Nunki Vocabulary

I like big words and I cannot lie.

For little more than my own amusement, and hopefully for yours as well, I resolved to post the definitions of some words I enjoy, along with the contexts in which I encountered them. Some of the words will come from my book or a manuscript in progress, but others will just come from everyday interactions.


“What’s in a Name” Series – Character Names’ Meanings and Symbolism

January 14: Colette
Inspired by French novelist and performer Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, whose storied, audacious life was a rich tapestry of beauty, scandal, love, and truth. Allusions to French culture, as well as to the Lost Generation (post World War I… think F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, et al. but also Carl Sandburg) and Roaring Twenties era abound in my novel. Consider Dante’s college dorm room furnishings, Joshua’s husband Reynard (whose name will be a future Nunki Vocabulary post), the name Chevalier (another future post), the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry Officiel and Casablanca quotations, and more. Mandelyn and Joshua watch Gigi after the junior year homecoming dance—a movie based upon a novella about a girl being groomed to be a courtesan by her grandmother… written by Colette. Like her namesake, the Colette in Release is mononymous—a person known by a single name.

January 13: Ziegel
German for brick or tile, as well as a recognizable but relatively uncommon surname. Ziegler—brick- or tile-layer—is more common. I opted for this variant because it refers to the object itself or the person who produces it.

Readers will know Mandelyn’s gym teachers describe her, so the name works on that level, but there’s more. Mandelyn, Niklaus, and Nadja are all stalwart (loyal, reliable, hardworking) but they each prove to be inflexible, fragile, and easily pulled under the water, as well. They’re all rather brick-like.

P.S. – For visitors from my profile, a soupçon is a very small quantity of something. Synonyms include: dash, pinch, or trace. It’s usually used in culinary contexts, but not exclusively.

January 12: Bevrijden
This is Henry’s surname, although it is not a surname I’ve been able to find used in reality. Dutch for “To liberate,” its imperative (command) conjugation, bevrijd, is pronounced be-FREED (although it also kind of sounds like bev-RED, depending on who you ask, but that doesn’t help my symbolism). So, this is a little on-the-nose when it comes to what Release, a novel by Hope Russell Nunki is all about.

(**very minor spoiler alert**) It’s pronounced bear-FRY-den. Multiple characters can’t say it or don’t know it, and I don’t explain the pronunciation until later in the book. This is a little inside joke of mine, seeing as how I grew up dealing with people stumbling over my Dutch maiden name on a near-daily basis. It amused me to give a character a name that readers wouldn’t necessarily be able to say out loud.


January 10: Flibbertigibbet
rom the great film Joe Versus the Volcano, which figures prominemtly in Release. A Middle English word referring to a flighty or whimsical person. Synonymous with will-o-the-wisp or clown… Wait, that’s another movie that has little to do with matters here.

January 9: Proustian Memory
From the synopsis on the back cover of Release, because it occurs several times throughout the book. Pronounced with an OO sound, not an OW sound, its synonym, involuntary memory, was coined by novelist Marcel Proust. The story behind it is kind of boring, to be honest (eating tea-soaked cakes evokes a memory of eating tea-soaked cake with his aunt. Sorry—I felt needed to share). The phenomenon is pretty fascinating, though—as wonderful as it can be terrifying. Olfactory memory is one type of involuntary memory. For me, the scent of Escape perfume transports me back to a college trip to London, where I wore it almost daily. PTSD is often characterized by Proustian moments, as well—involuntary memories evoked by ordinary sights or sounds, or oftentimes without any associated trigger.

January 8: Watershed
Used today when describing a trip to college trip to New York City with Tony, Thalia, and Sarah, in text that will appear in a forthcoming post – stay tuned! While I never used the word outright in Release, careful readers will notice that Mandelyn’s turning point in Sedona occurs, literally, at the nexus of the watershed, on the West Fork trail.

If you’re like me, you hear the word “watershed” and think of a ramshackle (another good word) structure having some once-useful purpose beside a river or stream. Of course, “shed” in this case refers to “casting off” or ‘allowing to fall.” Quoth Jimi, “Little darlin’, don’t shed no tears: No, woman, no cry.”

You’d suppose that the word is a simple combination of water+shed, but it’s actually a translation (calque is the proper linguistic term) from its German predecessor, “wasserscheide,” literally “water-divide.”

When using it in its geological sense, Americans (we, the destroyers of the Queen’s English) use the word differently than it was originally intended. The rest of the world uses it to describe the ridge from which water sheds in different directions. Here in ‘merica, it is the land from which water flows toward a single destination. People who’ve driven through Tennessee are familiar with the large “You are entering the ______ Watershed” signs, for instance. Every drop of water that falls within the borders of a watershed ends up in the same river or lake (before going onward, of course, thus minor watersheds are within larger, major watersheds).

So why do we use the word to describe pivotal events? It’s one among dozens of journey-derived metaphorical terms, such as bellwether, milestone, landmark, turning point, etc.

The usage only makes sense metaphorically if you’re using the unbastardized definition, which probably explains why we don’t use the term, figuratively, as much as the rest of the English-speaking world does.

January 7: Prevarication and Canard
I was reminded of the first word while helping my daughter with her homework, and heard them both while watching The Natural with her and the other girls, remedying a grave oversight in parenting. Roy and The Judge define these words in their exchange:

Hobbs: The only thing I know about the dark is, you can’t see in it.
Judge: A pure canard.
Hobbs: What’s a canard?
Judge: A prevarication.
Hobbs: What’s that mean?
Judge: A lie.

January 6: Concupiscent
In the spirit of the response I’d been giving to the dictionary remark (“Most of the tough words are about something saucy.”) I offer this today’s Nunki Vocabulary:

Concupiscent (the second syllable is pronounced Q, so the second and third syllables together sounds like ‘cupid’ without the D) – filled with sexual desire; lustful. Found in Release at the end of Chapter 8. “Over the next year, I became thoroughly codependent upon him, concupiscent despite how completely unsuited we were to one another in almost every respect.”

Why not use a more common word? We’ve got plenty of ’em. Concupiscent has some pretty heavy religious overtones. Debates regarding the essence of desire as it relates to human nature and what constitutes sin have divided the various faith traditions for millennia. Apropos, no?

Either I just made your day awesome by giving you a fancy word for “horny,” or I ruined the fun by making sex all academic.

January 5: Edenic
An adjective that means “like Eden.” Read in Saturday’s Chicago Tribune. “Edenic but crumbling, the 101-year-old [Wrigley Field] ballpark will have a new—or, more likely, unfinished—look when the Cubs play the Cardinals in an “opening night” game April 5. Thank you, Blair Kamin, for inspiring the first entry!

1 Response to Nunki Vocabulary

  1. Pingback: Nunki Vocabulary (by Proxy*) | Hope Russell Nunki

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