Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Vocabulary Lessons in Robin Sloan's "Sourdough"

Robin Sloan's novel Sourdough conveys a sense of the author's wonder at the richness of the English language. Following are a few quotes illustrating how Sloan introduces the reader to interesting words, some of which were new to me:
I recently reviewed Sourdough here.
  • "Proprioception, which is, I think, a beautiful word— pro-pri-o-cep-tion!— and also the process by which organisms judge the position of their own body parts in space. It’s a crucial sense; definitely more important than a few of the Big Five. When you walk, you look forward, not down at your feet, because you are confident they are where you expect them to be, obeying your commands. That’s a pretty cool feature. It was an unanticipated consequence of working on robot proprioception that I would often sit at my desk snaking my arms around in the air, trying to pay very close attention to what was happening." (Sourdough, Kindle Locations 198-203).
  • Pareidolia: "The loaf had a face. It was an illusion, of course. ... It’s called pareidolia. Humans see faces in everything. Even so, the illusion was … compelling." (Kindle Locations 525-526).
  • Botrytis: "'Have you heard of botrytis?' She said the word carefully, bo-try-tis. 'They call it the "noble rot." These grapes actually get moldy on the vine. On purpose, I mean. It gives the wine a flavor— you’ll see.'" (Kindle Locations 2041-2043).
  • Symbiote: "Most plants have at least one bacterial symbiote, he told me. He pronounced it carefully: sym-bi-ote. He looked out across the airfield, at the scrubby red and green plants. All those? Infected. But that’s not the right word, he said. Infected means there’s something wrong. This is all right; it’s partnership. Some plants are infected by bacteria that are themselves infected by a virus. Wheels within wheels. Clockwork." (Kindle Locations 2650-2653).
  • Panglossian from Voltaire's Candide --  not quite directly mentioned: 
    "One of Candide’s companions, Pangloss, whose name I recognized from the hundred-dollar adjective he inspired— I’d never known the etymology— insisted throughout that all their misfortunes were for the best, for they delivered the companions into situations that seemed, at first, pretty good. Until those situations, too, went to shit." (Kindle Locations 2795-2797). 
It's been a few months since I devised an etymological post and called this Wordy Wednesday (instead of Wordless Wednesday). So here's my extension of the list:
  • Etymological -- et·y·mo·log·i·cal -- relating to the origin and historical development of words and their meanings.


Kitchen Riffs said...

Words are endlessly fascinating, aren't they? You read such interesting stuff -- always a pleasure to see what you're up to. :-)

bermudaonion said...

I've heard great things about the book. It sounds like it's really well written. I love the language she uses.

Jeanie said...

This is a book I might just have to have. And get as a gift. I love the words you selected. And I agree -- your reading is so diverse! I really appreciate that.