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