January 19, 2007


William F. Buckley Jr., 1925-2008
William F. Buckley, Jr., 1925-2008
Sesquipedalian non pareil
of 20th Century Political Journalism


1: having many syllables, long
2: given to or characterized by the use of long words

--Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition
3: A speaker or writer inclined to use sesquipedalian diction

[ses kwuh pu DAY lee un]

Sesquipedalian, an adjective, derives from the Latin sesquipedalis which "means a foot and a half long, and figuratively that is the length of a sesquipedalian word, which is one consisting of several syllables. A writer or a speaker has sesquipedalian style if he or she uses many long words".
--The Grand Panjandrum, J. N. Hook.

Bloggin' John Comments:
You don't have to look very far to find examples of sesquipedalian words. This very blog has disembouged . . . I mean . . . popped the cork and let flow discussions of such terms as rejectamenta, circumbendibus, and, of course sesquipedalian (its own apt example of its very meaning).

I don't recommend making a random habit of using in daily conversation such "big" words as circumbendibus or rejectamenta. Rather, use the word that best fits the occasion and your intention. You have to decide whether to be formal or informal, witty or serious, ironic or direct, and, accordingly, make your choices: dog poop or rejectament; clear or pellucid; demoted or plutoed. Then wait for your readers' responses.

March 9, 2008


On William F. Buckley, Jr.

Sadly, I recount the death on March 8, 2008, of William F. Buckley, Jr. — the verbal prime minister of sesquipedalian precision among Twentieth Century political pundits of the page and the media. As a public debater promoting the Conservative Movement — which he singlehandedly brought to new life during the 1960's, most singularly by way of his magazine the National Review and his television program Firing Line — Buckley seemed never to abstain from using an arcane or a multi-syllabic word if it promised to effect clarification of an idea or gain an intellectual edge over an opponent less lexically adept.

During the 1960's, as a beginning teacher of High School English, I was possessed of a personal vocabulary that was no more than, shall I say, sufficient to the job. I began watching "Firing Line," Buckley's television program that featured him interviewing any prominent thinker or newsmaker of the day brave enough to engage in wit combat with the keen edged wordsman. With a pocket sized spiral bound notebook in my left hand and pencil in my right, I took notes on the program, not so much, I confess, for the ideas, but for the words — Buckley's words.

The New York Times marked the word smith's passing with apt diction in this headline,

William F. Buckley Jr., 82, Dies; Sesquipedalian Spark of Right,

and in the opening sentence to his obituary:
William F.Buckley, Jr., who marshaled polysyllabic exuberance, arched eyebrows and a refined, perspicacious mind to elevate conservatism to the center of American political discourse, died on Wednesday [March 5, 2008] at his home in Stamford, Conn. He was 82.
(Marilyn K. Yee/The New York Times)
William F. Buckley Jr. in his
National Review office, 1984

Apparently, no one was present at the moment of Buckley's death, so there are no final words to ponder. But if someone were there at that final moment before he slumped onto his escritoire with bore the final words he had written, I venture to suggest that the auditor might have heard Buckley go to the Latin to utter, with arch confidence, "Absum!," id est, "Time to go!"


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