Monday, July 07, 2008


Lambent was the word that showed up on my vocabulary quiz last Tuesday. It refers to a flame that plays lightly over a surface without scorching it. There is light, but no damaging heat. By extension, it can mean radiant or teasing.

Metaphysical poet Richard Crashaw used it to good effect:

When love of us called him to see
If we’d vouchsafe his company,
He left his father’s court, and came
Lightly as a lambent flame,
Leaping upon the hills, to be
The humble King of you and me.

The word comes to us from the Latin lambere, to lick. Here are some other words that contain a lick and a promise.

• abligurition: prodigal expense on meat and drink [L. lingere, to lick]
• catillate: to lick dishes [L. catillus, plate]
• cunnilingus: oral stimulation of the vulva [L. lingere, to lick]
• eclegme: form of medicine of a semifluid consistence, which is licked off the spoon [Gr. ekleixein, to lick out]
• electuary: A medicinal paste, consisting of a powder or other ingredient mixed with honey, preserve, or syrup of some kind [Gr. ekleixein, to lick out]
• lamprey: an eel [The OED tentatively assigns it to the Latin lambere, to lick, and petra, stone, because the creature attaches itself to rocks by means of a sucker]
• lecher: a debauched person [Fr. lêcher, to lick]
• ligurition: glutinous devouring [L. ligurire, to lick up]
• lingible: meant to be licked

SIDEBAR: anatomy of the tongue

Now available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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