What does plectrumed mean?

Reading time: About 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: plectrumed.

My family is intensely interested in music. My grandmother was a conductor, my aunt a concert violinist. My husband sings in a choir and my son is studying to become an opera singer. My parents couldn’t afford to give me lessons as a child, so I took up the flute (a relatively inexpensive, portable instrument) as a 20-year-old. Now, as a fiftysomething, I’m fulfilling a lifelong ambition and am finally taking piano lessons.

For these reasons it surprises me to encounter a word about music that I’ve never before heard. Today’s word? Plectrum. I encountered it in the interesting (but flawed) book, Give Me Everything You Have by James Lasdun. Here is the sentence in which it appeared:

He answers it, speaking again at high speed in that harsh tongue — Egyptian Arabic presumably — that sounds to me like some plectrumed instrument being played with sudden, savage virtuosity.

Turns out, I know exactly what a plectrum is. A pick — used for playing a guitar — is a type of plectrum (plural: plectra). Plectra tend to be better known for non-Western instruments such as shamisen or Japanese biwa. They usually are large and held by the entire hand. The noun plectrum dates back to the 1620s, from the Latin plectrum, which, in turn, comes from the Greek plektron meaning “thing to strike with”, from plek-, root of plessein “to strike.”

The author could have used the word plucked for easier understanding, but I appreciate he went to the trouble to use plectrumed. It has a terrific rhythm and great specificity, by suggesting a non-Western instrument. (The book, in part, recounts the story of the author’s travels in Israel.)
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