Back in 1994 I photocopied a couple of pages from John B. Bremner’s Words on Words to have a copy of the entry BUCKLEYISM, which begins:

A reviewer of a book by William F. Buckley, Jr., a collection of his newspaper columns, found himself marking many words he didn’t understand or wasn’t sure of. He wove some Buckleyisms into this sentence and led his review with it:
“For anfractuous tuquoqueism and immanentization of the eschaton without the chiliastic afflatus of solipsistic brachycephalics, one must etiologically etiolate the fustian rodomontade of phlogistonic energumens and their psychotropic epigoni whose sylleptic ignoratio elenchi and apodictic sciolism transmogrify the apopemptic meiosis and anaphoric interstices of the sibylline incunabula of autarkic ultramontanism, lest by jacobinical malversation the incondite tatterdemalions detumesce the osmotically jejune hagiolaters of soritically otiose taxonomists despite the inchoate enthymeme of paradigmatic animadversion and the meritocratic dirigisme of some anapaestic eponym.”

Bremmer says, “To find out how many of the 89 words in the lead paragraph could be understood by educated readers without being driven to a dictionary,” he asked twenty journalism professors: “The highest score was 60, recorded by an antediluvian lexicographer. The lowest was 35…” I myself beat out the antediluvian lexicographer with a score of 70, though I may have given myself the benefit of the doubt on some words I had only a general sense of. Anyway, I showed this to a coworker who challenged me to paraphrase it; my effort is below the cut.

To say “You too!” in winding ways
To realize the final days,
And not millennially inspired
By shortheads in their own selves mired—
By asking “Why?” we can enfeeble
The windy bluster of such people
As are possessed by flamy goo
And those who toddle after, who
Prove the wrong thing by making one
Word seize on two together, run
With shallow knowledge to false sureness
And thus diminish as they spurn us
And in the old prophetic tomes
Of those sufficient in their homes
(Who still will look across the borders
To let the Pope give them their orders)
Discover referential gaps;
If not, the crude and ragged chaps
Who topple kings and tap the till
May shrivel those who lose their fill
Diffusely, lauding saintly men
Who order things (but then again
Their heaps produce futility)—
Though criticism typically
Gives only half of half-baked proofs,
And talent-pushing statist goofs
Provided names in days of old:
For instance, Bad King Leopold.


  1. At least a few of the terms that were incredibly rare in, say, the 1960s-70s when Buckley was in heyday have become more widely used. “Immanentize the eschaton”, for example, is probably well known to anyone who spends too much time around people in the SciFi or gaming worlds. I also feel like I come across “jejune” fairly often – it seems to be popular among a certain set of New York intellectuals.

  2. Wow. Even with the few phrases like “detumesce the osmotically jejune hagiolaters” where I was pretty sure I knew every word, I still had no idea what the phrases as a whole might mean. (Of course, it turns out that that wasn’t even a real phrase; thanks to your paraphrase, I now understand that “of soritically otiose taxonomists” was the complement of “hagiolaters”, with hagio- being predicative-complement–like, rather than direct-object–like as I’d expected. Google confirms that “hagiolatry” often takes such a complement, but this use of “hagiolater” seems to be almost unique. But even with that aspect explained — I still have no idea what that word-sequence means.)

  3. Likewise, I was unable to get a sense of the meaning of phrases even when the individual words were familiar. In many cases I had never encountered that specific word before but was able to deduce the meaning from its components (“detumesce”, for example – I had to start with “tumescent”).
    How many of those words would be present in an abridged English dictionary? Wiktionary misses “tuquoqueism” completely, and has “elenchi” but identifies it only as Italian.

  4. Having never read Buckley, I referred to recherché vocabulary as Cluteisms, after the science-fiction & fantasy critic John Clute, who’s insightful but must be taken in small doses, and indeed sometimes goes over the top. How, in this review, does using the word “commorant”, a legal term for “ordinarily residing; inhabiting” improve the discussion of “John Cheever’s “Torch Song” (1947), in which lamia and vastation are poisonously commorant…”? Nothing particularly legal about that context.

  5. Ignoratio elenchi only exists in English as a fixed phrase, so it should really be counted as one word rather than two, though John Aubrey did say that John Wilkins’s Philosophical Character would be an excellent method for reducing “the ignoration of the elench.” Likewise, immanentize almost always goes with eschaton, though not vice versa (1 kghit for the former alone, 17 kghits for both, 3820 kghits for the latter alone).
    As for me, I knew all of them except energumens, apopemptic, and incondite, though I was unsure enough about sylleptic and sciolism to look them up. And I greatly admire your translation, except that “Bad King Leopold” is a piss-poor example of anapaests.

  6. I looked up the words in the OED, and all were listed except the following (note that OED3 has covered only words beginning with M through R, so there must be many new words in the files but not yet published):
    tuquoqueism (better spelled tu-quoque-ism, I think, and there is an entry for the phrase tu quoque)
    immanentization (nor immanentize either)
    brachycephalic (listed as an adjective, but it’s a noun here; the OED does have brachycephales, -i)
    etiologically (listed are etiology, etiologist)
    phlogistonic (though phlogiston, phlogisticate, etc. are present)
    hagiolaters (hagiolatry is listed)
    soritically (nor soritical nor soritic, but of course sorites is present)
    So the OED’s “score” is 73. Anyhow, this all made me want to parody Chesterton:
    And a voice apopemptical … Who is identical?
    Who thinks it tactical? Who goes home?

  7. except that “Bad King Leopold” is a piss-poor example of anapaests.
    Yes, that struck me as well; I have a vague memory that the Belgian Congo had been a topic of discussion in the office at the time, and that’s why I threw him in, but I don’t swear to it. I may simply have been running out of steam.

  8. Bademantel says:

    “detumesce”, for example – I had to start with “tumescent”
    Funny, “detumesce” was one of the only words I understood :)

  9. Just thought the folks here might be interested in a “20 untranslatable words” post on the website Conversational Reading.
    I’m considering whether my characters’ native language of Texan has any untranslatables….

  10. Vasha, I devoutly wish Clute wouldn’t trust so to his neologisms. But when he dictionary dives, he does so with an unpopped ear: the legalize of “commorant” strikes me soundly not only as a nod to the sacred bonds of alimony but also a beak flick to the predatory seabird.

Speak Your Mind