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A complex story told from several different points of view.

You probably won't find this one in dictionaries, though it pops up from time to time in modern prose. It's an allusion to Akira Kurosawa's 1950 movie, Rashomon, which won that year's Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.

The movie portrays two two violent crimes from several people's points of view, demonstrating that because the individuals' perceptions vary so widely, discovering the objective truth about what happened is impossible. In 1994, a writer for Vanity Fair put it to good use this way:

"When you talk to any of Mrs. Clinton's longtime intimates, the Hillary that emerges is so different from her public persona that the exercise assumes the surreal quality of a Rashomon experience."







Irritating, repellent.

This prickly word has a "beard" in the middle of it: The barb in rebarbative goes all the way back to the Latin barba, meaning "beard." (And yes, Latin barba is a linguistic relative of English barber.) From Latin barba evolved Middle French se rebarber, which means "to confront or resist." In its most literal sense, though, se rebarber meant "to face (an enemy)", that is, to come "beard-to-beard" with him.

From se rebarber came the French adjective rebarbatif, meaning "repellent," the inspiration for the English word for "causing annoyance, irritation, or aversion."

"Still, everyone appeared to be extremely nice, except that that Dr. Greenfield man was a trifle rebarbative. (This was a word which Toby had recently learnt at school and could not now conceive of doing without.)" - from "The Bell," by Iris Murdoch







1. Difficult to undertand, obscure, abstruse.
2. Hidden, concealed.

It's from Latin recondire, meaning "to put away."

"Wayne loves nothing better than to spend whole evenings surfing the Web in search of obscure knowledge--and the more recondite, the better."







A new outbreak; a renewal of activity after a period of inactivity or dormancy.

Recrudescence comes from the Latin word recrudescere, which means "to grow raw again," and once literally referred to worsening wounds. (In fact, both recrudescence and the English word crude share a common root in the Latin word crudus -- literally "raw" or "bloody.")

In the 18th and 19th centuries, recrudescence was used negatively sense, as in 1884, when a newspaper noted: "The fears of a recrudescence of the epidemic are now subsiding."). Nowadays, however, this word can also be used in a neutral sense, or even a positive one.

"Millenarian Christian belief, which has experienced a populist recrudescence in the United States in the past decade, has a long, fevered tradition dating back to the first century A.D., when the most passionate Christians believed that the Second Coming (of Christ) was immediately at hand, and that martyrdom at the hands of their Roman oppressors, often in terrifying circumstances, was to be welcomed, even courted." --
Joyce Carol Oates, in a New York Times essay







1. Fragrant, sweet-smelling.

2. Evocative or suggestive of.

Redolent comes from Latin redolere, which means "to smell." It's a relative of olfactory" and odor.

This word is often followed by either "of" or "with."

"At this time of year, our lovely street is snowy with dogwoods and redolent of lilacs."







1. Formidable; something to be feared.

2. Awe-inspiring, deserving honor or respect.

This word derives from French redouter, meaning "to dread." And yes, it's related to the English word doubt, which, interestingly enough, once also meant "fear." (In the early 1600s, for example, a writer noted "St. Ann's Chapel is very near the sea, yet doubts not drowning.")

"Brazil will need all of Ronaldo's redoubtable skills, because it opens its World Cup defense against Scotland with a queasy sense of dread." -- from a New York Times story about Brazilian soccer star "Ronaldo".





1. The gape of a mouth.
2. A wide-open bird's beak.
3. A gaping grimace.

Rictus is borrowed directly from the Latin, where's it's the past participle of ringi, meaning "to gape." The plural is either rictus or rictuses.

New Yorker writer Anthony Lane used this word in a review of the movie "Chicken Run." (You should know that the movie is the creation of Nick Park, the same guy who made films using the popular plasticine characters named Wallace and Gromit).

Here is Lane's doozy of a sentence:

"Still, even without Wallace and Gromit, most of the trademark joys are here: the compound of squashy creatures and heavy machinery, the wide, open-ended rictus of a toothy smile, and the great Parkian gulp -- the most accurate index of plucky panic since Bob Hope made that "rrrhhooww" sound at the back of his throat whenever Jane Russell ("the two and only Jane Russell," as he called her) came his way."






The spiked wheel on a spur. (Or, as a verb, to goad, vex, or spur.)

Rowel (rhymes with "towel") derives from an Old French term meaning "small wheel," which itself goes all the way back to Latin "rota," or "wheel." This makes rowel a linguistic relative of rotate and the name of that wheel-shaped Italian pasta, rotelli.

"Will you stop roweling me with questions already?"






A noisy fight; a disturbance; an uproar; a riot.

The roots of ruction are uncertain, although there's some evidence that it's an alteration of the word insurrection. The word ruction first appeared in English around 1825, as did the phrase to raise a ruction -- that is, "to start a quarrel."

The word ruction appeared in an observation from 1900 by one F.P. Dunne, who noted, "That's life in America. 'Tis a gloryous big fight, a rough an' tumble fight, a Donnybrook fair three thousan' miles wide an' a ruction in ivry block."

Another example from 1943, in the Baltimore Sun:

"As a result of this little ruction, Baltimore is freed from the grip of a political coalition which boded no good for the city."


(c) 1999-2006  Martha Barnette