Words I have learned from Mervyn Peake

Sunday February 26, 2006 @ 11:25 PM (UTC)

I am reading Titus Groan, an eccentric 20th century masterpiece by Mervyn Peake. It is full of words I do not know.

abactina: As far as I can determine, the side of a radiate animal (like a sea urchin) opposite from the mouth. I think he uses it to mean something that’s been swallowed, that’s gone.
daedal: As one would expect, complex and ingeniously designed.
equipoise: Again rather self-evident; equilibrium.
hanger: A copse of trees on a steep slope.
monody: An ode sung or spoken by one person.
raddle: To mark as if with red ocher (also spelled ruddle).

screak: Meaning obvious, but interesting that it’s in the dictionary; screech, creak, shriek.
spilth: The act of spilling, amount or substance spilled.
tares: Weedy plants of the vetch family, or, by extension, an unwelcome element.

triturate: To crush, pulverize.
wodge: Bulky mass or chunk.

I started this tabulation rather late in the game, so it’s quite incomplete, but rather long even so! Seldom do I learn so many words from one author! (And more seldom, to be honest, do I actually look up the word, rather than using roots and context and moving on.)


1. dace, Leuciscus leuciscus — (small European freshwater fish with a slender bluish-green body)

1. tapestry, arras — (a wall hanging of heavy handwoven fabric with pictorial designs)

1. defile, gorge — (a narrow pass (especially one between mountains))

1. celestial sphere, sphere, empyrean, firmament, heavens, vault of heaven, welkin — (the apparent surface of the imaginary sphere on which celestial bodies appear to be projected)

1. leprous — (relating to or resembling or having leprosy)

1. liana — (a woody climbing usually tropical plant)

2. comber — (a long curling sea wave)

2. festoon — (an embellishment consisting of a decorative representation of a string of flowers suspended between two points; used on pottery or in architectural work)

2. caul, veil, embryonic membrane — (the inner membrane of embryos in higher vertebrates (especially when covering the head at birth))

2. channel, canalize, canalise — (direct the flow of; “channel information towards a broad audience”)

1. (1) dark-skinned, dusky, swart, swarthy — (naturally having skin of a dark color; “a dark-skinned beauty”; “gold earrings gleamed against her dusky cheeks”; “a smile on his swarthy face”; “`swart’ is archaic”)

1. murmurous, rustling, soughing, susurrous - (characterized by soft sounds; “a murmurous brook”; “a soughing wind in the pines”; “a slow sad susurrous rustle like the wind fingering the pines” R.P.Warren)

Felicity: I, too, learned several new words from Peake…and a few that did not previously exist! You may be interested in this page by the leading Peake editor and scholar, which includes a fascinating section on “Strange Words in Titus Groan”: http://www.peakestudies.com/MervynPeakeFAQ.htm

I just want to say how facinated I was to find your site. I started reading Titus Groan in 1971 and immediately I was impressed by the words; not just the words. I found I started to get favourate words like purblind, and equipoise. This seemed to fit with the characters; Opus Fluke, Flannel Cat. I thought It was just me that found Mervin Peake outstanding in his vocabulary as well as his imagination

Cheers John

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