Archive for the ‘Nabokov’ Category

The Defense

May 14, 2007

I’ve been rereading Vladimir Nabokov’s early novel The Defense, about Luzhin, a socially maladroit grandmaster who comes to see the entire world as one big chess game.  The book is a fun read, and it was necessary for me to review it because I discuss Luzhin’s decent into madness in my own, forthcoming book about chess obsession, King’s Gambit: A Father, a Son, and the World’s Most Dangerous Game

English was not Nabokov’s first languagehe collaborated with a translator on The Defensebut the book is a lexicographic wet dream.  His exuberant prose is bursting with simple and sesquipedalian words, which stumped me (and I used to oversee a dictionary company!).  

Opening the book at random, to pages 178 and 179, I find half a dozen unfamiliar words on that spread alonea testament to his erudition (and the fact that my religious upbringing was obviously sub-par):

  • epigaster
  • censer
  • thurible
  • matins
  • censer
  • paschal

Five points for guessing which word means “the posterior part of the embryonic intestine from which the colon develops.”  Ten points for unobtrusively slipping the word into a conversation!


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