Word of the Week: Incarnadined

So, avuncular (unclelike), saturnine (sluggish), sybaritic (pleasure-loving), antediluvian (primitive), concomitant (accompanying), uxorious (fawning), lucubrate (laborious studying), vulpine (foxlike), fissiparous (fractious), skeuomorph (look it up yourself), obdurate (stubborn), syllepsis (zeugma), parlous (perilous), crepuscular (twilightlike), concupiscent (lustful), cromlech (a formation of megaliths), sacerdotal (priestly), assize (law court), puissant (powerful), legerdemain (trickery) and apercu (insight) and homunculus (dwarf), termagant (nag), unctuous (smug), otiose (useless), punctillio (formality), orotundity (pretentiousness) and how about… incarnadined?

bookI am a good ways through “Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure,” by Artemis Cooper (John Murray, 2012), the biography about the gad-about polymath and well-reviewed travel writer who died in 2011.

And it has been a revelation.

For one thing, I have learned that it is possible to write about a fascinating life without, you know, actually being fascinating yourself. This book, though warmly recommended to any fan of Mr. Fermor’s work, is nearly as desultory and dissipated as Mr. Fermor himself.

But, more important, it has revealed the subject in a stark and authentic light. He was, it says here, kind of a jerk. Well-loved, of course, and with admirable qualities; whose every book I have bought and read, eagerly, from cover to cover; and whose life, as aimless as it was, still furnishes the mother lode of my dreaming life — but nonetheless a jerk.

Incarnadined, a transitive verb (inn-CAR-nah-deened) defined by Webster’s Fourth as “to make the color of either flesh or blood,” crops up in a case in point.

(Photo credit: Joan Leigh Fermor)

(Photo credit: Joan Leigh Fermor)

Mr. Fermor was staying with friends — which is what he was doing, more often than not — at a castle in Ireland. The previous weeks had been a riot of parties — it was, as Mr. Fermor wrote to a friend, “a mixture of a night-club, the Hons’ cupboard* and the Charge of the Light Brigade, so tremendous was the pace, even for me, all day and all night.” But now it was quiet, and Mr. Fermor proposed to his friends that they attend the Kildare Hunt Ball as a lark. No one liked the idea, though the owner of the castle finally agreed. But first, she asked her butler for, as Ms. Cooper puts it, something to make “a tiresome evening a bit more bearable. A pill the size of a hornet arrived on a silver salver and Paddy, intrigued, asked if he could have one, too.”

To the ball we go. Mr. Fermor’s celebrated charisma, no doubt accustomed to consorting with alcohol, did not get on well with whatever was in the hornet-size pill. And he was no stranger to chemical enhancements; he once celebrated Christmas in Cairo with a Benzedrine-stuffed turkey. But at the Kildare Hunt Ball, Mr. Fermor did not exactly ride high in the saddle. The climax came after he picked out the tallest mug in the room and asked him, as Ms. Cooper writes on Page 281, “if it was true that the ‘Killing Kildares’ were in the habit of buggering their foxes.”

Bedlam ensued. “There we were, all slamming away at each other like navvies [‘an unskilled laborer, as on canals, roads, etc.’],” Mr. Fermor wrote a friend.

I was being dealt with by a half a dozen great incarnadined Nimrods;** Robert Kee came to my rescue, only to be brought down by Roderick More O’Ferrall, and the scarlet maelstrom surged over them and me.



Unsurprisingly, Mr. Fermor, himself incarnadined from a small gash in his head, was eventually rescued by a female acquaintance (not his girlfriend).

The verb comes from the adjective incarnadine, from the French incarnadin, snug in my dictionary appropriately between incardinate, “to attach a cleric to a particular diocese,” and incarnate, “endowed in a body.” It is tempting to think that Mr. Fermor meant that his assailants had been bloodied, but in reality I think he is referring to the red hunting jackets, above right, worn by members of the club.

