Speak, Memory

When reading Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov, I came across a lot of words whose meanings I did not know. A few of these were words I had seen before but could not define, hence the inclusion in this glossary of some less esoteric words. By far the majority of them were words I had never seen before in my life. I therefore made this list to help anyone else who might be interested in reading Speak, Memory, but who lacks Nabokov’s enormous vocabulary. It only discusses unusual words, and does not attempt to explain any cultural references, Russian or otherwise, that Nabokov makes, nor any Russian sentences he uses (most of these are explained in his text anyway). The page references are to the Penguin Classics edition. Most definitions are from http://www.dictionary.com. Any comments providing feedback on the list would be welcome.

chapter page word definition
2 28 fatidic prophetic
28 praedormitary before sleep
28 hypnagogic of, or pertaining to drowsiness; inducing drowsiness
29 photism the production of a sensation of light or colour by a stimulus to another sense organ, such as that of hearing or touch.
32 reticulated netted; covered with a network
32 ingenuousness being free from reserve, restraint, or dissimulation; candid; sincere
32 sectarianism devotion to the interests of a party; excess of partisan or denominational zeal; adherence to a separate church organization
33 chimera a horrible or unreal creature of the imagination; a vain or idle fancy
33 cuneate wedge-shaped
35 omnivicarious which can substitute for anything else
35 agarics Any of various mushrooms of the genera Agaricus, Fomes, or related genera, having large umbrellalike caps with numerous gills beneath.
36 beatitude supreme blessedness; exalted happiness
37 viscid covered by a sticky substance
39 cul de jatte legless cripple
3 47 epigraphical of or pertaining to an inscription, as on a statue or building or a motto or quotation, as at the beginning of a literary composition, setting forth a theme.
51 platband a flat structural member, as a lintel or flat arch
53 belles-lettres literature regarded as a fine art, esp. as having a purely aesthetic function.
57 borzoi any of a breed of tall, slender dogs having long, silky hair, raised originally in Russia for hunting wolves.
4 63 frass the refuse and excrement of boring or leaf-eating insects
64 sphagnum any soft moss of the genus Sphagnum, occurring chiefly in bogs, used for potting and packing plants, for dressing wounds, etc.
67 ophryon the craniometric point in the midline of the forehead immediately above the orbits
69 glaucous light bluish-green or greenish-blue; covered with a whitish bloom, as a plum
73 camera lucida an optical instrument, often attached to the eyepiece of a microscope, by which the image of an external object is projected on a sheet of paper or the like for tracing
5 84 enuretic lacking control of urination, esp. during sleep; bed-wetting; urinary incontinence.
86 lambency Having the property of flickering lightly over or on a surface; a gentle glow.
6 108 tabanid any of various bloodsucking dipterous flies of the family Tabanidae, which includes the horseflies.
108 dipterist an entomologist specialising in flies
7 113 anastomosis The connection of separate parts of a branching system to form a network, as of leaf veins, blood vessels, or a river and its branches.
113 nictitating winking
115 quiddity The real nature of a thing; the essence; a hairsplitting distinction; a quibble.
117 naturopath One who uses a system or method of treating disease that employs no surgery or synthetic drugs but uses special diets, herbs, vitamins, massage, etc., to assist the natural healing processes.
8 127 fata morgana a mirage consisting of multiple images, as of cliffs and buildings, that are distorted and magnified to resemble elaborate castles, often seen near the Straits of Messina; illusory
132 sub rosa confidentially; secretly
134 debouchment The act or an instance of marching from a narrow, confined area into the open.
134 prodigal a person who spends, or has spent, his or her money or substance with wasteful extravagance; spendthrift.
134 samara an indehiscent, usually one-seeded, winged fruit, as of the elm or maple.
134 sough a sighing, rustling, or murmuring sound.
9 135 vicissitudes successive, alternating, or changing phases or conditions, as of life or fortune; ups and downs
139 cacologist Producer of defective speech
140 hiemal wintry
141 hyperborean of, pertaining to, or living in a far northern region.
143 debile lacking bodily or muscular strength or vitality
146 tyro a novice
10 158 amelus a limbless foetus
159 jejune without interest or significance; dull; insipid; juvenile; immature; childish
160 loge A small compartment, especially a box in a theatre; the front rows of the mezzanine in a theatre.
