Obscure Words


[Noun] A person, who, at certain times of the year, has no shadow at noon. Such are the inhabitants of the torrid zone, who have, at times, a vertical sun.

  1. [Noun] person or thing found close to the Equator.
  2. [Noun] person or thing without a shadow. Webster's Online Dictionary
  • Word of God has it that the Ascians are in fact North Americans invading the South Americans of the Commonwealth Gene Wolfe interview

N. "a place of destruction." Hebrew In the Book of Revelation, a king of demon locusts named Abbaddon is sent to torment mankind. Rev. 9:11 "And they had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon."


The water-women are the "brides of Abaia." This goddess is probably a reference to Melanesian mythology.1


An envoy to the Papal See who brings a newly-appointed cardinal his insignia of office Lexicon Urthus

  • One of the costumes Severian sees at the ridotto (III, ch. V)

"Without color", from Latin (a + chroma - no + color)


"My Lord", a traditional Jewish name for God, used to prevent saying the Holy Name (Yahweh)


Characterized by or relating to pain especially as associated with pleasure Dictionary

  • Severian and Roche visit a brothel (the House Azure) in the Algedonic Quarter of Nessus (I, ch. VIII-VI)

1) Middle High German. The humanoid-shaped root of the mandrake plant (Mandragora officinarum), a member of the nightshade family (Solanaceae). By extension, a sorceress or someone who used mandrake in their spells and rituals; or a person conceived by the use of a mandrake root, thought to be unable to know love and lacking a soul. 2) Also the title of a novel by German novelist Hanns Heinz Ewers, first published in 1911. The plot is a scientific take on the the mandrake legend.


A spongy, flammable substance prepared from bracket fungi. It is used as tinder, and was a precious resource to ancient people, allowing them to start a fire by catching sparks from flint struck against iron pyrites. Wikipedia

  • Severian searches the Flag Tower for "a steel, igniter, or syringe of amadou (IV, ch. XXXVI)."

A legendary serpent of Greek mythology with a head at each end of its body, supposedly created by the blood dripping from the severed head of Medusa as Perseus carried it over the Libyan Desert


German rendering of Ameshaspand, a Middle Iranian variation on Amesha Spenta, divinities of Zoroastrianism who represent "divine sparks" emanating from the uncreated Creator, similar to Gnostic aeons or Christian angels in that they represent active parts of God but are not gods themselves


A reader; one employed to read aloud; the reader of the lessons in church 1708: MOTTEUX Rabelais "Carefully and distinctly read to him by the most learned and faithful Anagnost."1


From the Greek anachoreo (meaning "to withdraw"), referring to those who, for religious reasons, withdraw from secular society to lead a prayer-centered life; religious hermits


A sphinx whose upper body is that of a man (from Greek andro, meaning "man")


the angel entrusted with the care of birds, according to Jewish mystical tradition.


the soldiers of the bodyguard to the Merovingian Frankish kings.


1) The chief magistrate, and, after the time of Solon, one of the nine chief magistrates of the Athenian republic 2) A ruler or president generally [Wolfe uses this sense] 1862: DANA Mon. Ocol. "Man...stands alone, the Archon of Mammals."1

purer than white

1. A large merchant ship or fleet of ships. 2. A rich source or supply: an argosy of adventure lore. from Italian Ragusea (nave) (ship) of Ragusa Argosy is a part of the code Severian is told during the Book of the New Sun, "The pelagic argosy sights land." Free Online Dictionary, accessed May 18, 2012


In heraldry, an armiger is a person entitled to use a coat of arms (e.g., bear arms, an "armour-bearer") either by hereditary right, grant, matriculation, or assumption of arms. Wikipedia


Elephant-like herbivores that lived during the late Eocene and the early Oligocene of northern Africa from 36 to 30 million years ago. Wikipedia


In Russia, an association of craftsmen or other workers for work in common 1955 H. HODGKINSON Doubletalk "A brigade, or artel, chosen without regard for family connections, undertake particular functions--ploughing, reaping, processing, milking, etc.--as and where required."