In any case, this is just the tip of the boorish iceberg when it comes to Mr. Fermor. A few pages earlier (Page 278), Ms. Cooper diverts from her narrative to give a brief disquisition on sexual hygiene, noting that “his weakness for the sleazier pleasures of the night sometimes led to a nasty surprise for his more respectable girlfriends.” Ms. Cooper is herself so diverted that she quotes in full a letter Mr. Fermor wrote to one such unfortunate. Mr. Fermor, after examining his “fragrant and silent glades” for tiny livestock, concludes sheepishly that the “crabs of the world fly to me, like the children of Israel to Abraham’s bosom…”

(Yes, he really did.)


Mr. Fermor in 1966.

And so on. Mr. Fermor, when he isn’t cadging money from friends, swilling their wine and brandy, popping their pills, fornicating with their wives, sisters and daughters, was also a card-carrying member of a thoroughly irritating species: the writer unaware of deadline. He once, having been asked for a few thousand words on a well-known episode from his wartime service, turned in months late nearly 40,000 words.

Words, I will add, that have still not been published.

Unpublished is what you might say of the word incarnadine. It is the title of a recent collection of poetry, and it has a rich life in online role-playing games, apparently. But few writers have been seduced by its charms.

Except for one you might have heard of:

Macbeth: Whence is that knocking?
How is’t with me, when every noise appalls me?
What hands are here? Hah! They pluck out mine eyes.
Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand? No; this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.
“Macbeth,” Act 2, Scene 2, 54–60

* “Hons’ cupboard” refers to a secret childhood hiding place of the Mitford siblings, English aristocrats whose style and politics were the stuff of scandal in 1930s Britain.
** A nimrod is a foolish person, of course, but capitalized here I believe Mr. Fermor is referring to King Nimrod, a renowned hunter and a stout Babylonian king. It was his ill-conceived plan to build the Tower of Babel, which seems to indicate that Mr. Fermor was reserving similar divine judgment for his Kildare persecutors.


1 in 175,223,510

[9:17 PM] Me: Jesus. You do a lot of the stupid, don’t you?

[10:48 PM] Bob: …can’t tell you….

[10:48 PM] Me: Poor kid

[10:49 PM] Bob: …but if you win the lottery….

[10:49 PM] Me: -If- I play the lottery, you mean

[11:05 PM] Bob: …no …no…don’t tell me that…just say yes…yes…..I have to work with stupid….my god …I had to listen to [stuff deleted] and I was able to keep from laughing…..pretty good poker face…..

[11:06 PM] Bob: so don’t tell me you don’t play…come back with some crap about matching a powerball or …only missing by two digits….and add something about statistics…and probability….how if the moon is in the first quarter and your turd pointed katt-i-wumpus….and were sure to be in the money soon….not reality….

[11:16 PM] Me: I don’t play. And it’s wrong to lie, to such a good soul as you. So. You’ll just have to suffer and realize that you’ll never be able to retire early.

[11:18 PM] Me: :-)

[11:20 PM] Bob: ….really…I get to work for colosul butt heads and you send me a :-)….awesome….Happy Brothers Day….to me…

[7:02 AM] Me: And Happy Brothers Day to me!

‘Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945’

Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 by David M. Kennedy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Over all, worth it. There is little inside that is controversial, or novel. Indeed, Mr. Kennedy devotes not a little brainpower to debunking some of the controversial and novel myth-making that had preceded him. And he does so ably.

But you should realize that this is, as it says, a history of the New Deal and of the United States’ involvement in World War II. It is a big-picture view, with insightful and engaging big-picture analysis. And despite its being a part of the so-called Oxford History of the United States, it is only those things. The words Joe Dimaggio and Joan Crawford do not appear anywhere in its 800-some pages, for instance; “John Steinbeck” does, but only to add muscle to contemporary descriptions of real life. (It seems “Grapes of Wrath” was fairly spot-on.)

In other words, if I had to criticize this book, which was good fun and is much-recommended, I would say that I would gladly have read past 1,000 pages over all if Mr. Kennedy had discussed, you know, movies and radio and, I dunno, art. Possibly his editors would have laughed at that suggestion; probably that was farther than he wanted to go. No one asked me, I know.

In any case, it is not often that I enjoy a book that I wish was 200 pages longer, but I wish it had been.

View all my reviews


Last Week’s News: Rage and the Marines

In the spirit of Internet immediacy, here is a review of what I was reading online last week.

