What does marmoreal mean?

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: marmoreal.

I’ve never read anything by William S. Burroughs, not even Naked Lunch (1959), but when flipping through a stack of my beloved New Yorkers, just before handing them off to a friend, I discovered a story on a new Burroughs biography. The piece was written by Peter Schjeldahl, the American art critic, poet and educator.

Here is a sentence of his that caught my eye and gave me my word of the week, marmoreal.

His prose is a palimpsest of echoes, ranging from [T.S.] Eliot’s “Preludes” and Rhapsody on a Windy Night” (lines like “Midnight shakes the memory/As a madman shakes a dead geranium” are Burroughsian before the fact) to Raymond Chandler’s marmoreal wisecracks and Herbert Huncke’s jive.

I’d never before seen the word marmoreal, or if I had, I’d forgotten about it. Turns out the word means “made of or likened to marble,” something I wouldn’t have guessed. Turns out it’s from the Latin marmoreus, meaning “of marble” and also from the Greek marmaros of the same meaning.

And if you’re wondering about the equally tricky word palimpsest, well I handled that one a few years ago.

Next job? To read Naked Lunch.

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