A nice little piece by Mark Bowden for The Atlantic:
I have the old English major’s habit of never reading past a word I don’t know, and have worn out more than a few pocket dictionaries. There are certain kinds of books, generally high-toned novels, that you expect to give you a good lexical workout—Ford Madox Ford’s Parade’s End, for example, which I read for the first time this year after watching the great HBO miniseries, or anything by William Faulkner.[…]
Here are some of the puzzlers in The Guns at Last Light, [Rick Atkinson’s World War II Liberation Trilogy]’s final volume: bedizened, biffing, cozenage, bootless, jinking, maledictory, spavined, tintinnabulation, anabasis, flinders. Some in that list may be more familiar than others, but speaking as someone who has been reading and writing for four decades, if a word stops me, it’s going to stop most people.
As I wrote Paul, who sent me the link (thanks, Paul!): “Frankly, I’m shocked that someone who has ‘the old English major’s habit of never reading past a word I don’t know’ and has ‘worn out more than a few pocket dictionaries’ wasn’t familiar with some of those words: really, he’d never seen bootless or spavined? (The ‘boot’ in the former, by the way, is an archaic noun meaning ‘deliverance,’ ‘avail,’ or ‘something to equalize a trade’; it still occurs in the phrase ‘to boot.’)”