  • Wolfe uses the spelling artelos to describe the function of certain buldings in Nessus (when Severian first tours it). This is probably what he means; a craft association. Could be another hint that we're in, as I suspect, what was once south Central Asia (though the continents have changed).1

An aubade is a morning love song (as opposed to a serenade, which is in the evening), or a song or poem about lovers separating at dawn.[1] It has also been defined as "a song or instrumental composition concerning, accompanying, or evoking daybreak". In the strictest sense of the term, an aubade is a song from a door or window to a sleeping woman.


An absolute ruler; = AUTOCRAT 1865: Daily Tel.: "The great Autarchs of history."1


Noun, meaning one who is indigenous, native, aboriginal to a region


Poet. (a. F. Averne 'the pit of hell' (Cotgr. 1611). A lake in Campania, the poisonous effluvium from which was said to kill birds flying over it. transf. The infernal religions. [also Avernal - a) infernal; b) an inhabitant of Avernus, a devil 1599 GREENE Alphon. (1861) "Pluto, king of the dark Avern."

  • Wolfe named his deadly flower from the Latin word, associated with poison, death, and the underworld.1

ceremonial Roman staff.


a belt or girdle, usually of leather and richly ornamented, worn pendent from one shoulder across the breast and under the opposite arm, and used to support the wearer's sword, bugle, etc. 1832 TENNYSON L. Shalott III. ii. "And from his blazon'd baldric slung A mighty silver bugle hung."1


In a list of fabrics Severian describes in Agia's shop window. Wolfe has either made up, or found an extrememly obscure, fabric. The closest I could find in the OED was balmer - apparently some kind of colored cloth, now a rare and obsolete word; and Balmoral - a) a variety of Scotch cap; b) a kind of figured woollen petticoat1


A Latin word meaning "bearded." Wikipedia


A visorless war helmet. Wikipedia


A battlemounted parapet at the top of a castle or church; esp. an over-hanging battlemented turret projecting from an angle at the top of a tower, etc. [In no dictionary before 1800; not in Todd 1818, nor Craig 1847. Apparently first used by Sir Walter Scott, and due to a misconception of a 17th c. illiterate Sc. spelling, bertizene, for bertising, i.e. bretising, BRATTICING, f. bretasce (BRATTICE), a. OF. bretesche, 'battlemented parapet, originally of wood and temporary.' Bartizan is thus merely a spurious 'modern antique,' which had no existence in the times to which it is attributed.] 1814 --- Wav. xiii, "A bartizan, or projecting gallery, before the windows of her parlour."

  • Makes you feel smart to catch Gene in a screwup, doesn't it?1

A transparent precious stone of a pale-green color passing into light-blue, yellow, and white; distinguished only by color from the more precious emerald. When of pale bluish green it is called an aquamarine; its yellow or yellowish varieties are the chrysoberyl, and, perhaps, the chrysoprase, and chrysolite of the ancients. (The name is used in early literature without scientific precision; it is also doubtful if the 'beryl' of the Old Testament is corretly identified.)

  • Severian describes the eyes of the Chatelaine of the Pelerines as "...hard as beryls."1
(Also: boatswain, bos'n)

A multipurpose petty officer, usually one of the best sailors, whose responsibilities included inspecting the ship's sails and rigging every morning and reporting their state to the officer of the watch. The boatswain was in charge of all deck activities, such as weighing or dropping anchor or handling the sails. Boatswains traditionally issued orders using a silver boastwain's pipe, a distinctive whistle with specific calls communicating specific tasks.


Irish: A small hut or cottage.


An "evil maker" or "horror creator", from Greek (wherein cacotopia would be a synonym of dystopia)

(ka EEK)

A single-masted sailing vessel used on the eastern Mediterranean Sea, having a sprit mainsail, a square topsail, and two or more other sails. Also a light boat or skiff propelled by one or more rowers, much used on the Bosphorous. 1


A monk of the Eastern Church 1


A cockerel or rooster that has been castrated to improve the quality of its flesh for food and, in some countries, fattened by forced feeding.


a) A long shaggy cloak or overcoat with a hood, worn by soldiers, sailors, travellers, etc. b) a long mantle reaching to the feet, worn by women 1877 KINGLAKE Crimea VI. vi. "His troops in their sombre capotes."1

the sword haft

Obsolete, except historically [Latin]. In ancient Latin 'exicutioner,' but in med. L. often 'butcher' (the trade) 1617 MIDDLETON Fair. Quar. "Let the carnefexes scour their throats."1


Obs. exc. Hist. a large ship of burden, also fitted for warface, such as those formerly used by the Portuguese in trading with the East Indies; a galleon 1581 J. BELL Haddon's Answ. Osor. "A great Carrick would be skarce able to beare them all."

