I’ve long felt that a book that doesn’t make me look up words in the dictionary is probably not worth reading. I want to read authors who are smarter than I am, and obscure vocabulary has been, in my experience, a pretty consistent indicator that I’m dealing with a superior intellect.
Now, I have a pretty good vocabulary so occasions for learning new words are scarce and getting scarcer. My scientific and biological training helps in that almost all of the terminology has Greek and Latin roots which can be used to deduce the meaning of words with the same roots. My weakness, however, is in vocabulary found mainly in the arts and humanites.
Stefanie at So Many Books has written about meeting her lexicographicalmatch in Umberto Eco, and I have met mine in Garry Wills. He stumped me time and again in Papal Sin, and continues to do so in Why I Am A Catholic. It’s not just the church lingo that gets me; I’m discovering a world of fun and useful words that I regret not learning sooner. Some of the words I have a vague notion about, or else know an alternative meaning that is not the intended one, but most of them are completely new.
If I were seriously studying these books (à la Adler) I would have a section in my notebook for vocabulary, but as I am not I have no set place to write them out (which of course is the way to remember them). Enter the blog. Putting aside questions about whether typing is as good a learning aid as writing, I am creating a section (called Lexis, another new word) in the sidebar for the latest additions to my vocabulary. Don’t worry, there won’t be a test later!