163 isba (also izba) the traditional log house of rural Russia, with an unheated entrance room and a single living and sleeping room heated by a clay or brick stove
11 167 zoolatry the worship of or excessive attention to animals.
167 ghyll a ravine
167 papilio A genus of butterflies.
167 ament catkin
169 volute A spiral formation, such as one of the whorls of a gastropod shell.
170 fritillary any of several orange-brown nymphalid butterflies, usually marked with black lines and dots and with silvery spots on the undersides of the wings.
171 scud running or moving quickly; clouds, spray, or mist driven by the wind; a driving shower or gust of wind.
174 apache (pronounced “uh-pash”) a Parisian gangster, rowdy, or ruffian.
175 laciniate (adj.) cut into narrow, irregular lobes; slashed; jagged.
12 192 specious apparently good or right though lacking real merit; superficially pleasing or plausible
192 plangent resounding loudly, esp. with a plaintive sound, as a bell.
194 chamfrain (also chamfron, chanfron) a piece of plate armour for defending a horse’s head
13 196 cant to talk hypocritically
198 persiflage light, bantering talk or writing; a frivolous or flippant style of treating a subject.
199 inanition exhaustion from lack of nourishment; starvation.
201 loquacious talking or tending to talk much or freely; talkative; chattering; babbling; garrulous
205 double systole the normal rhythmical contraction of the heart, during which the blood in the chambers is forced onward.
210 quinquenniam Neronis his first five years of Nero’s reign were known as the quinquennium Neronis which became a legend within the provinces for sound administration and peaceful order.
14 215 tactual of or pertaining to the sense of touch.
218 mystagogue a person whose teachings are said to be founded on mystical revelations.
218 drisk a fall of rain
218 logrolling cronyism or mutual favouritism among writers, editors, or critics, as in the form of reciprocal flattering reviews; back scratching.
219 eschatological of any system of doctrines concerning last, or final, matters, as death, the Judgment, the future state, etc.
220 aquiline of or like the eagle.
225 voluted with spiral ornaments
15 228 couvade a practice among some peoples, as the Basques of Spain, in which a man, immediately preceding the birth of his child, takes to his bed in an enactment of the birth experience and subjects himself to various taboos usually associated with pregnancy.
229 incunabula extant copies of books produced in the earliest stages (before 1501) of printing from movable type; the earliest stages or first traces of anything.
230 phylogenic of the development or evolution of a particular group of organisms.
233 supercilious haughtily disdainful or contemptuous, as a person or a facial expression.
234 alacritous of cheerful readiness, promptness, or willingness; of liveliness, briskness.
234 vitiate impair the quality of; make faulty; spoil; to impair or weaken the effectiveness of; to debase, corrupt, pervert; to make legally defective or invalid, invalidate
236 arbutus any of the evergreen shrubs or trees belonging to the genus Arbutus, of the heath family, esp. A. unedo, of southern Europe, with scarlet berries, cultivated for ornament and food.
16 243 perspicacity keenness of mental perception and understanding; discernment; penetration.
248 solecism a non-standard or ungrammatical usage
251 oneiromancy divination through dreams.
251 platitudinous characterized by or given to platitudes (flat, dull, or trite remarks, esp. one uttered as if it were fresh or profound)

About icfematerials

I am an EFL teacher in Moscow, Russia. I'm blogging about ICFE materials. I am in no way affiliated with Cambridge ESOL. My views are not those of my school or of Cambridge ESOL.
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4 Responses to Speak, Memory

  1. Pingback: Culture Round-up: January 2013 « T M Brothwell

  2. Kurt says:

    I very much appreciate your putting this blog together, Its always fun to find another word known by Vladimir Nabokov but not my kindle/dictionary/search engine!

  3. Mel Greenhood says:

    Very interesting list – fascinating.

    I started SPEAK MEMORY two days
    ago and it is most enjoyable if some-
    what different than I expected.

    Thank you for the list.

  4. michael says:

    Nabokov was a great prose artist who used his recondite vocabulary the same way a painter loads
    his palette with a wide array of colors to create new hues. Dmitri Nabokov had a great response to Edmund Wilson’s oft-repeated complaint that Nabokov had an addiction to rare and unusual words: “Did it never occur to him that my father had rare and unusual things to say?”

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