  • Severian describes the water-women, settling "...thru the water like carracks sinking."1

One of a series of small (temporary) buildings between the ramparts and houses of a fortified town for the accomodation of troops; also a barrack

  • At the bridge, Severian is questioned in a casern, guarded by lansquenets.1

the governor of a medieval castle; from Roman Castellanus, military officer in charge of a fortified camp.


In the sense used here, a Gene Wolfe invention, or--more likely--a tiny error, even a misprint. He certainly intended castellan - the governor or constable of a castle.1


A soldier in full armor 671: MILTON Samson "Before him and behind, Archers and slingers, cataphracts and spears."1


the Italian word for a blowgun (correctly spelled cerbottana)


A chain's length, as a measure, is equal to 66 feet, or 4 poles. An area of ten chains in length by one in breadth, or 100,000 square links = an acre.1


A precious (or semi-precious) stone, which in its various tints is largely used in lapidary work: a cryptocrystalline sub-species of quartz (a true quartz, with some disseminated opal-quartz), having the lustre nearly of wax, and being either transparent or translucent It is not safe to carry the modern application back before the 16th or at the earliest the 15th c.; and references to earlier notions come down to the 17th. In modern lapidary work, chalcedony receives different names according to its chrysoprase, onyx, sard, etc. Most of the varieties were included by Plimy under his jappis. (Westpropp.)

  • Severian describes a building's steps as made of chalcedony, during the cart chase with Agia.
  • For anyone interested, the OED also defines another sense of chalcedony as follows:

chalcedony the name of the precious stone forming the third foundation of the New Jerusalem, but found nowhere else The word is of very complicated history. The L. is commonly assumed to be the same as the adj. chalcedonious of Chalcedon in Asia Minor, as if it were 'Chalcedonian stone,' but this is very doubtful. In interpreting the name in the Vulgate, which has the variant form carcedonious, the early writers identified it with a stone mentioneed by Pliny xxvii, where MSS have the variants carchedonia, charcedonia, calcedonia, calchedonia, carchedonius, said to be found in North Africa, and to be brought by way of Carthage, which, from the description, could have nothing to do with the chalcedony of the moderns. Isidore has carchedonia. The carchedonius or chalcedonius is mentioned and moralized upon by a whole catena of writers, including esp. Beda; but to none of them was it more than a traditional name, about which there clustered notions originally derived from Pliny with an accretion of later fables. The first to try to identify it with any known stone was apparently Albertus Magnus (1205-1282), who may have had in view some form of the stone to which the name is now given. (See the exhaustive article of Schade Altdeutsches Wbuch, 1363.)1


(Obsolete) An expanse of level open country; a plain unbroken by hills, woods, etc.

  • In the tour of the city with Agia, the tent-cathedral is built on a champian, or 'level space'.1

A woman who owns or controls a large house 1


In gemology, chatoyancy, or chatoyance, is an optical reflectance effect seen in certain gemstones. Coined from the French "il de chat," meaning "cat's eye," chatoyancy arises either from the fibrous structure of a material, as in tiger eye quartz, or from fibrous inclusions or cavities within the stone, as in cat's eye chrysoberyl. The effect can be likened to the sheen off a spool of silk: The luminous streak of reflected light is always perpendicular to the direction of the fibres. Wikipedia

  • When attacked by the Salamander: "Light from below flashed through the hole it had burned in the flimsy floor that began where the stone of the outcrop ended; at first it was the colorless light of the creature, then a rapid alternation of chatoyant pastels-peacock blue, lilac, and rose. Then only the faint, reddish light of leaping flames (III, ch IV)."

