Vocabulary Words I Learned from Books Last Year

I’m not sure if it’s heartening or daunting that I’m still learning new words at the age of 34. Many recent ones are thanks to The Cabinet of Linguistic Curiosities: A Yearbook of Forgotten Words by Paul Anthony Jones, which I’m reading as a daily bedside book. But last year I spotted new words in a wide variety of books, including classic novels, nature books and contemporary fiction. Some are specialty words (e.g. bird or plant species) you wouldn’t encounter outside a certain context; others are British regional/slang terms I hadn’t previously come across; and a handful are words that make a lot of sense by their Latin origins but have simply never entered into my reading before. (In chronological order by my reading.)


  • plaguy = troublesome or annoying
  • rodomontade = boastful or inflated talk

~The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë


  • fuliginous = sooty, dusky
  • jobation = a long, tedious scolding

~Father and Son by Edmund Gosse


  • stogged = stuck or bogged down
  • flurring (used here in the sense of water splashing up) = hurrying [archaic]

~ Dangling Man by Saul Bellow


  • ferrule = a metal cap on the end of a handle or tube
  • unsnibbing = opening or unfastening (e.g., a door)

~The Great Profundo and Other Stories by Bernard MacLaverty


  • anserine = of or like a goose
  • grama = a type of grass [which is the literal meaning of the word in Portuguese]
  • wahoo = a North American elm

~A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold


  • antithalian = disapproving of fun
  • gone for a burton = missing, from WWII RAF usage
  • lucifugal = light-avoiding
  • nefandous = unspeakably atrocious
  • paralipsis = a rhetorical strategy: using “to say nothing of…” to draw attention to something
  • phairopepla = a Central American flycatcher
  • prolicide = killing one’s offspring
  • scran = food [Northern English or Scottish dialect]
  • swashing = moving with a splashing sound

+ some anatomical and behavioral terms relating to birds

~An English Guide to Birdwatching by Nicholas Royle


  • bate = an angry mood [British, informal, dated]

~Master Georgie by Beryl Bainbridge


  • gurn = a grotesque face

~As a God Might Be by Neil Griffiths


  • stoorier = dustier, e.g. of nooks [Scots]

~The Nature of Autumn by Jim Crumley


  • fascine = a bundle of rods used in construction or for filling in marshy ground
  • orfe = a freshwater fish

~Swallowing Mercury by Wioletta Greg


  • vellications = muscle twitches

~First Love by Gwendoline Riley


  • knapped = hit

~Herbaceous by Paul Evans


  • fumet = a strongly flavored cooking liquor, e.g. fish stock, here used more generically as a strong flavor/odor
  • thuja = a type of coniferous tree

~The Gourmet by Muriel Barbery


  • howk = dig up [Scotland]
  • lochan = a small loch
  • runkled = wrinkled
  • scaur = a variant of scar, i.e., a cliff [Scotland]
  • spicules = ice particles

~The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd


  • heafed = of farm animals: attached or accustomed to an area of mountain pasture [Northern England]

~The Shepherd’s Life by James Rebanks


  • objurgation = a harsh reprimand

~The Shadow in the Garden by James Atlas


  • lares = guardian deities in the ancient Roman religion

~At Seventy by May Sarton


  • blatherskite = a person who talks at great length without making much sense

~Every Man for Himself by Beryl Bainbridge


  • kickshaws = fancy but insubstantial cooked dishes, especially foreign ones

~The Reading Cure by Laura Freeman


  • clerisy = learned or literary people
  • intropunitiveness [which he spells intrapunitiveness] = self-punishment
  • peculation = embezzlement

~The Brontësaurus by John Sutherland


The challenge with these words is: will I remember them? If I come upon them again, will I recall the definition I took the time to look up and jot down? In an age where all the world’s knowledge is at one’s fingertips via computers and smartphones, is it worth committing such terms to memory, or do I just trust that I can look them up again any time I need to?

I still remember, on my first reading of Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield at age 14, filling several pages of a notebook with vocabulary words. The only one I can think of now is nankeen (a type of cloth), but I’m sure the list was full of British-specific or Victorian-specific terminology as well as ‘big words’ I didn’t know until my teens but then kept seeing and using.

The other question, then, is: will I actually use any of these words in my daily life? Or are they just to be showcased in the occasional essay? Gurn and unsnibbing seem fun and useful; I also rather like antithalian and blatherskite. Perhaps I’ll try to fit one or more into a piece of writing this year.


Do you like it when authors introduce you to new words, or does it just seem like they’re showing off? [Nicholas Royle (above) seemed to me to be channeling Will Self, whose obscure vocabulary I do find off-putting.]

Do you pause to look up words as you’re reading, note them for later, or just figure them out in context and move on?

33 responses

  1. I remember reading a Rohinton Mistry novel on a flight to India and by the time I landed I had a notebook full of terms I wanted to ask my Indian colleagues to explain. Lots of them were about Hindu gods but also some clothes. It made for some fascinating conversations over lunch and dinner and broke the ice on many occasions.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah yes, a big novel set in a different culture would surely generate lots of unfamiliar words. Do you mind when terms in a foreign language are untranslated in the text and just left in italics? I remember encountering some in The Year of the Runaways and rather than look them all up I just ignored them.


