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Monday, May 26, 2008


I don't like authors who use words I don't know. I especially don't like authors who use words I don't know and are not even in the dictionary.

My daughter is doing some homework and she asks me to read the first paragraph from a book review written by Francine Prose. The next to the last sentence:
One reason "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" remains so affecting and so profoundly threatening is that Huck shows us what it meant to grow up in a slave-holding society and learn to navigate its pathologies.
Okay, affecting I can understand, but profoundly threatening? Where does she get this? What the devil is she talking about? Who is being threatened? By what? I am sorry, I just do not understand.

And the word I didn't know? Well, we find it in the second paragraph, so technically I could have avoided it, but it was a pretty good essay and I was enjoying it. So the word is picaresque, which at first I thought was a misspelling of picturesque, but it's not. It is a word in it's own right and means something like rogue. I've never heard this word before, and I am not sure I approve of it. It is too similar in spelling and pronunciation to picturesque, and too different in meaning.

So there Francine Prose.

I like the Merriam-Webster online dictionary because they give you an audio pronunciation, which really helps with these stupid obscure words that nobody ever uses. Oh, did I say that already?

Update December 2016 replaced missing pictures.

1 comment:

Sya said...

I've never really questioned why someone would use a word like "picaresque", although now that I think of it, I've pretty much only encountered it in non-fiction works where someone was critiquing something. Also, the similarity between picaresque and picturesque doesn't bother me that much. Only when people start misusing words do I get annoyed (like "peek" for "pique").