Persian light cavalry


1) oil mingled with balm, consecrated for use as an unguent in the administration of certain sacraments in the Eastern and Western Churches 2) to anoint with chrism 1768 TUCKER Lt. Nat. (1852) II. 384 "The Messiah, that is, the chrismed or annointed."

  • Wolfe uses both senses at once: as blood, and to be anointed with blood, in ritual of the Guild, when a torturer is elevated to journeyman.1
those with keys

Shortened form of coatimundi. An animal of the order Carnivora, related to the racoon and ringtail, about the size of a large domesticated cat. It has a long tail, as long or longer than it's body. An omnivore, it the various species range from the southwestern United States down through central America into southern Brazil.


A sweetmeat made of some fruit, root, etc., preserved with sugar; now usually a small round or oval mass of sugar enclosing a caraway seed, almond, etc.; a sugar plum 1828 SCOTT F.M. Perth viii, "Wine is drunk, comfits are eaten, and the gift is forgotten when the flavour is past away."

  • During the cart chase, Severian and Agia overturn a cart filled with comfits. You decide if it was sweetmeats or sugar plums.1

II. a place of worship or assembling; 9) a small convent

  • Another type of building in Nessus, mentioned fleetingly by Severian. I've only given the two most likely meanings of the word. The OED lists many senses of conventicle, most of which suggest a building used for clandestine meetings of the religious, outside the legal religion. I think Wolfe just meant it to mean 'convent'.1
Coronas lucis

metallic protective armor covering the torso.


thick-soled boots used by actors in Greek and Roman drama, and also by hunters; more commonly known as a buskin.


a large, heavy battle sword in use in the late Middle Ages.


Percussion instrument consisting of two small metal plates or clappers that are struck together. The term crotal may also refer to a closed bell containing loose pellets, similar in construction to a sleigh bell. This crotal produces a sound when it is shaken and the pellets strike the inner surface. Encyclopedia Britannica has a picture

  • ...(the shaman) once sacrificed with liturgical rigidity of drum and crotal in the small temple of the stone town (I, ch. XXVII). (In reference to Apu-Punchau?)
Cuir boli

A piece of armour for the body (originally of leather); spec. a piece reaching down to the waist, and consisting of a breast-plate and a back-plate, buckled or otherwise fastened together; still worn by some European regiments of cavalry. The breastplate alone was sometimes called a cuirass, or the two pieces combined were called (a pair of) cuirasses. The word has also been used in a general sense for all kinds of ancient close-fitting defensive coverings for the body, made of leather, metal, or other material.1


In ancient Greece, the ageless Cumaean Sibyl was the priestess presiding over the Apollonian oracle at Cumae. A prophetess. Wikipedia


variant, Shakespearean spelling of cutlass.


A robe or loose light garment for women; esp. an under garment, a chemise (used somewhat vaguely in poetry and fiction) 1824 WIFFEN Tasso "Whilst yong Erminia laid her vests aside...And to her flowered cymar disrobed complete."

  • Yet another item of clothing Severian saw in Agia's shop window.1

a patterned damask fabric, embellished with metal embroidery.


a Roman 'informant', whose role it was to act as a witness to wrongdoing in criminal cases. A combination of the roles of prosecutor, witness, and spy.


a pole-mounted half- or crescent-moon-shaped blade, similar to the concave end of a Shaolin spade.

those who fight in two ways

1. A long robe open in front, with narrow sleeves, worn by the Turks; 2) The uniform jacket of a hussar, worn like a cape with the sleeves hanging loose; 3) a kind of mantle with cape-like appendages instead of sleeves, worn by women

  • Another outfit Severian spied in Agia's shop window.1

Agia addresses one of the Pelerines as "Holy Domnicellae," but I can find absolutely no clue what she meant in the OED.1


Archaic spelling of DUNGEON, q.v.; now usual in sense I, 'The great tower or innermost keep of a castle,' to distinguish it from the modern sense.