  • Gail Collins of The Times brought up the “very specific cry of rage about the way intelligent, well-educated women were kept out of the mainstream of American professional life” via ‘The Feminine Mystique’ at 50 – NYTimes.com.
  • This rage will now occasionally be vented against foreign powers after the Pentagon lifted its not-really ban on women in combat. “The groundbreaking decision overturns a 1994 Pentagon rule that restricts women from artillery, armor, infantry and other such combat roles, even though in reality women have found themselves in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan…” via Pentagon Lifting Ban on Women in Combat – NYTimes.com.
  • College football programs are puzzling over why fan interest in the sport is seeming to wane. “What can’t you do in the rain? Text. So they stay inside.” via In era of technological, financial change, has college football peaked? – NCAA Football – CBSSports.com News, Scores, Stats, Schedule and BCS Rankings. It says here they should start with, College football kinda sucks.
  • Mark Emmert, the N.C.A.A.’s president, seemed to agree when he called the conduct of the groups investigators “shocking…” via N.C.A.A. Admits Misconduct in Miami Investigation – NYTimes.com.
  • Here is something to think about as you prepare your tax documents. “IER estimated the worth of the government’s oil and gas technically recoverable resources to the economy to be $128 trillion, about 8 times our national debt.” via Institute for Energy Research | Federal Assets Above and Below Ground. It says here, Burn that stuff up now while we can.
  • Speaking of women: “Her old suite was searched and inside an old shoebox they found $247,200 in cash, mostly in $1,000 and $5,000 bills. They thought that was all of it until the following day, when a nurse tunneled a hand up Ida’s dress while she slept and retrieved an oilcloth pocket holding $500,000 in $10,000 bills.” via Everything Was Fake but Her Wealth | Past Imperfect.
  • I honestly did not know haggis was illegal in the United States. Sorry, but I didn’t. And I don’t feel dumb about it either. Many Americans think haggis is an animal, and they’re half right. Of course, I mean to say that real, Scottish-style haggis is illegal; there apparently are all sorts of half-assed (sorry) versions being sloshed out of kitchens whenever your back is turned. But, as they say: “Without the sheep’s lung it’s not authentic.” via BBC News – The offal truth about American haggis.
  • Am I the only one who is starting to think the United States is a super unsafe place to live? Like, “failed state” unsafe. Like, we should just chuck the laws and stuff and start over. I mean, holy crap. What else am I supposed to think when the vice president is giving advice like this: “Guess what? A shotgun will keep you a lot safer…” via Biden Addresses Preppers In Gun Debate | TPMDC.

From your 120 subscriptions, over the last 30 days you read 5,905 items, clicked 299 items, starred 6 items, and emailed 8 items.

Grammar Note of the Weekend, No. 1

[1:08 PM] Me: I’ll start early.

[1:09 PM] Me: Awhile is an adverb; a while, a noun. So, he visited awhile. But. He left after a while. Get it?

[1:11 PM] Maria: I do get it

[1:12 PM] Me: Wow. That was unexpected.

[1:12 PM] Me: I guess, we’ll see. And next week, we’ll try something else.

[1:12 PM] Me: Until you become literate

[1:13 PM] Me: Our for trying

[1:13 PM] Me: I meant, “Or die trying,” he said ironically

[1:16 PM] Maria: Very ironic

[1:18 PM] Me: That’s good. We’ll do irony next Saturday.


Life Imitates Art

Take one kilogram of polyisocyanide polymer. Sprinkle liberally across an Olympic swimming pool. Warm gently. Within minutes, your jelly is ready. Serves 25 million.

via Polymer can turn swimming pool to jelly : Nature News & Comment.

One of the airplanes crashes into the dictators seaside palace and causes his still-frozen body to tumble into the ocean, and all the water in the worlds seas, rivers, and groundwater turns into ice-nine, killing almost all life in a few days.

via Cats Cradle – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.


Epithet of the Week: You Unctuous, Otiose Punctilio of Orotundity

Lightning bolt!

