Semi-weekly, I post new-to-me words (and their definitions) discovered during my literary rambles (you can read more about how I easily capture these and why I started this series here). Following each definition, I provide the word in context of the sentence I read.
- Tergiversation: the act of abandoning a party for a cause | "The Impressionsists lived through a monarchy, an empire, two republics, and for a very short time, a Commune. These political tergiversations however were trivial compared with the basic chages in society which they disguised but did not control." | From Impressionism, The Painters and The Paintings by Bernard Denvir (a beautiful, extremely large coffee table book I picked up at an estate sale for $4).
- Stertorous: of breathing having a heavy snoring sound | "But along with the physical race they ran was another contest / in the heart of the girl, who wanted to win and not to win, / who could have passed him several times, could have left him / behind, / his stertorous gasping loud in his dry and desperate throat." | The Metamorphoses of Ovid, David R. Slavitt translation | While finishing up Marcus Aurelius's Meditations, I read a reference that led me to the poet Ovid and The Metamorphoses, particularly, the myth of Atalanta and Hippomenes.
- Patina: a fine coating of oxide on the surface of a metal | I've stumbled across this word so many times in my reading, in One Hundred Years of Solitude (Marquez), to Robert Fagles's translation of The Iliad, to Thomas Gunn's poetry and finally, this morning, I read it in William Gass's book of essays, A Temple of Texts: "The Homeric epics, based on tradition, acquire a patina of contemporary lore and custom." But Marquez's use of the word is the most elegant, using it to describe the adornment of the gypsy Melquiades, "He wore a large black hat that looked like a raven with widespread wings, and a velvet vest across which the patina of the centuries had skated."
- Extirpate: destroy completely as if down to the roots | From William Gass's book of essays, A Temple of Texts: "Heresy needs to be punished and heretics extirpated. Between different, even warring religions, there are many silent secret connections." Also, Flaubert used the word in one of his letters, touching on the subject of suffering: "Nothing will extirpate suffering, nothing will eliminate it. Our purpose is not to dry it up, but to create outlets for it. If the sense of man's imperfection, of th meaninglessness of life, were to perish -as would follow from their premise- we would be more stupid than birds, who at least perch on trees." And finally, I stumbled across the word while reading chapter three of Gibbons Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Volume One): "Every barrier of the Roman constitution had been leveled by the vast ambition of the dictator; every fence had been extirpated by the cruel hand of the Triumvir."