about strange "coincidences"....)

LA Times: "Borders finds no buyer, moves towards liquidation"
(One of the major chains is on its last leg, or half of one, and could be gone by the end of this week)

Raw Story: "US Senate confirms first openly gay district judge, Paul Oetken"
(Another major advance for LGBTQ equality, a month after NY State's approval of same sex marriages)

Mail & Guardian: "South Africans mark Nelson Mandela's birthday"
(Madiba turns 93)

The Mainichi Daily News: "Over 500 cows found shipped after having eaten radiactive straw near Fukushima reactor disaster"
(The ongoing worst nuclear reactor disaster ever, in northeastern Japan and exceeding that of Chernobyl, has not gotten anywhere near the coverage it deserves, and the Japanese government's response remains inadequate)

LA Times: "NFL owners may approve new labor deal on Friday"
(More revenue money for players, a lower salary cap, lower bonuses for rookies, $1 billion for pensions and benefits, and greater emphasis on safety, especially brain injuries)


Most J's Theater readers in the US are probably well past their PSAT, SAT and ACT experiences--though I keep it fairly clean, so the youngsters can drop in here too if they like--and are probably not thinking about vocabulary tests. (I can't recall if there are vocabulary tests on the GMATs, MCATs, etc.--if so, keep reading). Recently, however, in the course of returning to stories in Burning Your Boats: The Collected Short Stories (London: Chatto & Windus, 1995), by the late, prolific and ever beguiling British writer Angela Carter (1940-1992) who, as her biographical dates suggest, died far too young, I found myself noting down a number of words from her stories that I had to look up or that I knew but felt compelled, because of their beauty and rarity, to record, in my notebook.

Carter usually incorporates these words, most of which are Latinate in origin, in such a way that they feel integral to the narrative voice and the narrative itself; in Bloody Chamber's stories, for example, the narration is often elevated in such a way as to take the reader outside of any chronological time, yet Carter will then juxtapose the exalted and sometimes baroque diction and syntax with a very contemporary word or phrase, a very up-to-date intonation, so as to jar the reader out of any easy or simplistic identification or understanding of what's going on. It also makes for thrilling prose; with language so arrestingly vertiginous, the plot and characters need not do all or even most of the work.

One quote, from "Master" (p. 76): 

He travelled by jeep through an invariable terrain of architectonic vegetation where no wind lifted the fronds of palms as ponderous as if they had been sculpted out of viridian gravity at the beginning of time and then abandoned, whose trunks were so heavy they did not seem to rise into the air but, instead, drew the oppressive sky down upon the forest like a coverlid of burnished metal."

So: here's the challenge. Without looking up the words, see how many of the follow 10 you can define off the top of your head. The answers appear after the break (if you're reading this on the iPhone/iPad app, I'm not sure how it'll appear, so perhaps cover the answers with your fingers). I should add that I used one of these words in my second book and in my current one, and it remains as strange to me now as it did then, which is why I have employed it.

1.  palliasse
2.  lancinating
3.  stertorous
4.  osier
5.  linnet
6.  castellated
7.  reticule
8.  cloisonné
9.  lustratory
10.  prothalamion

Answers (all taken from The Free Dictionary by Farlex):

1. a pallet (variation on Fr. paillasse, fr. It. pagliaccio, fr. Lat. palea, pallet)
2. characterized by a sensation of cutting, piercing or stabbing (Lat. lancinare, fr. lancinat-, to lacerate, pierce)
3. a heavy snoring sound in respiration (New Lat., fr. Lat. stertere, to snore)
4. any of several different types of willows having long rodlike twigs used in basketry, esp. the Eurasian salix viminalis and the S. purpurea (Mid. Eng., from Old Eng. oser and Old Fr. osier, both from Med. Lat. osera, osiera)
5. a small Old World finch (Carduelis cannabina) having brownish plumage; a similar bird (Carpodacus mexicanus) of Mexico and the western United States. Also known as a house finch. (Obs. Fr. linnette, fr. Old Fr., fr. lin, flax (from its feeding on flax seed), fr. Latin linum)
6. furnished with turrets and battlements in the style of a castle; having a castle (Med. Lat. castellatus, past part. of castellare, to fortify as a castle, fr. castellum, fort, dim. of castrum).
7. a drawstring purse or handbag; a grid or pattern in the eyepiece of an optical instrument to establish scale or position (Fr. réticule, from reticulum (-iculus, dimin.), from rete, net)
8. decorative enamelwork in which metal filaments are fused to the surface of an object to provide outlines of a design filled in with enamel paste (Fr., past part. of cloisonner, to partition, fr. Old Fr. cloison, partition, fr. Vulg. Lat. clausio, clausion-, fr. Lat. clausus, past part. of claudere, to close, lock)
9. purifying or illuminating, often by means of ceremony or ritual (Lat. lustrare, lustrat-, to purify, brighten, fr. lustrum, purification)
10. a poem or song in celebration of a wedding, an epithalamion (Gk. pro, before + thalamos, marriage)

How did you do? If you use one of these words somewhere, do let J's Theater know!

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