Gravity’s Dictionary

As a public service, I offer up this list of words from Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow that I didn’t know/wasn’t 100% sure of.
I’ve used

abscissa p 399
(in plane Cartesian coordinates) the x-coordinate of a point: its distance from the y-axis measured parallel to the x-axis.

1.a vessel with a beaked cap or head, formerly used in distilling.
2.anything that transforms, purifies, or refines.

Also, atar, athar, ottar, otto. a perfume or essential oil obtained from flowers or petals.

batiste (p 204)
a fine, often sheer fabric, constructed in either a plain or figured weave and made of any of various natural or synthetic fibers.

not in the dictionary

bombazine (p 186)
a twill fabric constructed of a silk or rayon warp and worsted filling, often dyed black for mourning wear.

a decorative cloth band, often braided or tasseled, worn around the upper arm, as by military personnel to signify a particular group, regiment, etc.

1. any of various gourds, especially the bottle gourd, Lagenaria siceraria.
2.a tropical American tree, Crescentia cujete, of the bignonia family, bearing large, gourdlike fruit.

having well-shaped buttocks

caryatids (p 24)
a sculptured female figure used as a column. Compare atlas

chalcedony p 434
a microcrystalline, translucent variety of quartz, often milky or grayish.

chemurgy p 550
a division of applied chemistry concerned with the industrial use of organic substances, especially substances obtained from farm produce, as soybeans or peanuts.

coloratura p 464
1. runs, trills, and other florid decorations in vocal music.
2. a lyric soprano of high range who specializes in such music.

the last of the seven canonical hours, or the service for it, originally occurring after the evening meal but now usually following immediately upon vespers.

corposant 490
another name for Saint Elmo’s fire

the spicy fruit or drupe of an East Indian climbing shrub, Piper cubeba, of the pepper family.

dacoits (p 644)
(in India and Burma) a member of a class of criminals who engage in organized robbery and murder.

dessiatine (p 339)
a Russian unit of land measure equal to 2.7 U.S. acres (1.1 hectare).

felsitic (p 497)
a dense, fine-grained, igneous rock consisting typically of feldspar and quartz, both of which may appear as phenocrysts.

(in French and U.S. military use)
1. an ornament of cord worn on the shoulder.
2. such a cord awarded as an honorary decoration, as to members of a regiment or other unit that has received a requisite number of citations.

(of a speech sound) characterized by audible friction produced by forcing the breath through a constricted or partially obstructed passage in the vocal tract; spirantal; spirant.

gassen (p 549)
nothing in the dictionary

any of several plants of the genera Gentiana, Gentianella, and Gentianopsis, having usually blue, or sometimes yellow, white, or red, flowers, as the fringed gentian of North America, or Gentiana lutea, of Europe. Compare gentian family.

a leader in heresy; the leader of a heretical sect.

1.incised carving, as opposed to carving in relief.
2.ornamentation with a figure or design sunk below the surface.
3.a gem, seal, piece of jewelry, or the like, cut with an incised or sunken design. incised or countersunk die.
5.a figure or design so produced.

1.Chiefly Southern Louisiana and Southeast Texas . a small gift given with a purchase to a customer, by way of compliment or for good measure; bonus.
2.a gratuity or tip. unexpected or indirect benefit.

languet (p 298)
any of various small tongue-shaped parts, processes, or projections.

1. Also called mansard roof . a hip roof, each face of which has a steeper lower part and a shallower upper part. Compare French roof.
2. the story under such a roof.

1.a silk or lace head scarf arranged over a high comb and falling over the back and shoulders, worn in Spain, Mexico, etc.
2.a short mantle or light cape.

1. (formerly) the hereditary title of the rulers of certain European states.
2. History/Historical . a hereditary German title, equivalent to marquis.
3.(originally) a military governor of a German mark, or border province.

moires (p 491)
any moiré fabric. (mohair!)

mother of pearl – a hard, iridescent substance that forms the inner layer of certain mollusk shells, used for making buttons, beads, etc.; nacre.

see above

not in the dictionary. Maybe I meant
1. a disease of horses and other animals, widespread in parts of Africa, caused by the organism Trypanosoma brucei, and transmitted by a variety of tsetse fly.
2. any trypanosomal disease of animals that is transmitted by the tsetse fly.

1.Architecture .
a. a diagonal vaulting rib.
b. a pointed arch.
2. Statistics . the distribution curve of a frequency distribution.
3. Rocketry . the curved nose of a missile or rocket.

oneiric (p 475)
adjective of or pertaining to dreams.

organdy (p 282)
a fine, thin cotton fabric usually having a durable crisp finish, white, dyed, or printed: used for blouses, dresses, curtains, trimmings, etc.