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, avuncular (unclelike), saturnine (sluggish), sybaritic (pleasure-loving), antediluvian (primitive), concomitant (accompanying), uxorious (fawning), lucubrate (laborious studying), vulpine (foxlike), fissiparous (fractious), skeuomorph (look it up yourself), obdurate (stubborn), syllepsis (zeugma), parlous (perilous), crepuscular (twilightlike), concupiscent (lustful), cromlech (a formation of megaliths), sacerdotal (priestly), assize (law court), puissant (powerful), legerdemain (trickery) and apercu (insight) and homunculus (dwarf), termagant (nag) and how about…?

How about today I provide a leg up for the next time you are cut off on the sidewalk or bullied on the schoolyard or upstaged at the office? (Things that never happen to me, by the way.)

The theme for today’s word — really, epithet — of the week struck like a bolt of lightning as I was idly thumbing through the browsing history of my Android app for Webster’s Fourth. The catalog of words I had looked up over the past few days fairly bristled with gasps of indignity: unctuous, orotund, punctilious, didact, demagogue, and so on.

English: Photograph of Fowlers "Modern En...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I thought to myself, What prickly old head master’s diary have I been reading?

Almost apropos of nothing — don’t you think they should spell apropos as “a propos”? — I remembered that I had found a copy of H.W. Fowler’s famous “Modern English Usage” at the Strand the other day.

And after containing my squeals of schoolboy delight, I dived in. And quickly realized that Mr. Fowler himself surely bristles with indignity, prickliness and the rest, not to mention a near total lack of self-awareness. His entry on didacticism is an ironic marvel of xenophobia: “Why do we … allow the French to insult us with Londres & Angleterre?”

That’s a fair question, I suppose; but more on him, and that, another time.

Braised by the delicious first course of Mr. Fowler’s tart intellect and sizzling from my sniggering app history, I realized that I had been presented with the makings of a stinging rebuke.

To start with, there is unctuous, an adjective that is pronounced UNK-shoe-uss. For our purposes, we need to go deep into the definitions, drilling down until we strike the rich vein of “a smug, smooth pretense of spiritual feeling, fervor, or earnestness, as in seeking to persuade; too suave or oily in speech or manner.” But you can see that was worth the trip.

Turning to otiose, an adjective (OH-tee-ohse), helpfully, we can skim the pithy “ineffective; futile; useless; superfluous” right off the surface.

With punctilio, “observance of petty formalities” (punk-TILL-ee-oh), I admit I am reaching a bit, employing my snark’s license. But what is a snark’s license for, if not to be employed. A noun was needed, and one that was suitably insulting, after being bent to our purpose, was found. In any case, I wanted to save orotund for the end. Orotundity, “pretentious, pompous speech or writing” (ohr-oh-TUN-ditty), had too marvelous a sound as I said it to myself to not be the final, ironic hammer blow.

It’s a pretty good zinger, I think, to have been the product merely of chance and not a tea-addled, wig-crowned, Oxford-educated mind.

So, the next time you come under the thumb — again, this never happens to me — of some rascal, simply square your shoulders, take the pipe from your mouth and jab the stem at your adversary, trying not to spill your cognac as you say, with sharpness, “You, Sir, are an unctuous, otiose punctilio of orotundity, and I don’t mean maybe.”

Samuel L. Jackson, as the unctuous and tyrannical Joseph, uses the word with especial vigor as a way of keeping down all the other blacks and ensuring his own predominance.

via Django Unchained Reviewed: Tarantinos Crap Masterpiece : The New Yorker.

By then, no doubt all debates surrounding religious adherence and the Established Church will be as otiose as those now relating to the offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel.

via The Coalition rides roughshod over the Constitution – Mail Online.

Footnote: For punctilio, too, I had to bend convention. I apparently am the only person in the history of the Internet (as defined by a minute and a half of searching Google) to use punctilio as a noun to describe a person, and not an event or practice. And yet, I pressed on. But for fun, I offer this:

Beneath a toilet water of punctilio and restraint…a deep smell came off Kelly, a hint of a big foul cat, carnal as the meat on a butchers block, and something else, some whiff of the icy rot and iodine in a piece of marine nerve left to bleach on the sand.

via Los Angeles Review of Books – Norman Mailer.

