Vaughan’s Vocabulary

Don Vaughan provides infrequently used words to strengthen your vocabulary

Richard Nordquist’s article “The William F. Buckley Vocabulary Quiz” pointed out that the former “Firing Line” host and seasoned journalist was equipped with the vocabulary of a mischievous lexicographer and delighted and often perplexed his readers with an arsenal of what he, Buckley, called out-of-town words. Nordquist challenged logophiles to could come up with a definition for each of “the sesquipedalian verba (long words)” that he lifted from Buckley’s book “The Right Word.”

These are four of Mr. Buckley’s out of town words.

1. auto da fe (aw-toh-duh-FAY)

A. a defective automobile

B. the ritual accompanying the execution of a heretic

C. face value

D. an act of faith

Auto da fa is a noun that comes from the Portuguese language, spoken in Spain. An auto da fa was a ceremony that accompanied the judgment passed on those in the courts of the Spanish Inquisition, and involved burning heretics at the stake. Buckley wrote, “Here was a modern auto da fe: not for counterfeiting heresy, but for denouncing it.”

2. Cartesian (car-tea-zhuhn)

A. Machiavellian methods

B. doing a cartwheel technique

C. unconditional authority, full discretionary power

D. Of or pertaining to Rene Descartes, who specified

direct and logical forms of thought and analysis

Buckley wrote, “It required only a little Cartesian gelandesprung to alight at the conclusion that is the responsibility of the government to maintain monuments that are manmade, as well as those given us by nature.” You’re right if you chose D. (By the way, C is a definition of carte blanche.

3. dithyrambic (dith-uh-RAM-bic)

A. a truly exaggerated exercise in praising somebody

or something

B. typical

C. atypical

D. keenly judgmental

The adjective dithyrambic came from dithyramb, a chant of wild and irregular character to honor Dionysius or Bacchus. Any wildly or enthusiastic speech or writing is a dithyramb. Anything dithyrambic is an exaggerated exercise of praising someone or something. Example: Jan referred to the pastor’s announcements as his “weekly dithyramb to certain ones in the church.”

4. eremitical (AIR-uh-mi-ti-kul)

A. gregarious

B. characteristic of the hermit, far removed from

ordinary life and consideration

C. drinkable

D. edible

An eremite is a hermit. B is the answer.

Last week’s mystery word is palpable.

This week’s mystery word to solve is a noun you can use for a bland wish for something with no effort to obtain it. The first three letters of this word are the same first three letters in the last name of an artist who painted a well-known portrait of himself.

Don R. Vaughan, Ph.D., of Eupora is a speech and theater professor at East Mississippi Community College, Golden Triangle. Contact him at