What does ‘scabrous’ 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: scabrous

I finished the novel Hot Milk by Deborah Levy (pictured above) last week and can’t say I much liked it. Despite glowing reviews from the New York Times and the Guardian, and its status as a shortlisted title for the 2016 Man Booker prize, I found the story weak and the writing only competent. But a sentence on the dust jacket managed to give me my word of the week: scabrous. Here is the sentence in which it appeared:

But Levy’s prose is gleeful and punctuated by a scabrous wit.

While I disagree with the conclusion (nothing about the book struck me as terribly witty), I also wonder if the writer of that statement wasn’t having a bit of fun. It turns out there are three meanings to the word:

1. having a rough surface because of minute points or projections.

2. indecent or scandalous; risqué; obscene

3. full of difficulties.
I certainly found it a novel filled with difficulties.
The etymology of the word is Late Latin — scabrous meaning “rough,” from the Latin scaler, meaning “rough, scaly,” related to scabere “to scratch, scrape” which is the root for the word scabies.


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