Vocab

  • Agendum

    A thing to be done.

    Yes, you guessed it. This is the singular of agenda. And yes, its use is somewhat archaic. OED calls it «now rare» and Chambers doesn’t list it at all. Agenda’s modern usage is clearly singular; one looks at the agenda before beginning a meeting, and someone promoting political views is said to have an agenda.

    But it is at least useful to understand agenda as a list, as opposed to simply «that which someone wants done». It’s a list, a set. And this is why it is grating (though not incorrect) to hear references to «agendas», especially when these agendas belong to a single person.

  • Perk

    Short for perquisite. A casual or secondary benefit.

    I hate being wrong. Probably no one likes it very much. I know that being wrong is part of the scientific process and that many scientists delight in being wrong. I can relate to that. I tend to love new discoveries. But new discoveries also tend to be something I’ve intentionally questioned, perhaps even knew I did not know. I get frustrated when I discover that something I was absolutely certain was true simply is not so.

  • Bespoke

    Created by request. Attributed to items created for a customer’s specifications or requirements, usually describing suits of clothing cut to a customer’s measurements.

    A friend on Facebook recently asked why anyone would use bespoke when custom is a perfectly good word. The post sparked a flurry of responses about the faddish use of bespoke and its use to put on airs. I was reminded me that I looked up bespoke in the dictionary less than a year ago. My too-infrequently followed rule here is to write an entry when I look a word up in the dictionary, so I am responding here.

  • Gulosity

    Greed, gluttony. Chambers says it’s archaic.

    Another word found in Go Set a Watchman. It usually says good things about a novel when I have to look up multiple words in one sitting. Not always; sometimes it seems like the obscure words don’t add value. I have mixed feelings about the use of gulosity here. If I were asked to edit this I might not insist it get replaced but I’d want to have a conversation about why it was important. Perhaps it’s archaic, but remained in use in the South for some time? Or perhaps there is a nuance of usage I’m missing.

  • Anthropophagous

    Literally, cannibalistic. «Cannibalize» might mean to take mechanical parts from a device in order to repair others, the way that «scavenge» describes the use of backpressure to reclaim unspent fuel in a four-stroke internal combustion motor. Anthropophagous, anthropophagy, anthropophaginian, anthropophagite, and anthropophagi all seem only used to describe humans eating the flesh of other humans.

    Found in Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman. I don’t want to go in to the context here, but I was almost sorry I looked this one up.

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