What does sybaritic mean?

Word count: 338 words

Reading time: Just over 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: sybaritic.

I haven’t met Jan Wong in person, but I did hear the talk about her when I worked in newspapers. Rumoured to be a bit of a diva, she received some attention in my own newsroom when a national home design magazine featured her renovation (imagine! a journalist allowing that!) in which she revealed she had installed two dishwashers in her kitchen so one could be used for storage. ‘How lazy,’ we thought!

Nevertheless, she impressed me with her 2012 book, Out of the Blue: A Memoir of a Workplace Depression. I found it gutsy, honest and forthright and I highly recommend it to anyone who’s suffering from work-related depression. Her own newspaper treated her abominably and she was brave to risk law-suit and self-publish her own memoir after the publisher withdrew.

As a result of my reading Out of the Blue, I sought out Wong’s earlier-written book Red China Blues because I was curious to learn more about her back-story. A Canadian-born citizen of Chinese descent, Wong had gone to China in her late teens to learn Chinese and study at Beijing University. She was one of the first “Westerners” to do so.

Her sudden and total immersion in Chinese culture is as fascinating as her reaction to it. Here, for example, is what she has to say about some Chinese bathrooms:

But after I tried the village privy at North Marsh, the centipedes and cracked tiles of my hotel bathroom seemed positively sybaritic.”

From context, of course I knew “sybaritic” meant something positive. In fact, it means “opulent” or “luxurious.” Sybaris was a Greek colony at the very southern end of the Italian peninsula. It was a busy port and thus, very weathy. Inhabitants enjoyed excellent weather and were surrounded by fertile land, and famous for their feasts, and excesses.

And if you want to learn more about Mao’s China, I highly recommend Red China Blues.