Anatine, salubrious, tatterdemalion

These are three words I encountered during a morning’s reading that I had to stop and look up. The first was in a New Yorker story about the study of taxidermied birds, and the second two were in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Gothic tale Ollala.

The first word was not in the dictionary, not the Webster’s I keep at arm’s length on my desks at work and at home and not in the digital version, either. I don’t trust online dictionaries or whatever source Google is consulting when it gives you definitions. The best I could do with anatine was to see the first part, “anat-”, which the dictionary defines as relating to anatomy, and combine it with the latter part “-tine” which means like or of. In the same way that serpentine means snake-like, anatine, used to refer to a bank of dead birds or perhaps their glass container, means anatomy-like. Or maybe it meant something like a vitrine, which is a glass display case, itself a word that means “glass like thing.” Seems like the author of this piece just made anatine up. I wonder what The New Yorker copy department made of it.

The other two words fell into that rather large category of words that I know about but need to look up just to be sure. The slower my eyes scan the page or my fingers hit the keys as I write, the more I find myself reaching for the dictionary.

Words are mnemonic devices to remember thoughts, as arbitrary as a color, a movement of the body, or shape assigned to do the same thing. The more words we know, the more thoughts we are capable of having.

That dictionary at elbow’s length is a catalogue of news ways of being.

Any words you’ve learned recently? Or relearned?


  1. It’s not the new words that I learn that surprise me. It’s the words that I use because they sound right that I don’t know the definition of, but looking up find that they are correct. Always, and I mean always, surprising. Pleasantly so.

  2. Jacobin;
    A member of a democratic club established in Paris in 1789. The Jacobins were the most radical and ruthless of the political groups formed in the wake of the French Revolution, and in association with Robespierre they instituted the Terror of 1793–4.

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