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 language—he collaborated with a translator on The Defense—but 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 alone—a testament to his erudition (and the fact that my religious upbringing was obviously sub-par):
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!