Word of the Week: A Quiz!

“The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp,” by Rembrandt.

“The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp,” by Rembrandt.

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), incarnadined (reddened), [various, from last week] and how about… contumacy?

So. A quiz. I won’t give the answer all at once; it dribbles out here in bits and pieces, a little like my stamina when I am in front of the TV watching an episode of “Friday Night Lights” and have been up since 5 in the morning.

One of these words describes a serious and not-a-little revolting medical condition. Without consulting the Internet or, really, your intellect, guess which one it is. You know, by gut feeling.

A) Contumacy; B) Asperity; C) Scrofula.

Astute readers will remember that I have mentioned contumacy before. Last month, “from my father’s yellowed notes,” I came across it on my way to homunculus, which is an odd mental street-scape, to be sure.

I revisit the word today, mostly out of respect. Contumacy is a noun, and it is all business. Webster’s Fourth defines it as “stubborn refusal to submit to authority, esp. that of a law court.” The definition goes on to add “insubordination” and “disobedience, but that definition had me at “law court.”

Contumacy is a sturdy little word, worthy of a WOW of its own. It is what buttresses the middle finger that is jutted indecorously at the Man. Or his minions.

In short, it is not a medical condition, though it may make the wearer more prone to one.

But I could not help think that contumacy sounded like one; it has a sterile and clinical clank to it.

Now, I got to thinking of contumacy the other day when I read this sentence, from James T. Patterson’s not-too-bad-so-far “Restless Giant” (Oxford University Press, 2005), a criticism of the proliferation of suburbs in the United States that deftly employs the word asperity:

“With characteristically cosmopolitan asperity, Ada Louise Huxtable of The New York Times complained in 1974, ‘There is [in these suburbs] no voyage of discovery or private exploration of the world’s wonders, natural and man-made.’”

For someone of my ilk, that has a delightful ring to it.

Now, leaving aside for the moment the “voyage of discovering” a splash of vomit on a subway platform and the “private explorations” engaged in by a certain class of transient, let’s take a moment to wonder at asperity. Webster’s Fourth defines it, blandly at first, as “roughness or harshness, as of surface, sound, weather, etc. or of circumstances.” Skip ahead to the more useful “harshness or sharpness of temper.”

Which leaves us, of course, with the fact that asperity also is not a medical condition. But I was thinking that it, too, sounded like one.

I mean, seriously: See what happens if you wake your wife up in the middle of the night and tell her the doctor called and has diagnosed her with a withering case of relapsing and remitting contumacious asperity. It’s an imaginary disease, and so there is no way she can have it; except that she might actually have it.

It was a lot of work to make a joke like that, I know. Which brings me, sadly, finally, to scrofula.

It’s a noun, and Webster’s Fourth holds forth thusly: “tuberculosis of the lymphatic glands, esp. of the neck, characterized by the enlargement of the glands, suppuration, and scar formation.

This little nugget lodged in my clam shell at the end of W. L. Warren’s brilliant “Henry II,” which I bagged over the weekend. Apparently, in Mr. II’s time, it was believed the king could cure scrofula just by touching the afflicted. In theory, this was to demonstrate that the king was endorsed by God. But kings were pulling this scam long after minds broadened. Charles X of France was all handsy as late as 1825.

The best part of scrofula is that it sounds to me like a made-up medical condition. That seems like it could be irony.


Apropos of nearly nothing I add the word fisc, which is an obscure little gem that refers to a royal treasury. You might recognize it from the more modern fiscal. Initially, I felt fisc would be a fun letter D for this post, but I was thoroughly disturbed, and discouraged, after a few Google searches. There apparently are an enormous number of people who are desperate to learn more about “anal fishers disease”; it is almost enough to make a fella want to write a WOW for fissure.


  • Ecclesiastics would have men believe they will receive condign punishment and are not worthy to be counted amongst them that shall obtain the next world for their contumacy of monogamy, as opposed to the freedom of the polygamy found in nature, which is inherently pagan. via the comments section of Ayn Rand, Ayn Rand books, Ayn Rand Fountainhead, Rand Atlas Shrugged.
  • It never appalled him that his fellow country men and women, who perhaps voted for him during the presidential election, were being subjected to such terrible and man-inflicted asperity, such inhuman conditions and ill-treatments at the college. via Ikeja Police College: A reflection of national decay.
  • Scrofula in adults is most often caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis. via Scrofula – PubMed Health.