A quick rip through the New York Review of Books elicited a cranial cold sweat. I resorted to the dictionary nine times.
Now, I was no slouch at the SAT verbals. I know from inchoate. As far as I'm concerned, qua is just another preposition. But there's a difference between erudite and defensively arcane.
I suspect it's deliberate, this sudden proliferation of verba obscura. I suspect that academics, already pessimistic about students' floundering test scores, have now retreated into the white tower and raised the drawbridge. With talk of the execution of the Department of Education, a declaration of warby The NYR on Us, to borrow from an old National Lampoon, cannot bode well for national towngown relations.
As a stopgap measure for the layreader, I offer here alternative definitions for nine words found in the Review's Feb. 5 issue. Each is followed by its dictionary meaning (Webster's Third New International), then my own, more likely translation, with an ear toward onomatapoeia. (Note: taficionados will recognize the format as that of the word game Dictionary. Call this one Gimme a Break, Renata.)
Bosky: Webster: richly verdant. Actual meaning: a small object. "She stored her uncle's birthday gift, a pair of pink gloves for formal dancing, on the top shelf of her closet, next to the small plastic bosky her sister had brought back from Eastern Europe."
Redivivus: Webster: renovated, restored. Actual: Canard redivivus, a wingless duck which has evolved into a natural easy chair for ferrets, otters and bobcats in the woods of Northern Minnesota.
Kulak: Webster: a wealthy peasant farmer in 19th-century Russia. Actual: epithet used good-naturedly by street urchins in Hell's Kitchen during the '20s. "Whaddaya no-brains Sparky? We got no business going into the Piston's turf. They'd eat us for breakfast. Ya kulak, ya."
Ukase: Webster: a decree or edict. Actual: a member of the antelope family. "Focusing his Leica with trembling fingers and burying himself deeper in the thick grasses of the veldt, Roth snapped six or seven shots of the stampeding herd of ukase, the white man's Toyota Landcruiser gaining inexorably on the animals. If Geo scoffed at these, he though, there was always Soldier of Fortune."
Antihagiography: Webster: from hagiography, biography of saints. Actual: from hagiography, the science of psychoanalytic handwriting analysis. "Best known for his labor organizing efforts among quill pen manufacturers in fin de siecle Vienna, P. de l'a. left behind a scathing antihagiography treatise lambasting the largely Presbyterian Baaderhoff school of handwriting analysts for their rejection of the 'dotted i' interpretation of lower-case vowels."
Refulgence: Webster: brilliance, splendor. Actual: (orig. from Lat., fulgo, to fill with unleaded premium). "MOHAWK, N.Y. (UPI) -- A federal court judge has named Ziptop Chemical liable for damages resulting from a spill of chemical refulgence with a high dioxin content into the West Branch of the Iriquois River Tuesday in the vicinity of its janitorial products division plant."
Objurgation: Webster: from objurgate, to decry vehemently. Actual: from objurgate, to forfeit all textile holdings after a declaration of bankruptcy brought on by divorce. "His alimony payments, coupled with the raising of tuition costs of the two private schools attended by his children, forced his objurgation in a quiet, humbling ceremony in the county courts building one cool autumn afternoon."
Chrestomathy: Webster: a recollection of literary passages of various authors compiled as an aid to learning a language. Actual: from chrestomath, a fictitious growth used in bad science fiction. "Cutting through the parietal bone with his neon-laser microscalpel, Commander Shavers felt his spirits drop, despite all the years of condition at the Betelgeuse Academy: before his knife lay a blackened cluster of brain cells, indication of profuse chrestomathic growth. He face a long uphill battle. The Grendons were back to their evil work."
Puant: Webster: odorous. Actual: malleable. "BELGRADE (Reuter) -- Yevtushka Yevtushka stole the hearts of a capacity throng of gymnastics lovers at the Wonderfully Soviet Hall of Exercises here today, registering a perfect score of 10 on the uneven bars, her puant physique gliding through the most difficult routines, pigtails bouncing with adolescent perk."