That’s the title of a book I was given for my birthday, and a lot of fun it is. Unlike books that list unusual words and simply give definitions, this one makes snide comments about them (“a ridiculous word” is a favorite) and provides suggested uses (“‘Calefacient, anyone?’ you inquire as you pass around the cognac”). But—and I hate to say this—it badly needed fact-checking and editing. When a headword is misspelled, things have come to a pretty pass:

EPHETIC a. Habitually suspending judgment, given to skepticism. Like aporia (q.v.) an exceptionally Superior word. The fact that ephecticism generally engenders ineffectualness should enable you to develop one or two phonically pleasing sentences. Alternatively, cultivate its use in the same sentence as eclectic (wide-ranging in acceptance of doctrines, opinions, etc.).

As you can see from the abstract noun employed in the second sentence, it should be ephectic (a fine word, I must say, deserving of better citations than the anodyne ones provided by the OED: 1693 Urquhart, “The Schools of the Pyrronian.. Sceptick, and Ephectick Sects”; 1883 Saintsbury, “Montaigne’s attitude was ephectic”). Also, the definition of codger as ‘mean old fellow’ is simply wrong for normal use; the OED classifies the sense ‘mean, stingy, or miserly (old) fellow’ as dialectal (1880 W. Cornwall Glossary, “Codger, cadger, a tramp; a mean pedlar; a term of contempt”) and gives the primary definition as ‘an elderly man, usually with a grotesque or whimsical implication… In more general application: Fellow, chap.’ Ah well, let it serve as a reminder that one should always get a second opinion.


  1. a many sided mirror says:

    Hey, I am sorry for the unrelated comment: but having not even the $5 dollars to start a metafilter account, you should (hopefully you’d be so inclined) post this to metafilter:
    A few days ago I stumbled across a couple articles mentioning TheFacebook, and a little start-up capital they happened to get in the sum of $13 million. The number intrigued me, so I did a little more research, a little more stumbling, and found something that even I still have a hard time accepting. So, here’s what I came up with:

  2. a many sided mirror says:

    Oh, but here’s my contribution to the sophisticated lexicon: waylaid. As in, I was waylaid by her erupting laughter. Or the person whose in need of glasses, who turns to find a stack of books piled about them; literally they’re waylaid by their books.

  3. The reference to Urquhart reminds me that my very favourite French philosopher, Trouillogan, was of the “Ephectic and Pyrrhonian” persuasion:
    “As this discourse was ended, Pantagruel said to the philosopher Trouillogan, Our loyal, honest, true, and trusty friend, the lamp from hand to hand is come to you. It falleth to your turn to give an answer: Should Panurge, pray you, marry, yea or no? He should do both, quoth Trouillogan. What say you? asked Panurge. That which you have heard, answered Trouillogan. What have I heard? replied Panurge. That which I have said, replied Trouillogan. Ha, ha, ha! are we come to that pass? quoth Panurge. Let it go nevertheless, I do not value it at a rush, seeing we can make no better of the game. But howsoever tell me, Should I marry or no? Neither the one nor the other, answered Trouillogan. The devil take me, quoth Panurge, if these odd answers do not make me dote, and may he snatch me presently away if I do understand you. Stay awhile until I fasten these spectacles of mine on this left ear, that I may hear you better.”
    Clearly a man ahead of his time.

  4. For what it’s worth, it’s “ephectic” in my Methuen Australia revised edition (1982), so that one probably isn’t the author’s fault. (Unless you have the 1979 edition, that is.)

  5. Interesting. No, I have the 1985 Godine edition, which mentions the Methuen edition on the copyright page but either didn’t take advantage of its corrections or introduced new errors of its own.
    J. Cassian: Excellent quote!

  6. Oh, such obfuscators can be found throughout history. Consider this dialogue from the Thesmophoriazusai of Aristophanes (tr. Edith Hamilton, who really should have given us a full translation of Aristophanes and not just the bits and bobs we get in The Greek Way):

    MNESILOCHUS: Might I, before I’ve lost my mind entirely,
    Be told, where are you taking me, Euripides?

    EURIPIDES: (solemnly) You may not hear the things which presently
    You are to see.

    MNESILOCHUS: What’s that? Say it again.
    I’m not to hear—?

    EURIPIDES: What you shall surely see.

    MNESILOCHUS: And not to see—?

    EURIPIDES: The things you must needs hear.

    MNESILOCHUS: Oh, how you talk. Of course you’re very clever.
    You mean I must not either hear or see?

    EURIPIDES: They two are twain and by their nature diverse
    Each one from other.

    MNESILOCHUS: What’s that—diverse?

    EURIPIDES: Their elemental parts are separate.

    MNESILOCHUS: Oh, what it is to talk to learned people!

    She then compares it to this passage from Princess Ida:

    PRINCESS: Who lectures in the Hall of Arts to-day?

    BLANCHE: I, madam, on Abstract Philosophy.
    There I propose considering, at length,
    Three points – The Is, the Might Be, and the Must.
    Whether the Is, from being actual fact,
    Is more important than the vague Might Be,
    Or the Might Be, from taking wider scope,
    Is for that reason greater than the Is:
    And lastly, how the Is and Might Be stand
    Compared with the inevitable Must!

    PRINCESS: The subject’s deep.

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