The New York Times once described the Irish highbrow writer John Banville’s many novels as coming “laden with words that seem meant to prove his vocabulary is bigger than yours: flocculent, crapulent, caducous, anaglypta, mephitic, velutinous.” On the occasion of his forthcoming novel, The Singularities (from Knopf), Air Mail has compiled a list of like obscurities from a dozen previous works by the mandarin stylist. Do you know their meaning? Put your pansophism to the test.

  1. brumous adj. (ʹbroo-muss)
    a. huffy
    b. misty
    c. sweeping
  2. gleet n. (gleet)
    a. discharge
    b. joy
    c. sweeping
  3. craquelured adj. (kra-ʹklurd)
    a. brittle
    b. smelling of cheese
    c. crackled
  4. instauration n. (in-stor-ʹay-shun)
    a. restoration
    b. metamorphosis
    c. constellation
  1. plumbeous adj. (ʹplum-bee-uss)
    a. leaden-colored
    b. plum-colored
    c. vertical
  2. sizar n. (ʹsy-zur)
    a. bonnet
    b. viceroy
    c. poor student
  3. bombasine n. (ʹbahm-buh-seen)
    a. chocolate tart
    b. black mourning wear
    c. munitions
  4. oxter n. (ʹahk-stur)
    a. armpit
    b. men’s hard shoe
    c. stableman
  1. macaronic adj. (mak-uh-ʹrah-nik)
    a. dandyish
    b. made of paste or dough
    c. jumbled, as in Spanglish
  2. exsanguinate v. (ek-ʹsang-gwin-ate)
    a. to drain of blood
    b. to render gloomy
    c. to murder
  3. putto n. (ʹputt-toh)
    a. ravine
    b. legging
    c. cupid figure
  4. vermiculate adj. (vur-ʹmik-yoo-lit)
    a. worm-like
    b. mousy
    c. greenish

Vocabulary Rankings

6 and below: Seussian
7–9: Houyhnhnmean
10–12: Joycean

Howard Kaplan is the proud owner of a Webster’s Third New International, Unabridged