I always like to read at night, even if only for a page or two, before settling down to get to sleep. This remains true even on the rare occasions that I retire very late. It just seems to help one unwind. It is also encouraging to think that reading is a mind-expanding pastime and so, I believe, it is, even though my usual reading diet consists of material of the relatively light-weight thriller genre.
Just recently, however, I’ve ventured off into a book or two whose subject matter is the RFC (Royal Flying Corps) in World War I; the so-called Great War, though it was clearly anything but great to those involved in it. I’m currently reading a book called Winged Victory by V. M. Yeates. One of the things that makes this book so fascinating is that it is billed as a semi-autobiographical novel, V. M. Yeates having actually flown for the RFC in WWI. The second thing that makes it fascinating is the writing style which has certainly changed noticeably since this book was first published in 1934.
Vocabulary has also changed substantially, it seems, and I dare not stray far from a dictionary for occasional assistance. I know my knowledge of the English language doesn’t come anywhere near that of Sir Winston Churchill, who was supposed to possess an enormous vocabulary, and I’m unabashed about having to pause and look up the occasional word. I’m wondering if good ol’ Sir Winston knew the word I tripped over, quite literally when it came to my tongue, last night?
Where it fell the atmosphere was stained by a thanatognomonic black streak.
Strewth! I couldn’t even say thanatognomonic, far less define it. Where have I been all my life never to have come across such a fine word? I was afraid it would be so rare as to be omitted from my copy of Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary. My fears were unfounded, however. There, lurking unassumingly under thanatism I found:
thanatognomonic = indicating death.
Regrettably, having survived a year flying for the RFC on the western front in WWI, the mind-expanding V.M. Yeates was to die of tuberculosis aged 38 in 1934, the year his book was published. My vocabulary owes him a debt, though I’m not sure when I’m going to be able to slip my newest word into casual conversation.
[Aside: This little posting has driven the spell-checker absolutely nuts. What fun! :)]