  • Why Wolfe chose to capitalize the word is a mystery. The contextual clues suggest that this sense--a dungeon--is probably the one he meant, but it's possible that he had something else in mind. I'd credit him with more knowledge of castles than the OED has.1

A measure of length varying in different countries. The English ell = 45 in.; the Scotch = 37.2; the Flemish = 27 in. Now only Hist. or with reference to foreign countries, the Eng. measure being obsolete.1


A 'beholder' in Gr. Antiq. a person fully initiated into the Eleusinian mysteries. Also trasf. 1850 GROTE Grece II vii. (1862) "Addressing his companions as Mysts and Epopts."1


A Greek primordial deity personifying darkness. Wikipedia


Greek light infantrty from the 19th century


L. The action of causing or the state of suffering extreme pain; an instance of this 1618 T. GAINSFORD Hist. P. Warbeck in Select. Harl. Misc. (1793) "After she had lived a while in...excrutiation both of soul and body."

  • It's interesting that the related root--excruciate--is considered obsolete in this sense, but meant "to subject to torture, put on the rack, etc.; fig. to 'rack' (one's brains). A spooky history for a word we use today, and one of the terms that gives Shadow its great, dark tone.1

2) An outsider; one who does not belong to or does not reside in an establishment or institution: a. gen. also a foreigner; formerly, one of collateral descent. 1610 Women Saints "Being no Romane, but an externe and a Barbarian..."

  • Wolfe uses the term to mean "foreigners"; they "speak in tongues," or other languages. Probably.1

a one-handed, single-edged sword common in Europe from the late middle ages.


"Famulimus" could be an alternate spelling of "Fabulinus," a Roman deity who taught children to speak, Wikipedia which would make sense given the development-themed meanings of the other Hierodules' names ("Barbatus" meaning "bearded" and "Ossipago" meaning "bone growth/grower).


A small vessel propelled by oars or lateen sails, or both, used, chiefly in the Mediterranean, for coasting voyages. 1615 G. Sandys Relation of Journey 227 A Phalucco arriueth at the place.


1. a) a festival, an entertainment on a large scale; b) a bazaar-like function designed to raise money for some charitable purpose; 2. the festival of the saint after whom a person is named; in Roman Catholic countries observed as the birthday is in England

  • Agia tells Severian that Armigers are constantly going to fetes and tournaments.1

a small four-wheeled carriage for hire, a hackney-coach, a French cab 1


Antiq. a clasp, a buckle, or a brooch 1736 POPE Let. to Cromwell 30 Dec., 1710 "His robe might be subnected with a Fibula."

  • The clasp of Severian's robe is a fibula. 1

- A small wind instrument, having a mouthpiece at one end, six principal holes, sometimes keys1


A torch; esp. one made of several thick wicks dipped in wax; a lighted torch 1840 DICKENS Barn. Rudge xvi "Many a private chair...preceded by running-footmen bearing flambeaux."1


The OED doesn't list the root, exactly. The closest I could find was "fuliginous - a) pertaining to, consisting of, containing, or resembling soot; sooty; b) covered or blackened with soot, chiefly in humorously bombastic use." Wolfe probably coined the word for a fabric blacker than black that shows no folds; specifically, the color of soot.1


A heavy, low-built vessel, larger than a galley, impelled both by sail and oars, chiefly employed in war. The galleass were ships developed from large merchant galleys. Converted for military use they were higher, larger and slower than regular ("light") galleys. They had up to 32 oars, each worked by up to 5 men. They usually had three masts and a forecastle and aftcastle. Much effort was made in Venice to make these galleasses as fast as possible to compete with regular galleys. The gun-deck usually ran over the rowers' heads, but there are also pictures showing the opposite arrangement.

easternmost of the southern isles

1. magic, enchantment, spell; esp. in the phrase to cast the glamour over one (see quote, 1721); 2. a) a magical or fictitious beauty attaching to any person or object; a delusive or alluring charm; b) charm; attractiveness; physical allure, esp. feminine beauty; freq. attrib. 1721 Gloss. to Poems "When devils, wizards or jugglers deceive the sight, they are said to cast glamour o'er the eyes of the spectator."

  • Dr. Talos tells the waitress that he must "...cast the glamour and teach her her lines, all in one day."1

a horn used in battle


1. A horse of middle size and quality, used for ordinary riding, as distinguished from a war-horse, a hunter, or a draught-horse; in early times often an ambling horse; 2. from an early date mention is found of hackneys hired out; hence the word came often to be taken as, A horse kept for hire

  • In the streets of Nessus, people ride on all types of vehicles and animals, some of which are hackneys.1

the rope which is pulled to hoist a sail.


no clear meaning, but likely derived from (and roughly translatable to) 'spear', from Roman word for spear hasta.


a governor of one of seven regions in a commonwealth; most commonly associated with the seven kingdoms of Anglo-Saxon Britain, 5th-8th centuries.


