What’s an “alembic”?

Word count: 191 words

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

If you build your vocabulary, you’ll not only benefit your reading, you’ll also become more precise in your writing. Here is my word of the week.

I’ve never encountered any of Regina O’Melveny‘s poetry but, this summer I read her first novel, The Book of Madness and Cures. What a terrific title! The writing is mostly sophisticated but, sadly, I found the plot — set in Vienna in 1590 — both leaden and predictable. That said, she still used an interesting vocabulary and even gave me my word of the week. Here it is:

Or had change formed slowly in the alembic of his discontent?  

I didn’t know the meaning of this noun so had to race for my dictionary. An alembic is a metal or glass flask, formerly used for distilling. Points go to O’Melveny for using a word that dates back to the late 14th century, from from the Middle French alambic, via Old Spanish and Arabic al-anbiq  which meant “distilling flask.” This, in turn, came from the Greek word ambix meaning “cup.”

Through the careful use of wording, I like the way she suggests that the character has distilled his discontent. Nice!

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