Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Wonderous Word Wednesday 3

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Kathy at the Bermuda Onion where you "can share new words that you’ve encountered or spotlight words you love. Feel free to get creative!"

Here are a couple of interesting words from the books I have been reading lately ...

From The Disappearing Spoon we have ...

"Having no reason to refrain from using lacrimators on its own citizens (the Hague pact concerned only warfare), the French government collared a ring of Parisian bank robbers with ethyl bromoacetate in 1912." page 82 

lacrimator (lak-rim-ay-ter) noun 

: an agent that irritates the eyes, causing excessive secretion of tears.

: a tear-producing substance (as tear gas)


Latin lacrimare to weep, from lacrima tear
First Known Use: 1918

And from Scarlet we have ...

"Catching her breath, she examined the carvings – faces grim and beautiful, the chalky busts of men staring down at her, a long balcony missing half its balusters." p 274

"The staircase, carved from red-and-white marble, was missing random balustrades, ..." p 275

I know what she is talking about in general but I wanted to know the difference between balusters and balustrades.

So according to Wikipedia "A baluster — also called spindle or stair stick — is a moulded shaft, square or of lathe-turned form, one of various forms of spindle in woodwork, made of stone or wood and sometimes of metal, standing on a unifying footing, and supporting the coping of a parapet or the handrail of a staircase. Multiplied in this way, they form a balustrade."

bal·us·trade noun \ˈba-lə-ˌstrād\
: a kind of low wall that is placed at the sides of staircases, bridges, etc., and that is made of a row of short posts topped by a long rail
: a row of balusters topped by a rail
: a low parapet or barrier
Origin of balustrade French, from Italian balaustrata, from balaustro

Some lovely balusters (source
First Known Use: 1644

So if I am understanding this correctly a baluster is a single shaft or spindle - like the three lovely marble balusters to the side there ->

and a balustrade is a series of them forming a wall.    

Based on the description from the story then, the balcony on the exterior of the opera house is missing half the individual spindles.  ...

While the staircase inside the opera house is missing 'random' entire chunks of the guardrail and associated spindles.  

So here is an old picture of the interior of the Paris Opera House (technically the Palais Garnier) that is being described in the book. This is basically a close-up of the top of the Grand Staircase, so that you can actually see the balustrades. 
You can see the whole thing on Wikipedia if you are interested.

Which means that we should have something like this happening, where there are gaping holes along the sides of the stairs ? I think I might have put that more emphatically than simply mentioning that the "staircase ... was missing random balustrades" especially since the word balusters was just used on the last page.  The Grand Stairway is huge and made of monstrously long, suspended arches of carved marble. This is not like a spindly wooden staircase where you could pop out a few sections. I am pretty sure we are talking serious explosives if you want to knock out sections of something. 

Since I am throwing up a bunch of pictures, here is the south facade of the Opéra Garnier in Paris, France as well.

Alright, I am just being grumpy and picky, but if I were describing the sorry remains of the most famous opera house in the world, I think I could have come up with other complaints than "a long balcony missing half its balusters." Heck, I think I would be hard pressed to even notice the balusters on this facade - I mean it - they are so tiny!  Unless the author meant that half the columns were missing ? That would make a bit more sense. 


  1. I would have guessed a lacrimator was used to measure something.

    I've heard balustrade and had a general idea of what it meant but balusters is totally new.

    1. That was pretty much where I was too, though balusters was the word that I was familiar with. It was fun to sort out.

  2. I knew lacrimose, so I figured lacrimator had something to do with the eyes tearing up, but I'd never heard of it before. Also, I was familiar with balustrade, but like our illustrious hostess, I didn't realize it had a "singular" of sorts.

    1. I was thrown off by the context because the author was talking about the history of chemical warfare - I didn't make the jump from lacrimose. Mostly I was thinking 'how horrible' for that section.

  3. Thanks for sharing some great words, and a great history lesson too. I doubt that I will ever travel to Paris, so I enjoyed seeing the photos of the Opera Garnier.

    1. Me either - so it was fun to look at. The really sad part is that it wasn't until after I finished reading the book that I put two and two together and realized that the author was talking about Opera Garnier - the one made famous in Phantom of the Opera!

  4. Thanks for such a comprehensive post on these words. I'm glad I'm not the only one who gets curious about these things. The pictures are wonderful and will help me remember. I'm happy to say I guessed lacrimator from my back ground in health care- although I am surprised that such a device exists to irritate the eye!

    1. You're welcome! I have the vague feeling that every time I do one of these they are going to end up getting filled with pictures.

  5. I've never heard of lacrimator before, but knew the other two.

  6. Some nice pictures of the balustrades.

  7. I enjoyed Scarlet, but didn't think to look up the architectural terms. I agree with our assessment that if you're going to use such words, they might have been used more cleverly. Enjoyed the pictures!

    1. I more or less liked Scarlet, I just really wished that Meyers would spend more time on her worldbuilding and get better with her descriptive text.


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