The Lexicon: A Cornucopia Of Wonderful Words (1996) by William F. Buckley Jr.; A Review

William F. Buckley’s The Lexicon (published by Harcourt Brace & Company and described as a “pocket word guide”) is a compact reference of uncommon words, which places emphasis not simply on the rarity of the words included, but also, as one might induce from the inclusion of cornucopia in the title, the applicable breadth and variety of those words. Omitted are such narrow oddities as arachibutyrophobia (ie. the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of one’s mouth); a word which Buckley thought belonged in the “zoo section” of dictionaries. The utility of such special case, single-use words as the aforementioned, to general discourse, (then, as now) are, obviously, minimal. Thus, their omission doubtless bowdlerized the volume considerably from what it would otherwise be, should its author have saw fit to include as many arcane and ancient lexical peculiarities as could be found, without regard to utility.

The consequence of this view on the book itself is that it is rather light on inkhornisms and consists primarily of words that tend to sit at the back of the average reader’s mind, like boxes of old clothing in an ill-ventured and moth-proofed attic; such as aberrant (ie. a person whose behavior departs substantially from the standards for behavior in his group) and bellwether (ie. the guide by which one measures other data), as well as a sprinkling of latin phrases such as ab initio (ie. from the beginning) and caeteris paribus (ie. if all other relevant things remain unaltered); and more atypical offerings, such as asservation (ie. an assertion made in very positive form; a solemn assertion), buncombe (ie. talk that is empty, insincere, or merely for effect; humbug), cacoethes (ie. an uncontrollable desire), and enjambement (ie. continuation in prosody of the sense in a phrase beyond the end of a verse or couplet; the running over of a sentence from one line into another so that closely related words fall in different lines).

Every word featured is accompanied, in addition to its definition, by a example of its use in a sentence; often, a wry, scathing observation of some political situation or personality of the time or utilization of Buckley’s fictive works (all citations from his published oeuvre). It is these amusing asides (in addition to a number of cartoons by Arnold Roth) which lend the book its singularity and readability—that quality so often and ironically lacking in written works concerning language.

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