A political title from Central and Eastern Europe, historically assigned to military commanders.

holy slave

Commander of the horse; the title of officers appointed to command the cavalry in ancient Greece 1847 GROTE Greece II.xxi. "There were now created two hipparchs, for the supreme command of the horsemen.

  • "When Agia challenges Severian to a duel, she's disguised as a hipparch.1

classical Greek citizen-soldier armed with a long spear and round shield


a covered carriage used to carry people on the back of an elephant


a Mesoamerican adobe hut


a light coat of armor (here clearly ceremonial).


(Also jelib, jellab) A hooded cloak worn in Morocco 1889 HALL CAINE Scapegoat I. Introd. "His dress was hardly less brilliant--a chocolate jellab over a kaftan of several colours."

  • More clothes in the shop window.1

south eastern/middle Easten long musket, most closely associated with the Pashtun

clone of an exultant woman, used to keep her young

In the East: a building (unfurnished) for the accomodation of travellers; a caravanserai 1958 R. LIDDELL Morea II. vii. "The buses going to Arcadia pull up at a khan near the village of Alepochori."

  • There are many variations in the spelling, but they all mean the same thing. Wolfe describes a building across the river, the "rounded dome of the khan". It's probably like an inn, where soliders lodge. That seems more likely to me than another sense of "khan," used by a different Gene (Roddenberry): "In later use: A title (now of slight import) commonly given to rulers, officials, or men of rank in Central Asia, Afghanistan, etc."1

Wolfe uses it to describe some kind of mercenary weapon with a long staff, but the word is too obscure for the OED.1

energy weapon similar to a pike; has 3 beams diverging from the point

A scarf or piece of stuff worn over the helmet as a covering. In Her. represented with one end (which is cut or jagged) pendant or floating. 1891 Cornh. Mag. "I might bear it as a token or lambrequin upon my helm."

  • A dead man in the street was, Severian speculates, probably strangled by a lambrequin, or scarf.1

The only reference I can find in the OED is "a fabulous monster supposed to have the body of a woman, and to prey upon human beings and suck the blood out of children; also a witch, a she-demon". Somehow, I don't think that's what Agia meant when she laughed and asked Severian if she had a lamia around her neck. Some kind of jewelry, probably a charm, that only Gene Wolfe knows about.1


Hist. one of a class of mercenary soldiers in the German and other continental armies in the 16th and 17th centuries Originally applied to the serfs brought into the field by nobles within the territories of the Empire, in contra-distinction to the Swiss mercenaries. Subsequently this distinction became obsolete, and the designation seems to have connoted a particular kind of equipment, of which a lance was part.

  • Severian runs into guards at the bridge, whom he describes as lansquenets. It seems likely that we're meant to take the broader definition of the word: They are a type of lance-carrying soldier1

A type of building in Nessus. No reference in the OED.1


Gr. Antiq. the commander of a lochus so, also lochus - Gr. Antiq. a division of the army, in Sparta and some other Greek states 1832 ARNOLD Thucyd. c. lxviii. II. "The lochus then consisted ordinarily of 100 men, under the command of the lochagus...On extraordinary occasions, the strength of the lochus was doubled...while the number of the lochi themselves was not increased."

  • At the bridge, Severian is called in for questioning before the lochage.1
blades concealed in the palm, used to strike as with a slap

A swift and weatherly sailing vessel widely used in France, England, and Scotland for coastal trading and fishing, usually rigged with two or three masts carrying lugsails. The lugsail is an asymmetrical, fore-and-aft, four-cornered sail that is suspended from a yard. 1837 MARRYAT Dog-fiend xxx. "The lugger pulled eighteen oars, was clinker built, and very swift."

