The William F. Buckley Vocabulary Quiz

20 'Out-of-Town Words' for Logophiles

William F. Buckley
William F. Buckley, Jr. (1925-2008). (Waring Abbott/Getty Images)

A key founder of the modern conservative movement in America, William F. Buckley, Jr. published more than 50 books, hosted over 1,400 episodes of the public-affairs program Firing Line, and served for 35 years as editor of National Review magazine. Equipped with the vocabulary of a mischievous lexicographer, Buckley delighted (and often perplexed) his readers with an arsenal of what he called "out of town words."

In Buckley: The Right Word (Random House, 1996), he wrote, "I am often accused of an inordinate reliance on unusual words, and desire to defend myself against the insinuation that I write as I do simply to prove that I have returned recently from the bowels of a dictionary with a fish in my mouth."

Buckley then listed some of the more arcane words that had appeared in his syndicated column, "On the Right." Drawing on that list, we now offer--for the benefit of word lovers, Buckley admirers, and students preparing for the SAT--the William F Buckley Vocabulary Quiz.

See if you can come up with a definition for each of the sesquipedalia verba (long words) in bold print. The sentences (in which the Soviet Union still stands and Eastern Air Lines still flies) have been taken directly from Buckley's old columns. When you're done, compare your definitions with those below.

  1. albescent
    And there is the albescent matter of a United States with (a) no nuclear weapons facilities, and (b) a lot of unmanageable toxic nuclear waste material.
  2. analogue
    Will history give us any analogue more indicative of the power of superstition than that of the antinuclear lobbyists over the development of nuclear power?
  3. Attican
    But if we're going to set up an Attican theatrical background to commemorate the moment of the Soviet departure from Afghanistan, why doesn't General Gromov use up his one minute and seven seconds to fire a bullet into his head?
  4. auto da fé
    Here was a modern auto da fé: not for counterfeiting heresy, but for denouncing it.
  5. Cartesian
    It required only a little Cartesian gelandesprung to alight at the conclusion that it is the responsibility of the government to maintain monuments that are man-made, as well as those given us by nature.
  6. chiliastic
    That the existence of the Congress of People's Deputies, or of the Supreme Soviet, should have meaning at all is positively chiliastic in its implications.
  1. deracination
    A European figure so august that ladies curtsy when they are presented to him was telling the table at which we all sat about the great mischief being done by the missionaries in Venezuela who move in on native tribes and totally break down their cultural order, resulting in deracination and chaos.
  2. dithyrambic
    In recent weeks we found ourselves interrupted in our dithyrambic praise for democracy when the guy in El Salvador whom we did not like won.
  3. dysgenically
    Israel does not like the fact that most Russian Jews express a wish to settle down not in Israel but in the United States because it needs a Jewish population to guard against being dysgenically overwhelmed by Arabs who procreate with the speed of light.
  4. epigoni
    William Winpisinger, the president of the striking [Eastern Air Lines] machinists, is a socialist and is quick to put a class struggle aspect on any labor-management division, and indeed Mr. Winpisinger lost no chance to do this. And the epigoni jumped in. Sure enough, there was Jesse Jackson joining the picketers.
  1. eremitical
    To say that Mrs. Jones is unbiased in the matter of Colonel North because she was unaware of him, notwithstanding that Colonel North dominated the news in the press, on radio, and on television for about three weeks two springs ago, isn't to come up with a fine mind that missed the entire episode because she was absorbed in eremitical pursuits.
  2. eschatological
    It became clear . . . that communism does not work, i.e., communism does not bring on the redemptive eschatological paradise predicted by Marx, does not ease the burden of the worker, and does not reduce the power of the state.
  3. excogitation
    Roe v. Wade was a lousy decision, perhaps even an indefensible act of constitutional excogitation, and the choicers know that they are safest by not asking the Court to look again at this century's version of the Dred Scott decision.
  4. ferula
    Since it is pre-decided that the Bush Administration will not advocate the legalization of drugs, the Bennett basket is going to have to be chock-full of ferula with which to beat offenders.
  1. fons et origo
    Mikhail Gorbachev can criticize Constantin Chernenko and Leonid Brezhnev--and Brezhnev can criticize Nikita Khrushchev, who criticized Stalin; but no one will criticize the fons et origo of all that poison, Lenin.
  2. fusilier
    Deng Xiaoping is seized, in Karl Wittfogel's phrase, with the megalomania of the aging despot, and rather than acknowledge the right of his citizens peaceably to assemble in order to petition the government for a redress of grievances, he shoots them; and, tomorrow, may hang those his fusiliers missed.
  3. hegemonic
    In order to maintain the pressure that orients the Soviet Union and China toward reform in the first instance, we need to continue to roam those quarters of the world where the Soviet Union continues to exercise hegemonic influence.
  4. periphrastic
    Three cheers for Senator Jesse Helms. As ever, he tends to get to the point of a difficult question with carrier-pigeon directness, leaving many of his sophisticated critics lost in periphrastic meaninglessness.
  1. tergiversation
    [W]e face a concrete problem in Europe given the tergiversation of Helmut Kohl on the modernizing of the remaining nuclear missiles in West Germany.
  2. velleity
    People get annoyed when you use words that do not come trippingly off the tongue of Oprah Winfrey, but how else than to designate it as a velleity would you describe President Bush's fair-weather call for landing some people on Mars?


  1. albescent (adjective): Becoming white, i.e., shining out more conspicuously.
  2. analogue (noun): Something similar; another version of the same thing.
  3. Attican (adjective): Athenian in its classical simplicity, elegance.
  4. auto da fé (noun): The ritual accompanying the execution of a heretic, used especially in connection with the Inquisition.
  5. Cartesian (adjective): Relating to the philosopher Descartes, who specified direct and logical forms of thought and analysis.
  6. chiliastic (adjective): Relating to the Second Coming; having to do with the reappearance of Christ on earth.
  7. deracination (noun): Cutting off cultural and institutional and ethnic ties, leaving the individual, or tribe, or nation without its traditional support system.
  8. dithyrambic (adjective): A truly exaggerated exercise in praising somebody or something.
  9. dysgenically (adverb): Genetic profusion of a kind thought inimical to public interests.
  10. epigoni (noun): Close followers, given to imitating, or being bound by, the star they become the creatures of.
  1. eremitical (adjective): Characteristic of the hermit; far removed from ordinary life and consideration.
  2. eschatological (adjective): Pertaining to the ultimate ends of life, existence.
  3. excogitation (noun): Something thought up and said or written or pronounced. There is an implication of derision, or contempt, when the word is used.
  4. ferula (noun): A cane, or rod, used as an instrument of punishment. Usually a flat piece of wood, sometimes encased in leather.
  5. fons et origo (noun): The source. Literally, the fountain and origin.
  6. fusilier (noun): Rifleman; soldier armed with a fusil (musket).
  7. hegemonic (adjective): Preponderant influence and authority, to the point of excluding other influence.
  8. periphrastic (adjective): Ornately long-winded; given to profuse formulations.
  9. tergiversation (noun): Reversal of opinion; backsliding.
  10. velleity (noun): A slight, i.e., nonfervent wish, much as one might have a velleity for a Popsicle.