Uncommon Words: Part One (The Ghost Brigades)

This article is the first of a new series of articles featuring interesting and uncommon words I find in fiction.

These articles will specifically feature words that I don’t use very often (if ever) along with their definitions and how they are used in the book. I will try to avoid any spoilers by replacing them with dashes. I am doing this in the hope that I will start using more of these words in my writing. Let’s build our vocabulary together!

This article will feature a few words I found in “The Ghost Brigades” which is book 2 in “The Old Man’s War Trilogy” by John Scalzi.

You can also check out Uncommon Words Part 2.


  • mirthless. adj. (of a smile or laugh) lacking real amusement and typically expressing irony.
    • Usage in book: “Sagan allowed herself a moment of mirthless amusement at the fact that her mind-reading ability, so secret and classified, was also completely useless to her.”
  • progenitor. n. a person or thing from which a person, animal, or plant is descended or originates; an ancestor or parent.
    • Usage in book: “If she came across —-, she would need to make a quick determination whether he was useful or if he had gone traitor like his progenitor.
  • attenuatedadj. unnaturally thin. <SPECIAL USAGE> weakened in force or effect.
    • Usage in book: “The noise of their engines attenuated away, leaving nothing but the ambient sounds of nature behind.”
  • gambolv. run or jump about playfully.
    • Usage in book: “You will stay,” it said, and gamboled off before Sagan could say anything.” 
  • trill. n. a quavering or vibratory sound, esp. a rapid alternation of sung or played notes. <SPECIAL USAGE> the pronunciation of a consonant esp. r, with rapid vibration of the tongue against the hard or soft palate or the uvula. or v. produce a quavering or warbling sound.
    • Usage in book: “The head Obin turned and trilled something.”
  • eschatology. n. the part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind.
    • Usage in book: “…it seemed unlikely to him that a people so concerned with the ineffable and eschatological would create a people incapable of…” 
  • ineffable. adj. too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words. <SPECIAL USAGE> not to be uttered.
    • Usage in book: “…it seemed unlikely to him that a people so concerned with the ineffable and eschatological would create a people incapable of…” 
  • putative. adj. generally considered or reputed to be.
    • Usage in book: “The other interesting thing about the Obin — which made their putative alliance with…” 
  • acquisitive. adj. excessively interested in acquiring money or material things.
    • Usage in book: “The one saving grace about the Obin was that they were not particularly acquisitive as starfaring races went.”
  • gird. v. encircle (a person or part of the body) with a belt or band. <SPECIAL USAGE> secure (a garment or sword) on the body with a belt or band. or surround; encircle.
    • Usage in book: “Jared noted the sudden and impressively disconcerting appearance of a broad system of rings less than a klick above his point of view, girding the limb of a blue…” 
  • subsume. v. (often be subsumed) include or absorb (something) in something else.
    • Usage in book: “All the Special Forces training and development subsumed individual choice to the needs of the squad or platoon; even integration…” 
  • vaunt. v. boast about or praise (something), esp. excessively.
    • Usage in book: “‘Ah, the vaunted Special Forces snotty, attitude,” Mattson said.”
  • dissonance. n. lack of harmony among musical notes. <SPECIAL USAGE> a tension or clash resulting from the combination of two disharmonious or unsuitable elements.
    • Usage in book: “Jared was struck immobile by the cognitive dissonance of having a —- in his lab, and through the confusion came a knife-like frisson of fear …”
  • internecine. adj. destructive to both sides in a conflict.
    • Usage in book: “If the tribes knew an heir was sterile, they would not wait for the natural span of the heir’s life to begin their internecine warfare.”
  • incredulous. adj. unwilling or unable to believe something.
    • Usage in book: “Daniel Harvey gave a look of sheer incredulousness, and Jared was reminded…” 
  • tripartite. adj. consisting of three parts.
    • Usage in book: “…their tripartite plan to attack humanity.”
  • diffident. adj. modest or shy because of a lack of self-confidence.
    • Usage in book: “Other members of the platoon were diffidently polite when forced to be but otherwise ignored the two of them whenever possible.”
  • implacable. adj. unable to be placated. <SPECIAL USEAGE> relentless; unstoppable.
    • Usage in book: “This universe is implacable…”
  • gestalt. n. an organized whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts.
    • Usage in book: “Presently it coalesced into one big idea, a gestalt that allowed him to respond.”
  • adjutant. n. a military officer who acts as an administrative assistant to a senior officer.
    • Usage in book. “The colonel here doesn’t particularly like me, either, and he’s my adjutant.” 
  • bolus. n. a small rounded mass of a substance, esp. of chewed food at the moment of swallowing. <SPECIAL USAGE> a type of large pill used in veterinary medicine.
    • Usage in book: “…enough remained to impact the planet’s surface, the flaming bolus smacking hard and fast onto a plain of rock…”

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