Brideshead Revisited: Test Your Word Power!

Soon after starting Brideshead Revisited I decided to keep track of the number of words I encountered within it that I didn’t know. This throwback exercise was inspired firstly by the dismay of finding that within the first two pages of the book I had come across two words I wasn’t quite sure of, and secondly by my first attempt at playing Free Rice where I stagnated at level 46 and got tooth-gnashingly annoyed.

I was embarrassed to realize in the course of this exercise that although I had encountered some words a number of times before, I still didn’t quite know what they meant, perhaps because the context they had been used in at the time had been enough for me to follow what was written, or I simply didn’t bother to look them up. Funnily enough, having learned this bunch of words from Brideshead Revisited, I played Free Rice again today and easily got to level 49. I guess our primary school teachers really did know what they were talking about!

Just for fun, I’ll start by listing the words on their own so you can check how many of them you know off the bat. After the list, continue reading for a little more context to the words and links to dictionary definitions.

  1. verismilitude
  2. panegyric
  3. jejune
  4. sacerdotal
  5. lapidary
  6. muniment
  7. suborn
  8. glaucous
  9. manumission
  10. crapulous

Now here they are within their context in the book, and with handy links to dictionary definitions for anyone who finds themselves in the same boat as I was:

  1. verisimilitude: “I would not now introduce them into a novel which elsewhere aims at verisimilitude.”
  2. panegyric: “Much of this book therefore is a panegyric preached over an empty coffin.”
  3. jejune: “When at length I returned to my rooms and found them exactly as I had left them that morning, I detected a jejune air that had not irked me before.”
  4. sacerdotal: ” ‘Still, I suppose Julia must have her enjoyment the same as other young ladies, though what they always want to go to London for in the best of the summer and the gardens all out, I never have understood. Father Phipps was here on Thursday and I said exactly the same to him,” she added as though she had thus acquired sacerdotal authority for her opinion.”
  5. lapidary: “It is remarkable how some people are able to put their opinions in lapidary form; your aunt had that gift.”
  6. muniment: “He was a great delver in muniment-rooms and had a sharp nose for the picturesque.”
  7. suborn: “I was no fool; I was old enough to know that an attempt had been made to suborn me and young enough to have found the experience agreeable.”
  8. glaucous: “The cream and hot butter mingled and overflowed, separating each glaucous bead of caviar from its fellows, capping it in white and gold.”
  9. manumission: “…I was a free man; she had given me my manumission in that brief, sly lapse of hers; my cuckold’s horns made me lord of the forest.”
  10. crapulous: “Half a dozen youths were drinking and playing with the slot-machines; an older, natty, crapulous-looking man seemed to be in control…”

[Addendum 26th Dec: See also James Meek’s spot-on and rather enjoyable exposition on this theme, From albedo to zugunruhe, which I just found.]


  1. didn’t know crapulous was an actual word, i’ve been using that to describe my mood after getting frustrated by Scrabulous (so now you know why i take so long to take my turn)

  2. I’ve got particular affection for that episode of The Simpsons where Homer gets a vocabulary builder instead of the weight loss tape.

    Homer: Forbearance is the watchword, Marge. That
    triumvirate of Twinkies merely overwhelmed my

    Marge: Homer, did you lose any weight?
    Homer: Lamentably, No, Marge. My gastronomic capacity sees no satiety.

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