Palatal (p 11)
1. Anatomy . of or pertaining to the palate.
2. Phonetics . articulated with the blade of the tongue held close to or touching the hard palate.
3. Phonetics . a palatal consonant.

a soft, lustrous, lightweight velvet with flattened pile.

a furniture van; moving van

1.a camphorated tincture of opium, containing benzoic acid, anise oil, etc., used chiefly to stop diarrhea in children.
2.any soothing medicine; anodyne.

passementerie (p 345)
trimming of braid, cord, bead, etc., in any of various forms.

pelisse outer garment lined or trimmed with fur.
2.a woman’s long cloak with slits for the arms.

pelorus (p 528)
a device for measuring in degrees the relative bearings of observed objects.

phthisic (p 683)
1.a wasting disease of the lungs; phthisis.
3.a person who suffers from phthisis.

1.past ( def. 12 ) .
2.a preterit tense.
3.a verb form in this tense.

not in the dictionary

qobyz (p 356)
not in the dictionary

a semicylindrical metal shelter having end walls, usually serving as a barracks, storage shed, or the like, developed for the U.S. military forces from the British Nissen hut at Quonset Naval Base in Rhode Island.

rachitic (p 284)

Rallentando (p 28)
slackening; becoming slower (used as a musical direction).

reticule (p 670)
1a small purse or bag, originally of network but later of silk, rayon, etc.
2. Optics . reticle, – a network of fine lines, wires, or the like placed in the focus of the eyepiece of an optical instrument.

rotogravure (p 194)
1.a photomechanical process by which pictures, typeset matter, etc., are printed from an intaglio copper cylinder.
2. a print made by this process.
3. a section of a newspaper consisting of pages printed by the rotogravure process; magazine section.

Roundness; a round or circle. [Obs.] –Shak.

1871, a nonsense word coined by Edward Lear; used especially in runcible spoon “spoon with three short tines like a fork,” which first took the name 1926.

sastrugi (p 420)
ridges of snow formed on a snowfield by the action of the wind.

any of a class of crystalline metamorphic rocks whose constituent mineral grains have a more or less parallel or foliated arrangement.

resembling the mackerel.

1. a carved or engraved article, especially of whale ivory, whalebone, walrus tusks, or the like, made by whalers as a leisure occupation.
2.such articles or work collectively.
3.the art or technique of carving or engraving whale ivory, whalebone, walrus tusks, etc.

1.light reddish-brown.
2.a horse of this color, often with a light-colored mane and tail.

spiculed (p 433)
1. a small or minute, slender, sharp-pointed body or part; a small, needlelike crystal, process, or the like.
2.Zoology . one of the small, hard, calcareous or siliceous bodies that serve as the skeletal elements of various marine and freshwater invertebrates.
3.Astronomy . a jet of gas several hundred miles in diameter rising from the sun’s surface to heights of 3000 to 6000 miles (4800 to 9600 km).
the principle or law of retaliation that a punishment inflicted should correspond in degree and kind to the offense of the wrongdoer, as an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth; retributive justice.

tarantella (p 441)
1. a rapid, whirling southern Italian dance in very quick sextuple, originally quadruple, meter, usually performed by a single couple, and formerly supposed to be a remedy for tarantism.
2. a piece of music either for the dance or in its rhythm.

taupe (p 433)
a moderate to dark brownish gray, sometimes slightly tinged with purple, yellow, or green.

tessitura (p 578)
the general pitch level or average range of a vocal or instrumental part in a musical composition: an uncomfortably high tessitura.

a symbolic figure consisting of three legs, arms, or branches radiating from a common center, as the device of Sicily and the Isle of Man.

any of a group of silicate minerals of complex composition, containing boron, aluminum, etc., usually black but having various colored, transparent varieties used as gems.

variegated (p 436)
1. varied in appearance or color; marked with patches or spots of different colors.
2. varied; diversified; diverse.

1. volition in its weakest form.
2. a mere wish, unaccompanied by an effort to obtain it.

voile (p 282)
a lightweight, semisheer fabric of wool, silk, rayon, or cotton constructed in plain weave.

wahine (p 586)
1. (in Hawaii and Polynesia) a girl or young woman.
2. Slang . a young woman surfer.

more new words than anything I’ve read since A Clockwork Orange!!!

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Below the surface...
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3 Responses to Gravity’s Dictionary

  1. leavergirl says:

    What a treat! 🙂

    boliche — Spanish for bowling, also the game of “pigeon-holes.”

  2. leavergirl says:

    qobyz – in Kazakh, a two-stringed bowed lute

  3. Grady Hardridge says:

    metamorphic rocks are some of the hardest rocks on the planet…

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