Words I Didn’t Understand While Reading “City on Fire”, and My Guess as to Their Definitions




I started reading this weighty tome on publication day so, two years later, this remains a partial list. 

Ontogeny: the children of those who undertake ontology as a career path (reminder: look up “ontology”)

Phylogeny: a baker specializing in flaky pastry

Ephebe: is this a science text book? 

Ziggurat: German candy bar designed by Kaiser Wilhelm, comprised of pine tar binding together cloves and cedar chips

Noumena: the part of the frontal lobe that governs poor Voguing-related decisions on the dance floor

Magus: Another book I spent almost two years reading

Tatterdemalion: a finnicky cut of pork that is considered a delicacy in France, used as a welcome mat in Peru

Labile: mononymous Azerbaijani pop singer from the 1990s, often called “the Ace of Bass of Baku”; retired post 9/11 and started a Zoroastrian yoga retreat in the Murovdag mountain range

Titrating: “meritocracy to revenge porn” did not occur as a result of this perverse evaluation system, no matter what Hunter Moore tweets from his damp hole in Guantanamo Bay

Satraps: small pouches of legume detritus that form behind the ears of communal table hogging, soy-addicted ronins of the “gig economy”

Misprision: when a person is over-punished for a smaller crime to make up for skating on a previous, more serious one (see, a certain five-time Pro Bowl NFL legend and sports memorabilia enthusiast)

Saurian: an act of literary necrophilia practiced by publishing the loose-leaf scribblings of a dead relative, preferably a parent

Nerdle: off-brand playground toy manufacturer, known for sponge balls with a small rock in the center called “The Beaner”; sold as “number one in schoolyard horseplay and juvenile concussions.”

Occiput: the cavity where the third eye of enlightenment rests, because that shit doesn’t just stick to your forehead, you know

Declivity: retrograde table manners in the name of a “post cutlery” America: possibly started by an evangelical sect of paleo diet adherents

Janissaries: a college-rock band known for their overtly literary lyrics and twenty-piece mandolin section: recent five-hour folk opera based on Manufacturing Consent declared a “breezy delight!” by Frank Rich, who also raved “the producers have kidnapped my children!”

Puling: a sexual slang term describing an act that involves asphyxiation, sriracha and an

admirable level of communication between partners

Schist: wrinkle in the space-time continuum that allows for the possibility of time travel

but also explains why we never see any time travellers walking amongst us: instituted by

hack Hollywood screenwriters and the producers who love them

Quondam: bewildering board game concerned with moving white marbles around the seat

of an overturned wicker chair for the reward of $11 and bragging rights

Stochasm: a rigorous school of thought that gave birth to the university and doomsday

prepper commune created by well-armed, disenchanted Jesuits: motto is Libertas, Tela,

Annua nactus augere (“Freedom, Ammunition, Yearly Tuition Hike”)

Clinamen: trigger of the infamous “G spot”: actual location unknown

Irruption: a burst or sudden increase in the population of people who think that now

they’ve finished one big book that is time get past page twenty of Infinite Jest: marked by a commensurate increase in sales of actual doorstoppers


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