On the subject of modern masters of the weird horror story, Lovecraft wrote: “Serious weird stories are … made realistically intense by close consistency and perfect fidelity to Nature except in the one supernatural direction which the author allows himself …”
While this opinion defines horror writing in its finest and most classic form, style was quite another matter.
Lovecraft found issues with Ambrose Bierce’s “prosaic angularity,” while finding perfection in Edgar Allan Poe’s “jeweled phase.” A journalist by trade, Bierce brought a minimalist approach to language, later to be perfected by another journalist, Ernest Hemingway, who did away with what he called the “ten-dollar words” used by William Faulkner. Faulkner’s reply was that Hemingway lacked the “courage” to use vocabulary.
Despite an on-going debate as to the number of linguistic paints a good writer may use on a canvas, modern tendency has been to simplify prose for the sake of active voice. This is my guess, and it is only a guess, but I believe Lovecraft would find some contemporary efforts barren, maintaining a firm belief that the poetry of fear requires the fullest use of vocabulary, including words antique in usage and spelling.
Each month this column will attempt to revive lost words and the emotions they carry.
Salmagundi, definition: 1) a salad plate of chopped meats, anchovies, eggs, and vegetables arranged in rows for contrast and dressed with a salad dressing, 2) a heterogeneous mixture, as in potpourri.
Gallimaufry, definition: a hodgepodge, as in “gallimaufry” of opinions.
Salmagundi has seen interesting use and may have inspired the concept of “Gotham City” later used in the original Batman comics. In 1807, the author of the still relevant Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving, launched a satirical magazine titled Salmagundi. It has been compared to William Gaines’ Mad Magazine in tone.
Within its pages, Irving accused New York City of being a modern Gotham, in reference to the village of Gotham in Nottinghamshire. In this seminal version of Gotham, the inhabitants wishing to avoid taxation pretended to be insane so that a Royal Highway would not go through their town. At this time in history, insanity was believed to be contagious, and the road was re-routed. Bill Finger, one half of the creative team who forged the original Batman, re-purposed Gotham to create the shadow-city Batman was to call home.
It would be fair to characterize “Gotham” as a place insane people call home.
Correct use would suggest a collection of divergent elements that together create an intriguing whole, without necessary inclusion of any specific example.
Gallimaufry is more pungent in texture, but similar, describing a stew made from a number of meats. It is a prized soup, requiring skill to make.
Correct use would suggest a harmonious blend of varying ingredients that come together to create a greater whole when assembled by a talented hand.
Next Month: Tumulus, Tumuli, and Grimoire.
If you have a word you believe has been unjustly shelved, send it to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Curses and compliments welcome.
Definitions come thanks to the Merriam-Webster online dictionaries. Errors, misspellings, and mistakes are the author’s own. Inspiration from Merriam-Webster. Quotations from Faulkner on Hemingway, courtesy of the Quote Investigator. Multi-level research into linguistic history, verifying Wikipedia as accurate. Quotations from H.P. Lovecraft derived from Supernatural Horror In Literature.