Etymologists, This One’s for You

With so much going on these days, who has time to read magazines?  I certainly don’t, and I assume you don’t, either.  But one magazine I scan religiously each week is the New Yorker, whose writers I have quoted several times in this blog.
Lately, I have been spotting many words in New Yorker articles that I never heard of before.  So I started keeping a log—I found more than 30 in the last three issues alone.  I looked up their meanings and am happy to share 10 with fellow PW Insight readers.
You’ll not likely ever see these words in PondelWilkinson-written press releases or in other documents that we draft for our clients, but maybe we’ll all find some use for them somewhere.
Let’s have some fun, and if you have a moment after reading this, shoot me a quick email to let me know how many of these words you have heard of.  Hint: they all came from the same general kind of article.  Let me know if you figure that one out, too.  Now cover the answers below, and test yourself:

  1. lumpen
  2. purdah
  3. adumbrated
  4. merde-head
  5. epizootic
  6. gamine
  7. sententious
  8. emunctory
  9. insouciance
  10. louche

The answers:

  1. mentally sluggish
  2. curtain to separate women from men
  3. partially concealed
  4. shit-head
  5. containing fossil remains
  6. diminutive female who is part imprudent and playfully mischievous
  7. given to excessive and pompous moralizing
  8. body organ that functions in carrying off waste products
  9. lack of concern or indifference
  10. shady and disreputable

Give yourself one point for every answer you got right, even if you’re close.  Give yourself 10 bonus points if you figured out that each of these words came from articles that had to do with the upcoming presidential election.  Really.  Don’t forget to let me know how you did.


Roger Pondel, Chief Etymologist,

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