David Foster Wallace's Word List

Slate's Culture Blog
April 14 2010 11:30 AM

David Foster Wallace's Word List

Until this week, I had no idea what

pleach
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meant. I don't recall ever having seen the word or having heard it spoken. Same goes for

recrudesce

and

tabanid

.



I came across this new vocabulary while scanning the complete list of words that David Foster Wallace circled in his American Heritage dictionary. If you're a DFW enthusiast, you've probably already seen the abbreviated list that the

. But Brow Beat was curious to see more, and the Ransom Center kindly indulged us. You can see

all

of the words that DFW circled in his dictionary, hyperlinked to their definitions, by clicking

.



What's notable about the list is that along with many three-dollar words that seem rather difficult to pronounce (

witenagemot

), DFW also marked up more run-of-the-mill entries like the ones for

bisque

and

tennis

. Tennis, as anyone who's read

knows well, was of great interest to DFW, who also played the sport competitively. Did he circle

bisque

while writing "

"? We'll never know.



Brow Beat asked Jesse Sheidlower, a regular

Slate

contributor and editor-at-large of the

Oxford English Dictionary

, whether he could discern a pattern that tied the words together, but he said nothing came to mind. So now we're outsourcing the problem. DFW admirers: Take a look at the list, then let us know if you gain new insight into the late author's work. Do you have a theory as to what led DFW to circle a word? Do you remember seeing any of these words in DFW's essays, journalism, and novels? Share your ideas in the comments section.



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