Movies and books to expand vocabulary
February 3, 2011 2:28 PM   Subscribe

In what English movies or books would I most likely be exposed to new words? Any genre and time-period.
posted by keith0718 to Writing & Language (34 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Blood Meridian.
posted by jsturgill at 2:29 PM on February 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

A Clockwork Orange.
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:35 PM on February 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The farther back you go, the more you will encounter currently unused vocabulary. Tristram Shandy, for instance.

A really interesting recent book that is lexically rich is Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn.

Nabokov was a great user of English words that native speakers pass over.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:37 PM on February 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: David Foster Wallace, both his fiction and nonfiction works.
posted by warble at 2:40 PM on February 3, 2011

Love in a Dead Language. Warning, ridiculous metafiction.
posted by clavicle at 2:42 PM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

The farther back you go, the more you will encounter currently unused vocabulary. Tristram Shandy, for instance.

Or, to carry this further, Shakespeare. Or Chaucer, I suppose, though at that point you're no longer reading in Modern English.
posted by Johnny Assay at 2:42 PM on February 3, 2011

Best answer: The Honest Rainmaker, by A.J. Liebling - who is worth reading for any reason.
posted by Joe Beese at 2:44 PM on February 3, 2011

Best answer: I never looked up more words than when I was reading Jane Austen.
posted by spec80 at 2:48 PM on February 3, 2011

Do you mean words that are new to you, i.e., you are attempting to increase your vocabulary? Or, do you mean words that have recently become part of the lexicon? If it is the former, I would suggest reading Tom Robbins.
posted by AlliKat75 at 2:50 PM on February 3, 2011

This previous question was limited to contemporary novels, but should be of interest.
posted by Zed at 2:53 PM on February 3, 2011

Patrick O'Brian's Jack and Stephen books. You'll need this.
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:53 PM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding Nabokov and David Foster Wallace (who I tend to read with the book in one hand, and the dictionary in the other).
posted by jaynewould at 2:54 PM on February 3, 2011

Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin novels will fill your vocabulary with 18th-century sailing terminology and exotic culinary terms.

Gene Wolfe's science fiction is peppered with archaic words, though you have to be careful to distinguish between those and the ones he invented. For years I was convinced that he made up "haruspex" (a seer who divines the future by reading the entrails of birds) and that "fuligin" (the color that is darker than black) was a real word. Wrong and wrong. But "fuligin" is such a great word that it SHOULD be real.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 3:01 PM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Beowulf translation by Seamus Heaney added a considerable mileage to my trusty dictionary. Such a beautiful book. Seamus Heaney is one of those people who really humbles me with his sheer intellect. I feel unintelligent when I read his work, but in a good way. Does that make sense?
posted by MighstAllCruckingFighty at 3:02 PM on February 3, 2011

Will Self
William F. Buckley
Slavoj Zizek
Christopher Hitchens
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:03 PM on February 3, 2011

The two books that have sent me to the dictionary the most are the Scott-Moncrief translation of Proust's In Search of Lost Time, and The Recognitions by William Gaddis. Many of the words I looked up from the Gaddis were featured in the quotation examples in the online version of the OED.
posted by OmieWise at 3:06 PM on February 3, 2011

posted by milarepa at 3:07 PM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Apollo 13
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:24 PM on February 3, 2011

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco.
King James Bible.
Nthing Beowulf.
Nthing Ulysses by Joyce.

If you want to encounter lots of new technical terms, read the magazines Science and Nature weekly. A free online alternative is PLOS One.
posted by benzenedream at 3:38 PM on February 3, 2011

Best answer: I had to look up a few words reading the Gormenghast books by Mervyn Peake. Great use of language.
posted by Muttoneer at 3:39 PM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had to use a dictionary fairly often reading And the Ass Saw the Angel by Nick Cave. You know, if you're into the whole psychotic inbreed as antihero thing.
posted by cmoj at 3:44 PM on February 3, 2011

Anthony Burgess (see A Clockwork Orange above) loves him some esoteric language. Among more pop authors, try the British mystery novelist Reginald Hill. If you venture into sixteenth- and seventeenth-century prose fiction--the anthologies by Paul Salzman are a good place to start--your vocabulary will definitely get a workout.
posted by thomas j wise at 3:50 PM on February 3, 2011

Melville's Moby Dick is the Alpha and the Omega, the Fountainhead of what you seek.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:54 PM on February 3, 2011

Best answer: Famously, William F. Buckley
posted by Confess, Fletch at 4:22 PM on February 3, 2011

Best answer: Up in the Old Hotel, by Joseph Mitchell. Not because he uses $40 words, but because he's so precise about people's speech and the correct terms for things. He's such a wonderful writer.
And anything by John McPhee, because he's also precise about the exact terms--from birch canoes to geological time.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:50 PM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Was just talking about this with a coworker the other day in regard to Clark Ashton Smith. He went out of his way to use obscure or archaic variants in his stories and poems, and had me wondering like Gene Wolfe did to BitterOldPunk. In the first few pages of this one you have:


Lovecraft is similar but I think not quite as enthusiastic about it. And thirding Nabokov and Wallace. Perfect for expanding vocabulary.
posted by mediareport at 5:30 PM on February 3, 2011

Best answer: Yeah, I not read anyone who used so many words unknown to me as David Foster Wallace.

also Joyce of course, and pynchon.
posted by Lutoslawski at 5:51 PM on February 3, 2011

Best answer: I read Dorothy Sayers with a dictionary handy. If you're only going to read one, read Gaudy Night. Bonus: it's one of the best books I've ever read.
posted by you're a kitty! at 6:09 PM on February 3, 2011

Neal Stephenson and Trevanian are both great vocab builders
posted by supermedusa at 7:01 PM on February 3, 2011

Best answer: Nathaniel Hawthorne used all sorts of words.
posted by that girl at 7:02 PM on February 3, 2011

I've discovered a number of quite wonderful words through China Mieville's books.
posted by duien at 10:06 PM on February 3, 2011

You might enjoy the noirish, 1920s gangstery dialogue in the Coen Brothers' Miller's Crossing. Running around and asking, "What's the rumpus?" totally optional.
posted by *s at 11:19 AM on February 4, 2011

Eunoia by Christian Bök.

In the book's main part, each chapter used just a single vowel, producing sentences such as this: “Enfettered, these sentences repress free speech.” Canongate published "Eunoia" in Oct. 2008. It took 7 years to write Eunoia, and Bök believes "his book proves that each vowel has its own personality, and demonstrates the flexibility of the English language." In preparation for the novel, Bök read the dictionary a total of five times, compiling an exhaustive list of vocabulary; Bök aimed to use almost all of these words during his work.
posted by naju at 1:41 PM on February 4, 2011

Yes, Nabokov is a master of vocabulary. He will open your eyes to the possibilities of the English language. A selection:

Direct interference in a person's life does not enter our scope of activity, nor, on the other, tralatitiously speaking, hand, is his destiny a chain of predeterminate links: some 'future' events may be linked to others, O.K., but all are chimeric, and every cause-and-effect sequence is always a hit-and-miss affair, even if the lunette has actually closed around your neck, and the cretinous crowd holds its breath.

Much of his work is more accessible than that, but you will definitely have a dictionary on hand.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 4:53 PM on February 5, 2011

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