Infinite Jest – Vocabulary II.

I had so much fun going through some of the vocabulary words I learned from the first chapter of DFW’s Infinite Jest (almost two months ago), that I thought I’d continue to share some of the more interesting words and sentences here. I am still slowly working my way through Infinite Jest, but I am hope to be able to devote a nice chunk of time to it over the winter holidays.

  • Presbyopia: prezbēˈōpēə (noun) – farsightedness caused by loss of elasticity of the lens of the eye, occurring typically in middle and old age. Literally means old-eyed.

O. stood there, he says, hefting a cold clod, playing with the Velcro on his puffy coat, watching as the Moms, bent way down to me, hand reaching, her lowering face with its presbyopic squint, suddenly stopped, froze, beginning to I.D. what it was I held out, countenancing evidence of oral contact with same.

  • Enfilade: enfəˌlād (noun) -a volley of gunfire directed along a line from end to end

Uncle Charles, a truly unparalleled slinger of shit, is laying down an enfilade of same, trying to mollify men who seem way more in need of a good brow-mopping than I.

  • Fantods: fantäds (noun) – a state or attack of uneasiness or unreasonableness; the creeps!

Roaches give him the howling fantods.

  • Apocopes: əˈpäkəpē (noun) -losses of syllables from words, particularly unstressed vowels

Gately could easily have screwed out of there and never looked back; but here indeed, in the lamplight, is a seascape over next to the chiffonnier, and the associate has a quick peek and reports that the safe behind it is to laugh at, it can be opened with harsh language, almost; and oral narcotics addicts tend to operate on an extremely rigid physical schedule of need and satisfaction, and Gately is at this moment firmly in the need part of the schedule; and so D.W. Gately disastrously decides to go ahed and allow a nonviolent burglary to become in effect a robbery – which the operative legal difference involves either violence or the coercive threat of same – and Gately draws himself up to his full menacing height and shines his flashlight in the little homeowner’s rheumy eyes and addresses him the way menacing criminals speak in popular entertainment – d’s for th’s, various apocopes, and so on…

I was going to type out the whole sentence, but I flipped the page and realized the sentence continued for another half a page!

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? I think Howling Fantods is one of the best phrases I have read in a while.

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?

On Starting Infinite Jest

I think Infinite Jest is one of The Big Books that every book lover wants to tackle one day, and guess what, friends? I’ve started it! I’m about a hundred pages in, and I’ve found myself annotating the book like crazy, in hopes that it’ll make the reading experience easier for Kimberly one day.

infinite jestWhat makes Infinite Jest so intimidating? For one thing, it clocks in at 1,079 pages, and 96 of those pages are tiny, densely packed footnotes. David Foster Wallace’s book also has a weird timeline, which, once you figure it out and get the hang of it, is pretty hilarious.

DFW was also a huge lover of the English language — he delights in both writing long sentences and making up new words. I quickly found myself looking up words that don’t exist outside of the Infinite Jest universe.

So far, I’ve been really enjoying the slow process of reading the book. I’m trying to read at least 10 pages a day, but when I have time, I find myself reading much larger chunks at a time. I have been pleasantly surprised that DFW’s writing style is actually very clear and coherent. Although the book is long and makes you work a little, it’s nothing like reading one of Faulkner’s dense, stream-of-consciousness style paragraphs.

I wanted to share some of the resources I’ve found so far in my reading. From DFW specific glossaries to timelines and summaries, I’ve been briefly reading through each of these sites after I finish a section of the book. This way, I feel fulfilled that I have an unbiased initial reading but that I’m not missing anything important. So far, these websites have all been spoiler free for me, but I can’t guarantee that! I’ll be sure to come back and update this list of resources as I go as a reference for all of us. Have you read Infinite Jest before? Do you have any tips or resources for me to add?


Infinite Jest, a growing list of resources for first-time readers:

  • Infinite Jest: on Wallace Wiki has a page by page annotation for vocabulary words. The nice thing is they include notes for the endnotes as they appear in the book, so that you don’t have to flip to a separate page for the endnote annotations.
  • Infinite Jest: a scene by scene guide
  • Definitive Jest is a vocabulary blog centered around Infinite Jest. This is pretty fun to read for the comments — there are some real fanatics out there who will debate the etymology of words. I love it!
  • Infinite Jest Index
  • Mark Reads Infinite Jest: I just discovered Mark Reads, which is a website where Mark reads his way through different series and books and writes extensively about it along the way. So far (as of 2011 — so who knows if he’ll continue this project! I certainly hope so), he has only written about the first 68 or so pages of the book. I found reading some of his thoughts while I got started with the book helpful, because it made me realize I was asking some of the same questions as him. It helped me feel comfortable that I’m on the right track even though I’m a little out of comfort zone.
  • How to Read Infinite Jest
  • Shoshi also has a post about starting Infinite Jest that helps clarify some things you may want to know when you first start.