Word of The Day for Tuesday, October 12, 2010


fu•lig•i•nous (fyoo-lij-uh-nus) / fyo͝o-lĭjˈə-nəs / adj
1. a : sooty b : (obscure) murky
2. having a dark or dusky color
3. (specifically, in zoölogy, and botany) very dark, opaque brown; of the color of soot

fuliginosity noun;  fuliginously adverb

Synonyms: ambiguous, arcane, cryptic, dark, deep, elliptic, enigmatic, equivocal, obscure, inscrutable, murky, mysterious, nebulous, opaque

• The diarist John Evelyn wrote in 1661 about the dreadful smoke from coal fires in London that was so bad that “Her Inhabitants breathe nothing but an impure and thick Mist, accompanied with a fuliginous and filthy vapour ... corrupting the Lungs, and disordering the entire habit of their bodies, so that Catharrs, Phthisicks, Coughs and Consumptions rage more in this one City than in the whole Earth besides.”
• He had a large, handsome head, and a large, sallow, seamed face — a striking, significant physiognomic total, the upper range of which, the great political brow, the thick, loose hair, the dark, fuliginous eyes, recalled even to a generation whose standard had dreadfully deviated the impressive image, familiar by engravings and busts, of some great national worthy of the earlier part of the mid-century. Henry James

The Storyline
The door was already open and Tyler was already passed out, face down on the stark red sofa and half-covered with the fuliginous debris from the ashtray he evidently overturned on his descent.

1621 Late Latin fuliginosus, from Latin fuligin-, fuligo soot; akin to Lithuanian du-lis cloud, vapor, and probably to Latin fumus smoke
In an early sense (now obsolete), "fuliginous" was used to describe noxious bodily vapors once thought to be produced by organic processes. The "sooty" sense, which English speakers have been using since the early 1620s, can be used to describe everything from dense fogs and malevolent clouds to overworked chimney sweeps.

Sources: Merriam-Webster, Wordnik

Why This Word:
Fowler's Modern English Usage hooked me by claiming fuliginous is "still found in the work of good authors, even though it is doubtful if one person in a hundred is aware of its etymology." We'll see about that!

If the word has fallen into disuse, it's because most of us are safely removed from the world of dirt and soot and only become aware of those who daily toil in it when they become trapped in a mining accident or when the muck escapes the bounds of its containment. Perhaps the spate of recent disasters is meant to remind us, or at least should remind us, that the fuliginous debris of the modern world cannot be escaped so long as we insist on making it.

Word-E: A Word-A-Day

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