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Re-reading favorites may be the cure for a ‘book hangover’

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Posted: Monday, October 8, 2012 12:06 am | Updated: 11:34 am, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

FAIRBANKS - A friend recently posted the definition of a new expression for something readers know too well, “book hangover: the inability to start a new book because you’re still living in the last book’s world.”

Since so many good books await their turn for my attention, there’s always pressure to get to the next one. Devoted readers are special that way, and as author Susan Ertz once snarkily noted, so many non-readers “long for immortality who do not know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.” 

“Book hangover” describes my current state because I’m re-reading the works of my favorite wordsmith, Patrick O’Brian. His graceful and vocabulary-expanding use of our language leave his books packed with beautiful, evocative phrasing and entertainingly unusual words, like when I learned from him that “urinator” is an archaic term for deep-sea diver, coming from the Latin “urinary: the plunge under water.” I’m currently re-enjoying “The Ionian Mission” where I encountered “waspish malignancy,” “cupidity,” and “asperity.” 

The hornet infestations typical to Alaskan summers often leave behind a clear understanding of the malignancy of wasps. “Cupidity” means “excessive desire, especially for wealth,” but used to imply an abundance of erotic passion.

“Asperity,” means “harshness of manner,” comes from the Latin “asper” or “rough.” I looked up “asperity” in “The Phrontistery” website for “obscure words and vocabulary resources,” ( to see how obscure “asperity” actually is.

“Cupidity” didn’t make their list, but “asperity” came right before “asperse: slander, disparage,” and “aspidomancy: denial of the right to private property.” 

“Asparagus” isn’t related to asperity, by the way, coming instead from the Greek “asparagos.” Nor does it relate to a close relative especially suited to this political season: “bdelygmia,” pronounced “de-LIG-me-uh.” According to Richard Nordquist of, it’s a “theoretical term for a litany of abuse, a series of critical epithets, descriptions, or attributes.”

As limerick-inventor Edward Lear once wrote about a woman taking singing lessons, “A vile, beastly, rottenheaded, foolbegotten, brazenthroated, pernicious, piggish, screaming, tearing, roaring, perplexing, splitmecrackle, crashmecriggle, insane ass of a woman is practicing howling below-stairs with a brute of a singingmaster so horribly, that my head is nearly off.”

“Splitmecrackle,” though found in no dictionary, could be useful in handy.  Interestingly, it was Lear’s compatriot Lewis Carroll who coined the word “snark,” though Carroll’s poem “The Hunting of the Snark” was about a mythical creature. Nordquist defines the modern sense of “snark” as “abusive and sarcastic speech of writing.” He adds that it’s “generally regarded today as a blend of ‘snide’ and ‘remark.’” Groucho Marx was good at snarking, with lines like “I never forget a face, but in your case I’ll make an exception.”

In “Insidious Competition” author Richard Telofski said, “Snark is considered cool, hip. Just listen to any late-night comedian. They use that style liberally and with great effect.” Nordquist points out that “Snark is not the same as hate speech, which is abuse directed at groups.”

Asperity and snark are both forms of invective, “denunciatory or abusive language.” 

Speaking of which, another Nordquist offering repeats a famous “rant” by British columnist Bernard Levi.

“Rant” means “speaking or writing in an angry or violent manner,” and Levi was ticked at his national government, beginning with “I long ago concluded that the present government was worm-eaten, exhausted, dishonest” and he continues for another hundred-plus aspersions.

However, Nordquist notes that exercising creative invective can build vocabularies, and Levin included gems like “insalubrious: unwholesome,” “tergiversating: evasive, ambiguous,” and “flagitious: extremely brutal, viscious.”

Appling such terms to libraries would be a ludicrous example of “apodioxis: impertinent, needless, absurd, false, or wicked.” Even worse are the ignoramuses who consider public libraries outdated without considering the roles they play in community education and edification. No, that would be a flagrant act of “floccinaucinihilipilification,” the longest non-technical word in English, possessing a letter more than “antidisestablishmentarianism,” and one used by O’Brian that means “the act or habit of describing or regarding something as unimportant, of having no value or being worthless.”

For the more than 50 percent of borough residents who have active library cards used in the past two years, and thousands of others without cards who utilize the library weekly, lazy Sundays and well-stocked, vibrant libraries are invaluable.

Greg Hill is director of Fairbanks North Star Borough libraries.

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