The last time I used a vocabulary list extrapolated from a novel was probably in high school, maybe college. But honestly, writing down and looking up words I don’t recognize or don’t quite remember the exact meaning of is one of my favorite things to do.
When I read The London Train by Tessa Hadley recently, I found myself noting a lot more words than usual. (It’s an interesting story, and Hadley’s characters are complex and deeply introspective—I definitely recommend the book.) Some of the words were vaguely familiar but not used in my everyday speech, so their definitions had slipped from my memory. And some were entirely new, often referring to objects specific to a time period or geographic region.
If you want to be a super-nerd and learn or re-learn some words along with me, check out the vocabulary list below. I’ve included their most relevant definitions from Merriam-Webster, and their contexts from the novel. Feel free to let me know in the comments if any of these were words you would have looked up, too.
1. antimacassars : a cover to protect the back or arms of furniture
“Now, the past choked her, its tiny stuffiness, antimacassars and flat-irons, rag rugs and faded photographs of dignified assemblies of Baptists, all men.” (197)
2. biro : British—used for ballpoint pen
“from the sitting room Cora could see his back bent over his papers, hear the occasional percussion of his biro, jotting notes.” (254)
3. buddleia : any of a genus (Buddleia of the family Loganiaceae) of shrubs or small trees of warm regions with showy terminal clusters of usually purple or white flowers—called also butterfly bush—Google Image Search
“Their bedroom at the top… overlooked a wet cobbled back yard and a high black wall sprouting ferns and buddleia.” (262)
4. elegiac : of, relating to, or comprising elegy or an elegy; especially : expressing sorrow often for something now past an elegiac lament for departed youth
One of the main characters, Cora, is in the National Portrait Gallery in London: “she was borne up in the lift by an elegiac vision of lives piled high, one after another, full of colour and incident, involuntarily expressive of their era” (211)
5. escallonia : a genus that is included among the Saxifragaceae or sometimes made type of the separate family Escalloniaceae and that comprises South American shrubs and trees with simple glossy leaves having gland-tipped teeth, flowers mostly in terminal racemes, and capsular fruits—Google Image Search
“she was making her usual round of checks on Monday morning, poking into the escallonia and Rose of Sharon bushes in the small wedge of garden for non-existent needles” (202)
6. esplanade : a level open stretch of paved or grassy ground
“When they went out, she had to wait on the esplanade while Paul walked away from her” (262)
7. frisson : a brief moment of emotional excitement ; shudder, thrill
“After the rain the late-summer sunshine was chastened and tentative, and had the first frisson of autumn in it.”
8. hieratic : highly stylized or formal
“From where he lay hieratic, thoughtful, outward-borne, he skewed down his glance to take her in” (248)
9. prevaricate : to deviate from the truth
“It’s not a trick or anything, but he’s worked out that if you prevaricate too long, you pass a point where you can’t get back to the truth of what you really want from the other person” (243)
10. querulous : habitually complaining; fretful, whining
“Rhian had be querulous in life, but was rather toical at the conclusion of it.” (221)
11. skip : (UK English) a large open-topped waste container designed for loading onto a special type of lorry (truck)*
*Merriam-Webster was no help with this one, and I had to google “british slang skip” ; thanks Wikipedia!
“Before she started decorating, she explained, she had put all her old toys and children’s books in a skip.”
12. surreptitious : done, made, or acquired by stealth
“Finishing her salmon, she had to dab her eyes once surreptiously with her napkin, but she mainly felt relief at getting the painful discussion over with.” (218)