And still more fun, and appropriate, is this:

“One who sees through the orotundity and sesquipedality in purple prose will say something indicative of notable worth.”

via Goodreads | Quote by Anyaele Sam Chiyson.

Yesterday’s News: Enlightened Entitlement

In the spirit of Internet immediacy, here is a review of what I read online yesterday.

I am halfway through David M. Kennedy’s “Freedom from Fear,” an insightful and engaging history of the New Deal and World War II — though of only those things — and it obviously adds a lot of context to current political debates. Particularly revealing is that President Roosevelt, at least in part, imagined the New Deal as a hammer he could use to reshape the Democratic Party, drumming its Southern, conservative wing into meek, or irrelevant, submission.

The irony is, it will perhaps require a similar manipulation of the political spectrum to save the New Deal’s legacy, namely its most famous still-existing program, Social Security, and the groundbreaking appendages, Medicare and Medicaid.

“But while reports of a crisis are overblown, and conservative proposals to solve it are draconian, progressives do need to think about how best to reform the entitlement programs.” via Henry J. Aaron for Democracy Journal: Progressives and the Safety Net.

In the meantime, why shouldn’t we be spending again?

“The reason is that although the government is borrowing a lot of money, it is doing so very cheaply because interest rates are low both over all and on government debt specifically.” via What Is Driving Growth in Government Spending? – NYTimes.com.

Thence, some interesting pairings. For the first, start with a filmmaker who actually said “I’ve seen ‘The Master’ six or seven times, and I can’t wait to see it an eighth.” The quote is from an article about a movie made at Disney World without Disney’s permission. It’s notable because the critic seems to think that is the most interesting thing about the movie. via Sundance 2013: How did a newbie make an unapproved film in Disney parks? – latimes.com.

Finish with an author who makes a bold and possibly revealing attack on Charles Darwin, but does so in a poorly written book: “‘Mind and Cosmos’ is certainly provocative and it reflects the efforts of a fiercely independent mind. In important places, however, I believe that it is wrong.” via Awaiting a New Darwin by H. Allen Orr | The New York Review of Books.

Pairing 2 begins with a rift in the abortion rights movement. Apparently, the do-nothing 20-somethings are tired of being seen that way. “They are the generation that gave us legalized abortions, but they also screwed up,” via Why Abortion-Rights Activists Have Been Losing Ever Since Roe v. Wade — Printout — TIME.

Finish with a distressing look at the rights women were/are fighting for. “For most of history, abortion has been a dangerous procedure a woman attempted to perform on herself. In private. Without painkillers.” via Leeches, Lye and Spanish Fly – NYTimes.com.

Finally, three sentences to meditate on.

  1. “Why does it matter for our moral appraisal of pedophiles whether pedophilia is innate or acquired?” via Pedophilia, Preemptive Imprisonment, and the Ethics of Predisposition | Practical Ethics.
  2. “What are athletes doing when they play sports, and what are we watching when we watch?” via The New Atlantis » How to Think About Our Steroid Supermen.
  3. Ursus arctos horribilis, with an emphasis on the horribilis.” via Hey, Bear – The Morning News.

New Year Inventory

[8:00 AM] Me: Did you get any taller last year?

[9:11 AM] Bob: …nope…..but I didn’t get any shorter…either…

[9:11 AM] Me: Smarter?

[10:02 AM] Bob: …da-a-a-ah….

[10:03 AM] Me: I see. Well, we’ll settle for, Still has four limbs.

Delicious Central Asian Food for Thought

Ludwig Wittgenstein #3

Ludwig Wittgenstein #3 (Photo credit: Christiaan Tonnis)


Stop me if you’ve heard this one:


An Iranian in New York asks his readers why no one is taking Middle Eastern philosophers seriously.


I mean, that is not what he is asking. But, really, it is.


The question is rather something else: What about other thinkers who operate outside this European philosophical pedigree…


via Can non-Europeans think? – Opinion – Al Jazeera English.


A few clicks away was his answer.


I mean, it is not really the answer he wants or is even looking for. But, really, it is.


Philosopher Bertrand Russel described Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein as “the most perfect example I have ever known of genius as traditionally conceived, passionate, profound, intense, and dominating.”


via Reality is shaped by the words we use.