Jul
05
2009

  New Words Unsuitable For Conversation

I learned an interesting new word today-- haruspication. It was in the book Under the Tuscan Sun, which is much better than the movie, in my opinion. Within the book, the author defines it as "the art of divining by reading a sheep's liver." The problem with already having a large vocabulary is that when I learn new words, they are frequently obscure (which is why I haven't yet read them in all these years). And a good way to remember new words is to use them in conversation a few times to cement them in your memory. But I really don't forsee a time I'll be able to use haruspication. Then again, if I am determined to use the word, it will have to be in the forefront of my mind for a long time before I get the opportunity, and I suppose that will help to cement the meaning in my mind. However, I doubt I'll be able to do it. Ask me in a month what haruspication means, and I may no longer remember. Although Merriam-Webster defines the word as "an act or instance of foretelling something" and I might be able to remember that. Since it omits the part about the sheep's liver.

My friend Cathy is able to use obscure words appropriately, I admire that. Here is a wall exchange we had on facebook last month as an example:

Cathy Wolfe has one too many balls in the air.
June 3 at 11:08am · Comment · Like

Heidi Thorsen at 4:13pm June 3
heh heh, you wrote "balls", heh heh heh.

Cathy Wolfe at 5:36pm June 3
Yes, and there's one too many of them. My to-do list is polyorchid.

I'll leave you to look up the meaning of the word yourself. I had to look it up, and it was exquisitely apt. Touche. Much more literary than my allusion to Beavis & Butthead.

A little further on in the book, I came across another new word-- gamelan. Since the author did not define it in the text, I suspected that is because the word is common enough that she expects people to know it. But I had to look it up. The M-W definition is, "an Indonesian orchestra made up especially of percussion instruments (as gongs, xylophones, and drums)". That one might be easier to use; if I heard a ruckus that sounded like a bunch of percussion instruments, I could say, "My goodness, it sounds like a gamelan!" or something to that effect.