I used to read a great deal when I was young. And I mean, a great deal. Between the ages of 10 and 14, I probably read at least a book a week, and at one point I was reading a book a day. Having worked my way through the children’s section of the library, I started on the adult sections.
Admittedly, I often did not understand what I was reading. Rarely did I bother to look up new words. I just kept on reading and, eventually, through the context of their settings, I would get to understand what a word meant, including its various nuances of meaning.
Nowadays, when reading modern fiction, I rarely come across a word I have never met before. But recently, as part of my Open University course, ‘Start Writing Fiction’, I have been encouraged to look out for – and look up the meaning of – new words.
So here are two words I came across this morning while reading Solar by Ian McEwan:
- proscenium: originally meaning the area under the arch in front of a stage in the theatre, now meaning the space between the front curtain and the first backdrop curtain. The word comes from the Latin and means ‘in front of the scenery’.
- amanuensis: a scribe or copier of manuscripts, someone who copies writing by hand. Originally it comes from the Latin for hand servant or slave of the hand, depending how literally you translate it.