Of words words words, Machine Dreams, Pynchon and Holden Caufield….

Like any teenager of a certain cohort or three, I read The Catcher in the Rye.  At one point its protagonist, Holden Caulfield observes:

“I used to think she was quite intelligent, in my stupidity. The reason I did was because she knew quite a lot about the theatre and plays and literature and all that stuff. If somebody knows quite a lot about those things, it takes you quite a while to find out whether they’re really stupid or not.”

(beginning of chapter 15, in case you want to know. Fun fact – I put that quote on the cover of the first issue of the “Timely Literary Suppository” – the newsletter/magazine of the Adelaide University Literary Society, back in 1990. But that’s a story for another time)

Anyway, that quote (which I had to reread the entire damn book to find) came to mind when I saw this (1) review of Philip Mirowski’s doorstop Machine Dreams: Economics becomes a Cyborg Science: 

“In reviewing this book, it is simply impossible to avoid addressing Mirowski’s stylistic affectations. If you are going to read this volume, you had best do so with at least one dictionary by your side, and even that will not suffice in a number of cases. Here, for example, are a few of the author’s favorite words: mumpsimus, flocculent, rodomontade, appanage, allocution, uberous, ambage, laminar, keeking, anisotropic, coruscate, epopee, gonfalons, protopadeutic, proleptic, pinquefied, perscrutation, stylobate, deliquescence, zaddick, surd, scrum, and gloze.”

All of which reminds me of making a long list of words in Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow that I didn’t know, and then – having come off the Beijing-Moscow train on which I read it – had to go google.

So, yes, sometimes words are just hair-splitting, distinctions without differences to show – in Bourdieu’s meaning – distinction.  But the flipside is what OORwell spotted in his discussion of Newspeak, and the ability to remove important distinctions from the language, and render clear thought if not impossible, then much more difficulty (I think for example of politicians claims to have refuted claims when they’ve merely rebutted them).  With all this in mind, here those words Mirowski is fond of.


mumpsimus,  a traditional custom or idea adhered to although shown to be unreasonable.- a person who obstinately adheres to old customs or ideas in spite of evidence that they are wrong or unreasonable.


flocculent,  having or resembling tufts of wool.

Rodomontade boastful or inflated talk or behaviour.

appanage,a provision made for the maintenance of the younger children of kings and princes, consisting of a gift of land, an official position, or money.

Allocution a formal speech giving advice or a warning.

Uberous fruitful; copious; abundant; plentiful.

ambage indirect ways or proceedings

laminar  (of a flow) taking place along constant streamlines, without turbulence.

keeking,  peeping surreptitiously.

Anisotropic of an object or substance) having a physical property which has a different value when measured in different directions. An example is wood, which is stronger along the grain than across it.

Coruscate  (of light) flash or sparkle.

Epopee, an epic poem. 2. epic poetry in general.

gonfalon, a banner or pennant, especially one with streamers, hung from a crossbar.

protopadeutic, – of an area of study) serving as a preliminary instruction or as an introduction to further study  (Hudson- Well, propaedeutic  actually – Mirowski seems to have got this wrong/malapropped – the top search is for ‘protopadeutic’ is his 2006 review ‘Coming to terms with Neoliberalism’ – an excellent review, btw.)

proleptic, the anticipation of possible objections in order to answer them in advance

pinquefied,  well then.

perscrutation,  a thorough examination : careful investigation

stylobate, a continuous base supporting a row of columns in classical Greek architecture.

deliquescence,becoming liquid, or having a tendency to become liquid.

zaddick, (multiple spellings) A very righteous person, especially a Hassidic spiritual leader.

surd, (of a number) irrational.(of a speech sound) uttered with the breath and not the voice (e.g. f, k, p, s, t ).

scrum, (well, rugger bugger!)

gloze.make excuses for, use ingratiating language



(1)  Alexander Field, 2003. Mirowski’s Machine Dreams European Journal of the History of Economic Thought.  DOI: 10.1080/0967256032000137766 ·

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