In a word: lucubration

The Baltimore Sun

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a relatively obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar, another brick to add to the wall of your vocabulary. This week's word:


Not everyone takes things in at a glance or dashes off a piece of work effortlessly. Some works arrive only after lucubration (pronounced loo-kuh-BRAY-shun): hard study, laborious, prolonged effort.

The word, usually in the plural, can also label the results of intensive study.

The Latin lucubrare, “to work by lamplight,” is the root. The English word popped up in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, when scholars were understood to do much of their work by night, when they could be undisturbed. Over time it broadened to mean any intensive study or the resulting composition.

In addition to sounding dated and obscure, lucubration carries a taint of the ponderous. Labored works of scholarship are said, in another nocturnal reference, “to smell of the lamp”—to be overwrought and lacking in spontaneity, viz. the following example.

Example: From Bill Schwarz’s The Expansion of England: Race, Ethnicity, and Cultural History (1996): “The first sentence of Walter Scott’s first novel sounds a note of bogus gravitas which is perhaps not totally inappropriate for another scholarly lucubration on Scott himself, that protean scribbler whose inveterate mimicry rapidly becomes contagious and prevents one from eschewing completely those hints of frivolousness which the prudent normally banish from their works of solid deliberation.”

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