August 9, 2009


To the Reader

This posting is longer than most because the more I learned about the author of the example sentence, Dorothy Parker, and of Marie of Roumania, whom Parker makes reference, the more compelling these extraordinary women became and, in my view, worthy of reportage. — J.H.

Marie of Roumania
rhymes with extemporanea.



Actions of an extemporaneous nature
The plural affix ea means of the nature of.

Note the absence of a citation from a standard dictionary. This is because  extemporanea is a nonce word, one invented (or borrowed) for use on a single occasion, and no dictionary carries many such words because of their infrequency. Neither do they even list extemporanea as a rare cousin of extempore, "without preparation," or extemporize, "to improvise." — The Little OED.

The base of the word comes from the Latin ex tempore, in which ex- means "out of" and tempore, "time," thus leading us to the following definition of the adjective extempore: offhand, in accordance with the needs or whims of the moment. —OED

The OED tells us that eventually, 12 cognates — spin-offs from a base — developed from ex tempore — including"extemporist, extemoranean, and extemporate (now obsolete) and extempore, extemporaaneous, andextemporize, still current." But nowhere among them appears the useful noun extemporanea.


You'll find the word prominent in the title of famous and huge (443 pages) 18th century compendium of ailment remedies by Thomas Fuller (1654-1734) titled

Pharmacopoeia extemporanea : or, a body of prescripts. In which forms of select remedies, accommodated to most intentions of cure, are propos'd. London: printed for B. Walford,1710.
Because Fuller collected the remedies at random or, one might say, the remedies came to him seeminglly extemporaneously, he decided to include the word extemporanea in his title.


Though extemporanea has not as yet found a place in a standard dictionary, it has found a place on the internet at a half dozen or more sites and blogs (e.g. "Lorie's Light Extemporanea"), where each editor assums that the reader can most probably discern the term's meaning from the context presented.


To see, actually, hear the word in clever use we turn to a poem titled "Comment" by Dorothy Parker, an "American writer and poet, best know for her causic wit, wise cracks, and sharp eye for 20th century urban foibles."


Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Roumania.

First published in 1926


Yes, the rhyming of extemporanea and Marie of Roumania is clever and memorable, but what are we to make of this Maria of Roumania? Who was she and what significance does she bring to the poem?

A quick way to learn about Queen Marie's life is to read the following brief editorial review by Maureen Cleave of a 1985 book by Hanna Pakula titled The Last Romantic: Biography of Queen Marie of Roumania:
Queen Marie of Roumania was one of the most fascinating crowned heads of Europe and one of the most extraordinary and independent women of our century. The granddaughter of

Queen Victoria and Tzar Alexander II of Russia, at seventeen Marie left the glittering courts of Western Europe to marry the Crown Prince of Roumania. Drawing upon the young queen s diaries and letters, the author [Hanna Pakula] describes her struggle to gain an independent footing in the male- dominated court of Roumania, her early years as one of the most admired beauties of Europe, and the decisive period during World War I when she all but ran the Roumanian Government.

— Maureen Cleave of the Evening Standard for
There is more about Marie of Roumania below at MEDIA ICON OF THE 1920s.


After the gushing opening two lines "Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song, / A medley of extemporanea," the speaker (Parker) gushes even more in the third with the apothgem, "And love is a thing that can never go wrong." The first-time reader may not sense what's coming, but at poem's end we realize that the first three lines are but a set up for the irony that arrives in the fourth line, specifically with the appearance of the name Marie of Roumania.

The speaker has gone as far as she can with seemingly forced optimism. Suddenly she wakes up from her dream of glorious song, her metaphoric "medley of extemporanea, and love "that can never go wrong."to face the truth: she's nothing but a lost weary soul. But she doesn't sink into self-pity. Instead, she makes a joke, claiming ironically in line four that she not who she appears to be, but, rather, the famous, celebrated European queen, Marie of Roumania. What began in sweet song ended in sour irony.


The Ladies' Home Journal book 100 Most Important Women of the 20th Century (1998) avers that
Dorothy Parker stands out as the wittiest and most urbane of the legendary circle of acid-tongued jazz-age wits known as the Algonquin Round table (named after the Manhattan hotel where, in 1919, the group began meeting for regular alcohol-drenched lunches).

In the imaginative world of "Comment" Marie may be in ascendance over Parker's lowly speaker, but

seventy-five years later, in reality, Parker the writer comes into her own.

In the 1998 book 100 Most Important Women of the Twentieth Century, she is duly honored in the category Writers & Journalists with a page that presents a 3 by 5 picture of her and 203 words of adulatory prose — while in the Political Figures category, we find the names Eva Peron, Indira Gandi, Madam Mao, Margaret Thatcher, Princess Diana, and others, but — oddly — not a word or picture for Marie of Roumania.


Famous for her light verse, ("Men seldom make passes / At girls who wear glasses") and the acerbic book and theater reviews she contributed to Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, Parker

elevated the wisecrack to a minor art form. When a date told her he couldn't bear fools, she replied, "That's odd, your mother could." Another young man was deemed a "rhinestone in the rough." . . . .

In a male dominated literary world, Parker not only carved out a central position for women of wit (she is constantly cited as a role model for such latter-day humorists as Fran Lebowitz and Nora Ephron), she too the very subjects that male writers scorned as light. Just beneath the polished surface and Smart Set trappings of her best work lurks a deadly serious theme — exploitation, specifically of women by men.
Glennon, Lorraine, Ed. Ladies Home Journal© 100 Most Important Women of the 20th Century. Des Moines, Iowa: Ladies' Home Journal© Books. 1998. 74.


But during the 1920s, Maria was in her ascendancy. Americans and Europeans of the day would have immediately recognized the name Queen Marie of Roumania and know of her multiple virtues — charm, beauty, strength, generosity — and of her popularity as an author, of the adulation she enjoyed from her own people and of admirers on the Continent and in America, and of the political power she wielded at the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 to assure that her country's state boundaries remained in tact and even expanded after the war.

Via the magazines, newspapers, radio of the 1920s, Marie of Roumania became a media icon of her day, appearing twice on the cover of Time Magazine, most memorably during her 1926 visit to the United States.

To see a remarkable video on Youtube of black and white footage of Marie's visit to the U.S., click: here.

I could find no original footage of Dorothy Parker on line, but she's a hot topic on the web. A good place to start learning more about her is The Dorothy Parker Society at

For this writer — and, he hopes, for the reader — it has been a most engaging adventure following the word extemporanea into the lives of two legendary women of the 20th century, Dorothy Parker, "the wittiest and most urbane of . . . acid-tongued jazz-age wits," and "The Last Romantic," Marie of Roumania.



  1. Look where "extemporanea" took you and us readers: to Queen Maria and Dorothy Parker!What a great surprise, indeed. These are both fascinating, strong, and influential women! I love this posting, John.

  2. Very well thought out, entertaining and informative, not to mention useful thnx :)