The final group of delectable words that I’m going to spotlight. One can, after all, have too much of even a delectable thing!
Chapter 13 (Verfarkas): “The morning kept slipping out of view and the events of the previous night came rushing back like a sequence of images flickering through a praxinoscope.” So what’s a praxinoscope? And how does it differ from a zoetrope or a phenakistoscope? See for yourself!
Chapter 23 (Damage Control): “Or perhaps tuck the earbobs into one of the mitts and use it as a cosh?” Okay, any Brits and denizens of former colonial outposts thereof probably think of a cosh as a wooden police truncheon. It’s also a short metal baton, covered with leather, aka a blackjack. In the 19th century, this variant was also known as a “life preserver,” indicating it’s use as a defensive weapon. For example, in Trollope’s Phineas Redux (where it figures as a murder weapon), Phineas is only one of several Parliamentary gentlemen who’ve taken to carrying a life preserver as protection when travelling London at night. In any case, the word “cosh” is surely an onomotopoedic nickname related to the sound of using such a weapon, a swoosh followed by a crack on the head. Claude, who’s been trained to fight dirty, is more likely to have said “cosh” than “life preserver.”
Chapter 24 (Just Cause): “A ripple of anger disturbed her langour.” Another of those economical words. Languor conveys listlessness, but with a touch of elegance and grace. It would no doubt have been a symptom of what Carol Burnett used to call “old movie disease” (cough, cough!)
Yes, I’m sharing a few more delectable words! You’ve probably found some of your own, but I’m particularly fond of these:
From good old Chapter 21 (I’m starting to wonder if this chapter may have been overwritten!): “By the time the walkers had breached the garden, Gertrude’s left foot had fallen asleep and Claude had woven a small antimacassar of leaves and grass.” The antimacassar was a kind of doily to protect (“anti”) upholstered furniture against staining by macassar oil, a popular men’s hairdressing product. A reminder that it’s not only women who do silly things in the name of looking good!
Chapter 6 (Moving Pieces) has this extra-delectable twofer. They pretty much speak for themselves: “The musician’s scuttlebutt was quickly confirmed. The titled young captains, lieutenants and Embassy factotums had neither ridden with nor been required to dance attendance on the Princess for several days.”
Chapter 8 (The Walled City): “Her chatelaine, which had any number of useful items, was still hooked to her belt. Clearly her captors hadn’t seen it or (so insulting!) had thought a woman’s bits and bobs posed no risk of either fight or flight.” I like that this phrase manages to both indicate a miscellany and trivilze the contents. Claude’s chatelaine is a very serious collection indeed (when utilized properly!) but I can’t imagine any 19th century many who would have taken it seriously.
Like goggles, dirigible-type aerships are a steampunk staple. We always imagine them as being kitted out to a high degree of elegance, and sailing across the sky with the grace of a Dowager Countess trailing her skirts through a Court reception. But if they’d actually persisted as a form of commercial air travel, would we now be groaning about the inconvenience and discomfort, and fantasizing about sleek, bird-winged jets?
I like words. You’ve probably noticed that. While I was proofreading The Upsilon Knot, I was tickled to notice some of the words I’d used in telling the story. I mean other than “goggles” or “aership,” both of which were to be expected. Words like”woad” and “castrato.” Over the last couple of months, I’ve been highlighting some of these on my Facebook page. For those who might have missed them, here are the first few:
In the opening of the book, when Domenic Soderini is led to Augustus’ secret temple: “His eyes adjusted to the darkness of the cryptoporticus.” This perfectly reasonable architectural term tends not to come up in daily conversation. It refers to a kind of covered passage, often connecting ground level and subterranean spaces.
From Chapter 21: “There was scarcely enough time to avail themselves of the noisome waterfront privy before they were scrambling into the boat…” I’ve always loved the economy of this word! It says “disgusting” so thoroughly that my nose wrinkles up just reading it.
Also from Chapter 21: “…he was taking them to a nearby street of small shops, where fans and shawls and other such elegant fripperies were said to be on offer.” A word that has delighted me since childhood. Since it doesn’t describe a sound, it’s not strictly onamatopoetic; but the music of this word suggests the surfeit and trivia it’s commonly employed to describe. I was fascinated to learn that the origins were French and Latin words meaning “rags” or “splinters.” I suppose modern usage must have begun with some 16th or 17th century version of “what, you mean this old thing?!”
This may be the most magical thing I’ve ever seen on YouTube. It’s 6 minutes of actual footage from the turn of the last century. Tiny bits from ordinary days in various cities around the world. Scored with a Satie gymnopedie (one of you will probably know which one).