n. An aimless idler; a loafer. [Fr. <flâner, to idle about, stroll.]

And flâneurs were something that literature people talked about. I had never understood why; they would just say that someone was a flâneur, or a voyeur, and seem satisfied. I knew that flâneurs walked around, and voyeurs looked at things.

Elif Batuman, Either/Or


n. 1. A diminutive human being. 2. A miniature, fully formed individual believed by adherents of the early biological theory of preformation to be present in the sperm cell.

He felt incapable of spontaneous action: before he could do anything, a tiny homunculus had to generate a flowchart in his brain. If p, then q; if z, then back to a. This homunculus could gnaw a pencil down to a nub, deliberating.

Karen Russell, “The Seagull Army Descends on Strong Beach, 1979” from Vampires in the Lemon Grove

Everything about [the architect’s house] seemed evocative and expensive, except the dog, which looked less like a dog than like a panicked homunculus that had been crammed into an ill-fitting shaggy suit.

Elif Batuman, Either/Or


n. A sheltered place, esp. a greenhouse, used for growing orange trees in cool climates.

The sky was a dark purple, not quite black, and the moon was reflecting off the glass roof of the orangery where the leaves pressed to get out.

Claire Fuller, Bitter Orange


n. A noisy disorderly fight or quarrel; a brawl.

People were scrambling to get out of the way of the impending fracas when a short man with a jet-black beard was seen stepping forth and addressing the warring factions.

Olga Grushin, The Line


n. 1. Bot. The soft spongy parenchymatous center of the stems of most flowering plants. 2. Zool. The soft inner substance of a feather or hair. 3. The essential or central part; the heart or essence. 4. Strenth; vigor; mettle. 5. Significance; importance.

Today, fifty-two years later, its vigor is unimpaired, and for sheer pith I think it probably sets a record that is not likely to be broken.

E.B. White, Introduction to The Elements of Style


n. 1. a. Overindulgence in food or drink. b. The result of such overindulgence; satiety or disgust. 2. An excessive amount.

He died old and respected — of a surfeit of violets some say — he never could get enough violets.

Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn


adj. Acting or tending to clear of guilt or blame

The meritocracy narrative was a cover for lack of structural analysis. It smoothed things out. It was flattering, and exculpatory, and painful for some people to part with.

Anna Wiener, Uncanny Valley


n. 1. The act of surrendering.

She viewed corporate capitalism as an integral component of structural racism in America, and working for Target had felt as demoralizing as shopping there — a capitulation to the same rigged game whose unfair rules were upheld by the police.

Luke Mogelson, “Letter from Minneapolis: The Uprising,” The New Yorker