Infinite Jest – Vocabulary

Everyone knows how much David Foster Wallace loved the English language, right? Part of the journey of tackling Infinite Jest is looking up a few words per page. I’m only still about 130 pages in so far, but I wanted to share some of the best bits I’ve learned so far, but only from the first 10 pages.

  • Effluvium: ef·flu·vi·um (noun) – an unpleasant or harmful odor, secretion, or discharge.

“We have an obligation, to ourselves, chiefly, to see what a brain, and particularly a brain like our own – that is, using the same effluvium we, too, swim through – is capable of.

  • Wen: wen (noun) – a boil or other swelling or growth on the skin, especially a sebaceous cyst.

I am debating whether to risk scratching the right side of my jaw, where there is a wen.

  • Actuate: ac·tu·ate (verb) – cause (a machine or device) to operate, cause (someone) to act in a particular way; motivate.

And in this new smaller company, the Director of Composition seems abruptly to have actuated, emerged as both the Alpha of the pack here and way more effeminate than he’d seemed at first, standing hip-shot with a hand on his wind, walking with a roll to his shoulders, jingling change as he pulls up his pants as he slides into the chair still warm from C.T.’s bottom, crossing his legs in a way that inclines him well into my personal space, os that I can see multiple eyebrow-tics and capillary webs in the oysters below his eyes and smell fabric-softener and the remains of a breath-mint turned sour.

  • Hirsute: hir·sute (adjective) – hairy

The patch itself he describes as horrific: darkly green, glossy, vaguely hirsute, speckled with parasitic fungal points of yellow, orange, red.

I think a few of these sample sentences really give you a taste for Wallace’s writing style, especially the sentence where he uses “actuate.” It’s been a real pleasure so far to trip over some of these sentences.

What are some of the books you’ve read which require a big dictionary every page or so? What are some of your favorite archaic words?

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10 thoughts on “Infinite Jest – Vocabulary

  1. Wow! I haven’t seen any of these words except the first. On the topic of archaic words, Far from the Madding Crowd is full of them, but it was published in the late 1800s so whaddya expect, I guess.

    • I can’t wait to read Far from the Madding Crowd sometime soon, so we can discuss fun words that Bathsheba uses. I’m so impressed with myself that I found some words you don’t know!

  2. I love this post – please do more!
    I get weird and wonderful words delivered to my inbox every day from the OED; one of my favourite new words I learnt the other day is ‘noctambulate’, which means to walk about at night. It’s so lovely.

  3. Great words! I love a book in which I have to pause to check the meaning of a few. We never stop learning, do we? And, in super excited you’re willing to jump into Captivity this January me and a few others. Who knows what we’ll find, but I suspect it will be good. xo

    • Yes! My favorite kinds of book require a dictionary by my side. I am probably one of the few people who still use a tiny paperback dictionary, it’s completely falling apart!

      Yes, I’m super excited about Captivity this January too! I’m looking forward to meeting the other readers as well. 🙂

  4. Pingback: Infinite Jest – Vocabulary II. | Like Bears to Honey

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