This will risk being a little pretentious, and will be exceedingly nerdy, but here goes. When I read, I have a habit of writing down any words I have to look up, usually on an old postcard I’ve repurposed as a bookmark. The postcard-bookmark then gets recycled and years later, I find it stashed in some other book altogether and find myself wondering what book the words came from.
For example, some time after I acquired a postcard dated 22 September 1999, I did not know the definitions of the following: morion, galliot, cope, pentimento, cassowary, tontine, and houding. Hope I haven’t just typed the launch code to anything. And, um, I still don’t know what more than a few of those mean. My self-improvement scheme doesn’t include writing out the definitions. I have a guess about what book this list is from, but I’m not sure.
Here’s another: taw, oast, drugget, bullace, sprigged, medlar, sago, and topee. I checked my guess about which book this is from, and my guess is wrong.
Okay, and going back to ancient history—the years immediately following college—I used to keep the same lists in a journal. In this virtuous era, I wrote out definitions. Very early on, I also recorded what books the lists were from. So I can say that spiles, telemark, troll, christy, and khud are from a collection of Hemingway stories. Or maybe the khud is from somewhere else. There are no guarantees as to the single-volume integrity of these lists.
I didn’t keep to the discipline of writing down the book titles for long. Nonetheless, I’m pretty sure that the very short list esurient, intercrural comes from Richard Ellman’s biography of James Joyce, because I still vividly recall the moment of looking up intercrural, for reasons that will be obvious to anyone who remembers the word “in context,” as the vocabulary drillmasters advise.
But I have no idea where this list came from: divot, clepsydra, lentisk, mastic, lictor, and terebinth. A lot of gummy trees, evidently.
Or this one: rennet, mortise, imbrication, lanai, cantilever, cataplexy, quaquaversal, etui, and fescue. For years I hoped to be able to use imbrication in print somewhere, but the postcolonials got to it first and ruined it.
If any of these look familiar, feel free to hazard an identification.