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shameless pleading


All the news that glitters.

Dear WD: An ad describing a book entitled “Lipstick Traces — A Secret History of the Twentieth Century” quotes a reviewer in the New York Times Book Review as calling it “a corruscatingly original piece of work….” I cannot find the word “corruscatingly” in any dictionary. Can you enlighten me as to its existence, meaning and derivation? — George Bower.

Well, Problem Number One is that the word is spelled “coruscatingly.” I don’t mean to imply, however, that you are responsible for the misspelling — advertising agencies these days seem to be so caught up in inventing new words that they’ve lost their grip on how to spell the old ones. As to what “coruscating” means, I could tell you, but that would spoil all the fun for the Times reviewer. Don’t you realize that you’re not supposed to know what “coruscating” means? You’re supposed to be so intimidated and impressed by the reviewer’s erudition and sophistication that you’ll abandon your pathetic attempts to develop your own opinion and, in this case, just go buy the book. Personally, I stopped reading the New York Times Book Review several years ago when I learned how they compile their “Best Sellers” list. Suffice it to say that the process has a great deal more to do with books the editors believe “ought” to be best sellers than those that actually are.

Then again, since this is at least ostensibly a language column, I ought to stick to the subject and tell you that “coruscate” is a fancy way to say “sparkle,” and comes from the Latin verb “coruscare,” meaning “to sparkle, glitter or gleam.” Used in a literal sense and applied to stars and other notable natural sparklers, the word appeared in English in the 18th century. By the late 19th century, “coruscating” was being used metaphorically in descriptions of everything from poetry to personalities and, of course, in pretentious book reviews. So “coruscatingly original” really just means “sparklingly original,” which, as soon as it’s said, sounds cliched and trite, because it is.

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