Vocab Builder: Tinkering With Language

by Erin Brenner on March 2, 2011

Lately I’ve been reading Tinkers by Paul Harding, which won the 2010 Pulitzer for fiction. It’s a lovely, lyrical novel, and plenty of words have been jumping out at me. This week we’ll look at three sentences. Watch for more Tinker vocab in weeks to come.

  • Horologist: a person skilled in making time pieces

Now, the horologist looks upon an open-faced, fairy-book contraptions; gears lean to and fro like a lazy machine in a dream.

He thought, Buy the pendant, sneak it into your hand from the folds of your dress and let the low light of the fire lap at it late at night as you wait for the roof to give out or your will to snap and the ice to be too thick to chop through with the ax as you stand in your husband’s boots on the frozen lake at midnight, the dry hack of the blade on ice so tiny under the wheeling and frozen starts, the soundproof lid of heaven, that your husband would never stir from his sleep in the cabin across the ice, would never hear and come running, half-frozen, in only his union suit to save you from chopping a hole in the ice and sliding into it as if it were a blue vein, sliding down into the black, silty bottom of the lake, where you would see nothing, would perhaps feel only the stir of some somnolent fish in the murk as the plunge of you in your wool dress and the big boots disturbed it from its sluggish winter dreams of ancient seas.

  • Imbrication: state of being arranged in a pattern with overlapping edges, as with fish scales
  • Ichthyic: relating to fish

Maybe you would not even feel that, as you struggled in clothes that felt like cooling tar, and as you slowed, calmed, even, and opened your eyes and looked for a pulse of silver, an imbrication of scales, and as you closed your eyes again and felt their lids turn to slippery, ichthyic skin, the blood behind them suddenly cold, and as you found yourself not caring, wanting, finally, to rest, finally wanting nothing more than the sudden, new, simple hum threading between your eyes.

You can get the Vocab Builder every weekday by following me on Twitter.

I’ve been reading Tinkers on my Kindle. The best thing about the Kindle is I can highlight words and phrases without marring up the book (all those yellow highlights can get distracting after a while). Kindle stores my notes and highlights, which I can retrieve from one place. No more paging through an entire book for a half-remembered note! If you’re considering purchasing either Tinkers or a Kindle, please support this blog by clicking on the banner below.

Previous post:

Next post: