David Foster Wallace's Word List

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

David Foster Wallace's Word List

Until this week, I had no idea what


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





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


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 (


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




. Tennis, as anyone who's read

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


while writing "

"? We'll never know.

Brow Beat asked Jesse Sheidlower, a regular


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.

Juliet Lapidos is a former Slate associate editor.



The Ebola Story

How our minds build narratives out of disaster.

The Budget Disaster That Completely Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

The Shooting Tragedies That Forged Canada’s Gun Politics

A Highly Unscientific Ranking of Crazy-Old German Beers


Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.


The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

Would You Trust Walmart to Provide Your Health Care? (You Should.)

  News & Politics
Oct. 22 2014 9:42 PM Landslide Landrieu Can the Louisiana Democrat use the powers of incumbency to save herself one more time?
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
Gentleman Scholar
Oct. 22 2014 5:54 PM May I Offer to Sharpen My Friends’ Knives? Or would that be rude?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 4:27 PM Three Ways Your Text Messages Change After You Get Married
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
Oct. 22 2014 11:54 PM The Actual World “Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 5:33 PM One More Reason Not to Use PowerPoint: It’s The Gateway for a Serious Windows Vulnerability
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 2:42 PM Orcas, Via Drone, for the First Time Ever
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.