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Observing Editor

One adventuresome atom

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One of the hazards of using impressive words is accidentally reaching for the wrong one in the heat of disputation. It can be difficult to maintain the proper command of meanings when several little-used and unusual terms sound sufficiently similar to each other. More to the point, misuse of a big, fancy word will disastrously undermine the aura of learned intelligence that you are attempting to put over on your interlocutors.

I would thus be remiss in recommending last week’s word, lugubrious, if I did not note a few other terms that are easily confused with it, such as lucubration and lubricous. It is essential to guard against confusion at all times, since using a word such as lubricous to describe a friend’s mournful aspect will strain even a fast friendship.

lucubration refers to a solitary activity known only too well to every editor of The Glob. It derives, like so many of the snootier words in English, from the Latin. To lucubrate is to work by candlelight, and connotes the labors attendant on study or scribbling far into the night. The initial luc- is from lux, light, an element familiar from charming baby names such as Lucille and Lucifer. This happy association captures some of the essential pleasures of lucubration, which can be used to refer both to the act of burning the midnight oil itself or to the literary works produced by such toil.

Mrs. Bizzy: What do you think of our new vicar, then?

Mrs. Boddy: Hm.

Mrs. Bizzy: Isn’t he wonderful? So young, and such the intellectual!

Mrs. Boddy: He’s something shocking all right.

Mrs. Bizzy: I beg your pardon? Did you know he’s writing a book on the divine body of the scriptures?

Mrs. Boddy: That does not surprise me in the slightest: he’s carnally inclined.

Mrs. Bizzy: He’s what?

Mrs. Boddy: He propositioned me.

Mrs. Bizzy: What? Vicar Glandstone?

Mrs. Boddy: After the Bible study group last week, I asked him for recommendations of further readings on the incorruptibility of saints both pre- and post-mortem. He pretended to have written something apropos the subject, and then he baldly asked me to call at the vicarage later so he could show me his lucubrations.

Mrs. Bizzy: Oh my goodness! What did you do?

Mrs. Boddy: I was utterly astonished at being addressed in such a fashion, so I bid him a hasty good day after kicking him in the shins.

Mrs. Bizzy: My, my, another lost soul, seething with cruel lusts. He seemed like such a nice, quiet man.

Mrs. Boddy: My dear, those are exactly the sort of people you need to watch.

In contrast to the upright, though perhaps pedantic, associations of lucubrations, the word lubricous is more suspect. A lubricous entity is characterized by lubricity, a smoothness or slipperiness that may be caused or enhanced by lubrication. A state of lubricity is therefore tricky and potentially treacherous. As an extended meaning, this term connotes lewdness, lechery and related entertaining vices. There is therefore a nice distinction between a lubricous glance and a lugubrious look that must be understood before employing either term in anger.

The Geek Chorus: Alright, dood, enough. I surrender.

Myself: I beg your pardon?

The Geek Chorus: You’re the alpha male, OK? Chief BigWord.

Myself: Are you finding this presentation tedious?

The Geek Chorus: Well, your dictionary kinda stops on the first syllable, if you know what I mean.

Myself: . . .

The Geek Chorus: No offense, but there are limits. Some of us have stuff to do.

Myself: Ah, yes. I see.

The Geek Chorus: Seriously, man. I have work to do tonight.

Myself: And are your parents aware that your nocturnal, lucubratory activities are largely lubricous in nature?

The Geek Chorus: What?

Myself: You know what I mean. You’re busy playing on the Shame Grid. What’s your handle? The invincible Pr0n, who surfs for the Lusers?

The Geek Chorus: Man, I’m outta here.

Myself: Goodbye.