A Diamond Age Lexicon

I recently reread The Diamond Age (here is a link to a post on my previous reading).

First: I really really like that novel.

Second: I was struck by the particular delight in words that Stephenson takes here.  He always has a keen eye for words old and new (the neologism “amistics” has stuck with me from Seveneves — the term used to describe the decisions that cultures make about which of the technologies they will use of those available to them [cf. the Amish]). In particular, he does a great job of sprinkling words through which support the Victorian influenced steampunk aesthetic (e.g., “crinoline” on the one hand and “infinitesimal fabricules” on the other).  I think this linguistic play feels less impressive now given how popular steampunk (and subsequent variants) has become, but remember that Stephenson (after Sterling and Gibson) largely wrote the book on steampunk (i.e., this one).

So, I made a list of words I had not encountered before or knew only vaguely (see below). The list is necessarily idiosyncratic and I’m sure I have captured only a small percentage of the lexical delights that reside within the book’s pages. My favourite is “velleity” — wanting to do something, but not being sufficiently arsed.

  • Weltanschauung – world view
  • Propaedeutic – introductory (to an area of study)
  • Enchiridion – handbook (now slightly better known due to Adventure Time)
  • Obtrude – to become noticeable in an unwelcome manner.
  • Concinnitous – (or, technically sweet — my other favourite word on the list) elegant and efficient; a skilful and harmonious arrangement
  • Mephitic – noxious
  • Paroemiological – proverbial
  • Gallimaufry – a confused jumble
  • Velleity – a wish, not quite strong enough to evoke action
  • Catachthonic – underground
  • Whilom – formerly
  • Caducity – frailty
  • Mickle – lots/very large
  • Chudding – I’m not sure. Wiktionary and OED suggest biting, but that doesn’t fit with the usage: “Fiona brightened up immediately, and Hackworth could not help chudding, not for the first time, at the charming susceptibility of small people to frank bribery.” I’m going to guess that this was an editor-missed mistake unless Neal contributes to the comments to tell me otherwise:)
  • Tantivy – gallop
  • Hyperboloid – in the shape of a symmetrical curve
  • Palimpsest – a medium which can be rewritten on
  • Spall – (v.) fragment (of rock)
  • Phthisis – wasting disease (esp. TB)
  • Judas Gate – a small door set within a large door (so cute!)
  • Ashlar – big, blocky, elegant, stone masonry
  • Clerestory – the window-filled upper part of a church
  • Anfractous – circuitous and convoluted
  • Decussating – crossing over
  • Tuple – a multiple-part data structure (looking this up led me here, and made me briefly sad that I do not think like a data scientist)
  • Agonistic – combative
  • Stylite – an aescetic who hangs out on top of a pillar



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