Words Weird and Wonderful: Clark Ashton Smith’s Averoigne

Words Weird and Wonderful: Clark Ashton Smith’s Averoigne

by Bill Ward

In a recent jaunt through Averoigne I was struck again by Clark Ashton Smith’s extraordinary vocabulary. He was clearly a collector of words and, reportedly, as a precocious young genius with an eidetic memory he read Webster’s 13th unabridged dictionary cover-to-cover – but more importantly he studied it. From the odd to the uncommon, from the archaic to the foreign to the just plain forgotten, Smith seemed to have a supply of wonderful words equal to that of his own wondrous imagination. Here are just a few of them.

From “The Colossus of Ylourgne”

Energumen, n. a person possessed by an evil spirit, a fanatic. Late Greek, “energoumenos” worked on, to be the object of an action

“…the giant strode without pause, like an energumen possessed by some implacable fiend of mischief and murder, leaving behind him, as a reaper leaves his swath, an ever-lengthening zone of havoc, of rapine and carnage.”

Horripilation, n. bristling of the hair from fright, goosebumps. Late Latin “horripilatio” bristling of hair, “horripilare” to shudder

“His blood curdled, he felt an actual horripilation, as he realized the purpose for which the wall had been demolished.”

Immurement, n. to be completely sealed in, generally a form of imprisonment until death. Latin, “im” (in) + “murus” (wall)

“It was evident that a whole day and part of another night had gone by since his immurement…”

Murrain, n. a pestilence of livestock, usually cattle. Middle English “moreyne” from Latin “mori” death

“A murrain, such as would come from the working of wizard spells, was abroad among the cattle.”

From “The Enchantress of Sylaire”

Cromlech, n. megalithic construction, dolmen, stone circle, portal tomb. Welsh “crom” (arched) + “llech” (stone)

“Almost at its center, there towered a massive cromlech, consisting of two upright slabs that supported a third like the lintel of a door.”

Eremite, n. hermit, usually religious. Middle English, Greek “eremos” desolate

“Anselme had quite forgotten his eremitic resolves.”

From “The Maker of Gargoyles”

Aspergillum, n. a holy water sprinkler. New Latin, “asperges” rite of blessing with holy water

“Armed with holy water and aspergillum, and accompanied by many of the towns-people carrying torches, staves and halberds, the priest was led by Maspier to the place of the horror…”

Catafalque, n. raised platform or bier upon which a casket rests for lying in state. Italian “catafalco,” Vulgar Latin “catafalicum” cata (scaffold) + fala (siege tower)

“On the very next night, while the torn body of the abbot lay on a rich catafalque in the cathedral, and masses were being said and tapers burnt, the demon invaded the high nave through the open door…”

Ferine, adj. feral. Latin “ferinus”

“One was a snarling, murderous, cat-headed monster, with retracted lips revealing formidable fangs, and eyes that glared intolerable hatred from beneath ferine brows.”

Lubricious, adj, wanton, lecherous. Latin “lubricus” smooth, slippery

“Reynard heard the guttural snarling of the murderous monster, muffled by the body of Coupain, whom it was tearing with its teeth; and he heard the lubricious laughter of the incubus, above the shrieks of the hysterically frightened girl…”

From “A Rendezvous in Averoigne”

Loup-garou, n. French for werewolf. Old French “leu garoul”

“…and there were stories of loup-garous and goblins, of fays and devils and vampires that infested Averoigne.”

Hebetude, n. lethargy, dullness. Latin “hebes” dull, blunt

“At the same time an irresistible drowsiness surged upon Gerard himself in spite of all his volition… He heard through his growing hebetude a whisper as of shadowy wings in the castle halls…”

Pourboire, n. tip, gratuity. French “pour boire” for drinking

“The madcap Fleurette had professed herself unafraid also; but it had been necessary to promise the servants a substantial pourboire, since they shared fully the local superstitions.”

Vizard, n. mask, disguise. Old English “viser” visor

“Raoul crossed himself before he answered; and his face had assumed the vizard of a mortal fear.”

From “The Mother of Toads”

Batrachian, n. frog, toad. Greek “batrachos” frog.

“She ogled Pierre, the apothecary’s young apprentice, with eyes full-orbed and unblinking as those of a toad. The folds beneath her chin swelled like the throat of some great batrachian


Be sure to check out more on Clark Ashton Smith and the rest of the authors from Appendix N at our Adventures in Fiction page.

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