Defining Moments

Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash

Last week I read Death at the President's Lodging by Michael Innes. I was reading it at the same time that I was reading Word By Word:  The Secret Life of Dictionaries by Kory Stamper which I reviewed here. Because I was reading about dictionaries and words I especially noticed the words I did not know the meaning to in Death at the President's Lodging. There were a surprising number of them. I have a reasonably good vocabulary and I amassed a longer list than I expected.

Words are interesting and I always like to learn new ones. In case you feel the same way, here are the words that were new to me. Maybe they will be new to you as well.

"He had apparently delivered himself merely of a sort of exordium or proem and intended something like a speech."

    exordium:  a beginning or introduction especially to a discourse or composition

    proem:  a preliminary comment

"...that in any company of men minute perscrutation of act and motive may have the most miserable consequences."

     perscrutation:  a thorough examination : careful investigation

"the manciple had to bring him a list every day"

     manciple:  a steward or purveyor especially for a college or monastery

"The ceaseless driving of natural physiological energy into narrow channels of mentation and intellection"

     mentation:  mental activity

"the first mists of senescence begin to gather about their minds"

     senescence:  the state of being old : the process of becoming old

" the inspissated gloom in which they were enveloped"

     inspissated:  broadly:  made or having become thick, heavy, or intense

Aren't those all lovely words? This book used a hugely varied vocabulary. Most of the words were familiar even if I don't use them often but a few, like these, I don't think I had encountered before even if the meaning was clear from the context.

I enjoyed the mystery but I think I paid much more attention to the language. There was one quote I enjoyed and completely agreed with.

A living-room is always revealing, and particularly so when clothed with books.

I will have to look for more books by Michael Innes purely in the hope that he regularly uses such lovely words.


  1. He does! Especially in his early novels. I think he tones it down in the later novels. I couldn't read Lament for a Maker without having an online Scots dialect dictionary within reach.

  2. He also wrote under the name of J.I.M. Stewart and I really like those books too. He was an academic and I think he was determined to keep a high standard of writing. I'm fairly sure that he would have suffered from the jealousy of university colleagues who probably looked down their noses a bit at him for being a crime fiction writer, but would have loved to be in his position.

    1. I didn't realize he wrote under another name. More books to look for!