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THE SUPERIOR PERSON'S THIRD BOOK
OF WELL-BRED WORDS
AASVOGEL * n. A vulture. Ideal term for oral insults, the sound being even more offensive than the meaning, which no-one will know anyway.
ABA * n. A sleeveless garment of camel or goat hair, worn in the Middle East. Pronounced "arbour", and therefore useless for laboured Abba puns, but a nicely confusing name for your husband's tank tops, or, as such garments are sometimes risibly called, "muscle tops".
ABACISCUS * n. A square tile in a mosaic floor. "Ooh", you exclaim with a wince, on entering your host's palatial foyer, "I think I've just trod on an abaciscus!"
ABJURATION * n. The act of renouncing, forswearing or repudiating. "At what part of the service does the abjuration take place?", you innocently ask the vicar during his little talk with you and your fiancée about the forthcoming wedding ceremony.
ACMEISM * n. A movement against symbolism and in favour of lucidity and definiteness in poetry, begun in Russia in 1910. "Don't talk to me about the ineffable lightness of being, Jarrod, just because you want to go to this overnight parry. I'm an acmeist, remember. Just tell me: will there or will there not be adult supervision?"
ACORPORAL * a. Without a body. In response to a remark by Samuel Rogers that in moments of extreme danger it was very desirable to have presence of mind, the Reverend Sydney Smith replied that he would rather haveabsence of body. This was said on the very same night that Smith, dining at Rogers' home, was asked for his opinion of a new lighting system installed by Rogers in the dining room, in such a way that the light was directed at the ceiling, leaving the table below in subdued lighting. Smith replied that he did not like the new system at all, "for all is light above, and all below is darkness and gnashing of teeth".
ACQUITMENT * n. You think this is an accounting term, but more importantly it is a word used by stage and close-up magicians. For them, an acquitment is a series of moves designed to convince the audience that both the magician's hands are empty. The essence of the acquitment is that an object is secretly passed from hand to hand, one hand and then the other being shown to be empty. "I know you don't like me associating with Leroy, Mom, just because he works at the race track; but I'm learning a lot from him. Today he showed me all about acquitments."
ACROAMA * n. A dramatic recitation during a meal; a lecture to the initiated. "Mother, I have agreed to sit down at the dinner table and not to eat my food with my fingers. Is that not enough? Must I submit to acroama as well?"
ADJURATION * n. A formula used in the conjuring of evil spirits, in order to compel them to do or say whatever you demand. Unfortunately there is no formula for compelling members of the opposite sex to do or say whatever you demand. You could try it on, of course. "I adjure you, Melissa, to...."; but if the maiden merely says "what did you say?" you could always claim that the word you used was "implore".
AGITOPHASIA * n. A hysterical condition causing extreme rapidity of speech. "Nix on the agitophasia, Maurice; the quickness of the hand may deceive the eye, but not the voice the mind. Your excuses are pathetic. You will return to the school hall, and you will take part in the pantomime, and you will sing along with little Deirdre in the feature spot in the finale, dressed as the Fairy King, whether you like it or not. Your mother has spoken."
AICHMOPHOBIA * n. Extreme fear of the sight of any sharp-pointed instrument, whether a needle, a nail, a thorn, a spike, etc. James I of England suffered from this phobia, and could not endure the appearance of a drawn sword.
ALGOPHOBIA * n. The morbid dread of pain. As a warning to those who have been lulled into a false sense of security at the dentist's by the latter's more or less routine use of local anæsthetics, the author, a true algophobe, relates this cautionary tale of his encounter with a London dentist. "It's just a little one", said the dentist, in the most casual and reassuring tone, "do you want to bother with an anæsthetic this time?" "No", I manfully replied. In an instant the drill was in my mouth, and through a curtain of unendurable pain I heard the dentist say "Suit yourself; it won't hurt me!" Like all algophobes, I have never been able to transcend dental medication. Hmmm ... perhaps if you said it aloud....
ALLOPATHY * n. Conventional medical treatment, as opposed to so-called "alternative" medicines such as homoeopathy, reflexology, etc. If your New Age cousin is persistently refusing to see the doctor about her condition, you could perhaps convince her to do so by secretively whispering to her: "you know, of course, that's he's an allopath?"
ALPHITOMANCY * n. A method of determining the guilt or innocence of a person by feeding him a barley loaf. If indigestion ensues, the person is guilty. Some may say that if indigestion ensues after eating anything at all prepared by their best beloved, they are held by the latter to be guilty.
AMBIVIUM * n. Any street or road leading around a place rather than to it. The route that you and I invariably take.
AMPLEXUS * n. Sexual intercourse between amphibians such as frogs or toads, in which an embrace occurs but the eggs are fertilised externally (An amplexation is an embrace, whether between frogs or anyone.) "So this is your first scuba lesson, Miss Pomfrey? Well, first, we'll familiarise ourselves with the equipment, have some trial shallow water dives, and finish off the day with the amplexus."
AMPYX * n. A general term to denote any net made of string, bands or ribbons, forming a head-dress. Also, happily, the ornamental strips of leather that fulfil a similar purpose for a horse. Your great-aunt's hairnet could be so characterised.
ANDROPHOBIA * n. The morbid dread of men. The existence of the term implies that somewhere, at some time, there must be someone with a morbid dread of me. I find this distinctly empowering, and would very much like to meet this person.
ARRESTING GEAR * phr. The device on an aircraft carrier which abruptly stops the forward movement of a landing aeroplane. The Superior Person's term for the handbrake of a car.