      1. With some languages I can take a stab at what the text means but would have absolutely no clue with Chinese for example or Russian. I tend to hope the context provides the sense of what is being said. Last year I read a novel where the writer had included phrases in Welsh and she and I discussed her decision to leave them without explanation.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Such a great post! Use it or lose it is the only answer to whether you’ll remember them. easy with some of these but not with others. Interesting that the ‘clerisy’ meant learned or literary people – I assume it derives from clerics who were amongst the few literate people before free universal education. My own favourites from last year all come from Jake Arnott’s The Fatal Tree which I read last January but still haven’t managed to get dandy-prat, pot-valiant or prattle-broth into the conversation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you’re right. I’ll have to actively seek out opportunities to use at least a few of these words! I had never seen clerisy before; I suppose it’s a counterpart to clergy and laity.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Annabel (gaskella) | Reply

      I have managed to use Daisyville from the Arnott, but not any of the more colourful terms!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post! if yo9u can remember them you will be one hell of a Scrabble player. While reading Nabokov I started to look up some of his more obscure words, but my Shorter Oxford Eng Dict. didn’t always list them. Following your lead, I may well start my own list this year. Chiefly because I’m a wordsmith and also because I’m a lousy Scrabble player.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I read Pnin last year but I don’t recall finding any vocabulary words. It’s true that Nabokov loves his obscure English words, though!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. PaleFire was the novel; also Speak Memory, which is one of my ‘dippers’. I dip into it now and then and read another page or two or three … or more … An ongoing project.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I’d like to read both of those.


  4. Wow. The logophile in me is squealing in delight! LOVE THIS! Can’t wait to come back and look at it even closer. Duty calls. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was pleased with myself when I identified a ‘ferrule’ on the plunger of an old cafetiere last night. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I like to come across, and look up, obscure words. I try to remember and use them, but honestly, I usually forget. I would like to remember and use the word gurn from your list above.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wonder if it’s mostly in British usage — after 12 years here I still come across some anglicisms I don’t know.


  6. Carolyn Anthony | Reply

    I figure out unknown words in context, or ignore them, and keep reading, unless the word seems to carry significance to the meaning of the sentence. Then I’ll look it up. Of your list, I’ve never seen any of the words. Only one could I figure out the meaning without help — intropunitiveness I doubt I’d ever use any of this vocabulary.

    Sent from my iPhone


    Liked by 1 person

  7. Plaguy–how fun. I just might use that one!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Just looking at that word and the similarity to plague, I might have thought it meant “ill”. I guess you always have to look something up if you’re not sure!


  8. My favorites from your list are “runkled” and “blatherskite”. Im quite sure i will have to use these.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I have nearly 30 years on you and I’m still noting new vocabulary when I read. Part of the problem is, as you say, not remembering that one has learned certain words, but I think that, as long as one reads widely, that there will always be new terms that pop up. (Can you tell I’ve been binge-watching The Crown? 😉

    ‘Unsnibbing’ is one from your list that I think I can remember and use, since my husband calls what I call the ‘hook & eye’ catch that holds open the basement door a snib, a word that I confess I had not heard (or don’t remember hearing – see above) before he used it.

    Very interesting!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Supposedly ‘snib’ is Scottish/Irish usage — could that be it? Words that come over with immigrants and then end up sticking.


      1. Of course! His ex-wife came from Scotland when she was 16. He probably picked up ‘snib’ from her and continued to use it since it really is much more precise than ‘hook & eye catch’. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

  10. I’m 41 & still learning new words. I note them down as I read & look them up later as can’t always look them up at the time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If it’s a print book I stick a pink Post-it on the line to remind myself to look it up later.


  11. Absolutely love saying that someone is “in a bate” or “sounds batey”—it’s a great way of conveying the sense without actually using the phrase “pissed off”, and the vague archaism seems to make it easier to then deal with said batey person.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. 42 and I am still learning words, fantastic post!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I knew 15 of these but mainly the UK slang or regional terms and some fustier ones (plus the Latin one!) and I’m 45 and pride myself on knowing lots of the words in the world. I have to look stuff up right away but I don’t often find words I don’t know these days that aren’t highly technical terms. Will Self annoys me with his deliberate obfuscations, but I don’t mind a nice new one in its place! Fun post, now I want to write down all mine over the year (I don’t think I’ve had any yet …)

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I’m going to start telling my son he’s being a blatherskite whenever he blabbers on and on without much meaning to his words. Which he does a lot when he’s working on something mindless or when he’s bored.
    I love that you keep track of these. I come across unknown words, too, but tend to just guess what they mean from the context. If I’m really stuck, I’ll look it up. But I don’t use an e-reader, so looking them up is time-consuming. I need to use my reading time as efficiently as possible!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Funny you should say that — I’d forgotten one can look up definitions via Kindle! (I only just learned how to highlight on it late last year thanks to another blogger’s advice.) All of these words I found in print books, marked them with pink Post-it flags, and then looked them up online in one go when I’d finished reading.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, that would be better than looking them up individually as you come across them!

        Liked by 1 person

  15. Annabel (gaskella) | Reply

    I knew around ten of these: I have a thuja plicata in my garden – it’s a prettier lelandii-like tree. I wish I wrote all the words I have to look up down – that’s such fun.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I like new words. And one woman’s new word is another one’s everyday speech.. Scran, gone for a Burton, ferrule, gurning are all day-to-day words for me, but some of your usual ones would probably be recherché to me. It all adds to life’s rich pattern!

    Liked by 1 person

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