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.


Posted January 11th, 2017 in Word of the week