ASRAH ILLUSION * n. Name of a well-known stage illusion in which a woman is levitated while reclining under a large cloth, which is suddenly whisked away to show that she has vanished. "Desirée, if you really want to appear in my Asrah Illusion, you realise, don't you, that we will need to practice down in the basement for quite a few weeks? In absolute secrecy? Oh, did I mention that it's vital to the levitation effect that you be naked? But don't worry, you'll be entirely covered with a cloth for virtually the entire act."
ASTASIA-ABASIA * n. A functional inability to stand or walk despite the fact that the patient retains good muscular co-ordination while lying in bed, especially in the handling of the drinks tray and the TV remote. See also basophobia.
ASTEISM * n. An ingeniously polite insult. In some regards, this book may be regarded as an asteisticon.
ASTROLOGY * n. Pathetic body of so-called learning which professes to predict the future and reveal the influence of the heavenly bodies on the affairs of men. If men want to influence the affairs of heavenly bodies, the recommended procedure is to buy two copies of the coming year's astrology guide, give one to the lady whose heavenly body you aspire to, and secretly keep the other copy yourself. In this way, you will know in advance what your lady expects or hopes for from day to day, and will be ideally placed to take due advantage of this knowledge. You don't get this sort of information in other dictionaries.
ASTROPHOBIA, or ASTROPAPHOBIA * n. The morbid dread of being struck by lightning, and hence the fear of thunder and storms generally. The Emperors Augustus and Caligula were sufferers from this phobia. "Open the windows wide, my children, and let your mother rejoice in the storm in all its fury! Give her astrophobia free reign!"
ATTORNMENT * n. A formal procedure from the feudal age in which a tenant acknowledges the authority of a new lord. "Here is the engagement ring, oh my dearest; and here the affidavit of attornment for your signature...."
AUTODEFENESTRATION * n. The act of throwing oneself out of a window. Illustrated by the true case of Mrs. Vera Czermak, who discovered that her husband was being unfaithful to her and attempted to end her life by jumping out of the window of her third floor flat in Prague. At the moment she jumped, her husband happened to walk by beneath the window. She landed on top of him, and survived. He died.
AUTOPHOBIA * n. Not, as might be imagined, the fear of automobiles, but the morbid dread of oneself, or of being alone. Do vampires, perhaps, have autophobia? They ought to politicians, perhaps?
AUTOTOMY * n. The spontaneous shedding by a living organism of part of itself, as for example in the case of crabs and salamanders. "I don't mind cleaning the house, mother, but I will not clean Justin's room! It's autotomy hell in there! There are so many of his hairs and skin cells all over the carpet that the slightest movement creates an organic dust storm!"
AVERRING * n. Begging by a boy in the nude to arouse sympathy. "Er I wonder, Mrs. Armitage, if tonight, while Mr. Armitage is out, I might try out my averring, if you wouldn't mind being my audience?"
AVICULARIUM * n. A prehensile organ, not unlike a beak, in certain small aquatic creatures. "If you're going to stay out in the sun, Lachlan, wear something on your avicularium!"
AXILLA * n. The armpit. References to axillary emanations would seem to be the go with this one.
AZOTH * n. Mercury; the name given by alchemists to the universal remedy of Paracelsus. "How stands the azoth this day?" you robustly enquire, on seeing a colleague peering at the wall thermometer.
BARBITURATE * n. A well-known class of narcotic pharmaceutical, as you well know. But did you know that it is named after a Munich waitress named Barbara, who helped its discoverer, Nobel Prize winner Johann Bäyer (1835-1917), in his work by supplying him with her entire urinary output, nicely bottled, over an extended period of time, so that he would have the necessary large quantifies of urea needed for his work? For that matter, did you want to know that?
BASOPHOBIA * n. A hysterical fear of falling which is so overwhelming that it effectively prevents the sufferer from even attempting to stand or walk. In ananastasia, the sufferer is unable to raise himself from a recumbent to a sitting position; and acathisia prevents the sufferer from remaining in a sitting position. Then there's also astasia-abasia (q.v.). All of these are good for deferments of exams on medical grounds, exemption from military service, excusal from jury duty, etc.
BATHOPHOBIA * n. The morbid dread, not of baths, as one might expect, but of depth. Use the term in a metaphorical sense: "Jeremy's not enrolling in Differential Calculus I after all, this year. Typical! He always was a bathophobe".
BAYADERE * n. Two distinct meanings. A dancing girl; and a fabric with crosswise stripes (the kind fat people are not supposed to wear). "It's kind of you to be so hospitable, Madgwick! Delighted to accept your suggestion that you show me what the town has to offer. Since you ask my preferences, I wonder what the chances would be of a little bayadere for the night?"
BETAKE * v. An archaic verb, entirely appropriate for Superior Person use. To take (yourself) to something or somewhere. To go. Like "hie," used reflexively. "Given the weather, I betook myself to the cinema today; after which I did hie me to the pizza palace."
BISULCATE * a. Cloven-hoofed. "I don't know about Bastian being the devil, but given those shoes he wears I wouldn't be at all surprised to find that he was bisulcate."
BIVALENCE * n. The principle that every sentence is either true or false. Including that one. "But darling, I swear that every single thing I say is absolutely bivalent."
Excerpted from THE SUPERIOR PERSON'S THIRD BOOK OF Well-bred Words by Peter Bowler. Copyright © 2001 by Peter Bowler. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved.
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