  • Relevant to Severian's description is the process by which the kind of lugger called a "dipping lugger" comes about. The top part of the sail is on a diagonally-slanted yard, so one end is higher than the other. Imagine a square with a diagonal slice off the top. To come about, the sail is horizontally flipped so that the high point ends up on the opposite side from where it started. Severian, in his dream, describes the motion of the great, leather-winged being upon which he rides: "Her motion changed as a lugger's does when the sailors make it to come about on the opposite tack. One pinion dipped, the other rose until it pointed toward the sky..."

NB: The original gloss confused the two entries the OED has for "lugger": it took the definition from entry one (a lugger as kind of oarsman) but used the example sentence from second definition (a traditional ship rig): 1


A French dress goods of silk, or silk and wool, having a raised design. Also attrib. or adj. having a raised pattern like quilting

  • A fabric in Agia's shop.1

A soldier next in rank below the gunner in a train of artillery, who acted as a kind of assistant or mate In the U.S. the term was synonomous with private of artillery. 1639 in Grose Milit. Antiq. (1786) "Captain of the pioneers, Quarter master, Four conductors of the matrozes, Forty matrozes."

  • One type of guard at the Citadel.1

1. pertaining to or used at the table; 2.a) in Irish (and early Scottish) history, mensal land: land set apart for the supply of food for the table of the king or prince; b) in Scotland and Ireland before the Reformation, applied to a church, benefice, etc., appropriated to the service of the bishop for the maintenance of his table. Also similarly used in the modern Roman Catholic church in Ireland

  • "The mensal of the monachs," Agaia tells Severian, when he asks the function of a building that smells like it has allspice pounded into the mortar. If monach means 'monk,' then this building must be used for food for the monks. Have I got that right, do you think? It seems like I'm still missing something here. But certainly, Wolfe wrote "The mensal of the monachs" for the wonderful, alliterative way it rolls off the tongue.1

Severian describes the traffic on the streets of Nessus; some ride metamynodons. The OED has no reference. It's probably an off-world species, brought to Urth to replace an extinct one. The word is evocative; use your imagination.1

Moira [sic]

The name Moira is a given name of Greek origin, deriving from μοῖρα, meaning "destiny, share, fate". In Greek mythology, the Moirai (Greek: Μοῖραι, plural for μοῖρα), often known in English as the Fates, were the white-robed incarnations of destiny. Wolfe uses the spelling of the given name (Moira), not the mythological name (Moirai).


Of or relating to the Moirai (Gk.), the Fates.


Obs. rare an affected substitute for 'monk' 1540 Pol. Verg. Eng. Hist. (Camden) "Augustine and Miletus, two monaches of aownde livinge."

  • (see mensal)1

Single combat; a contest between two; a duel 1885 R.F. BURTON in Academy "The other [kind of combat] is the monomachy for especial purpose...to decide an important question without shedding the blood of the general."

  • "To monomachy?" blurts Severian, when the shopkeeper tells him Severian's been challenged (by Agia in disguise). The avern fight is monomachy.1

An inspired or holy man; a sage; an ascetic or hermit 1971 Illus. weekly India 11 Apr. "The Jain Munia believe that th body is a great source of sin and must be subjugated and won over."

  • Severian reads a history of the previous Autarch, Ymar. The story begins with Ymar sitting down, under a tree, with a muni, to meditate.1

unthinking followers of a leader.


An archaic name for the element sodium. As the pure metal it reacts explosively with water.


Water lilly 1


Of smells: Resembling that of cooked or burnt animal substances; strong and unpleasant 1698 FRYER Acc. E. India & P. "Stones of live Brimstone exhaling a nidorous Scent, stinking like that Water the Mariners call Bilge Water."

  • In the parable Severian tells Agia, a dying angel asks Gabriel, does she not smell "...fetid, foul, and nidorous?"1

No reference in the OED. Two of this animal pull Severian's and Agaia's carriage on it's pell-mell ride through the city. Probably another off-world species brought back to Urth, to replace an extinct species.1
Possibly refers to "onager," the Asiatic wild ass.


A musical wind-instrument of powerful tone, a development of the ancient 'serpent,' consisting of a conical brass tube bent double, with keys, usually eleven in number, forming the bass or alto to the key-bugle; also, a performer on this instrument. 1879 GROVE Dict. Mus. "From the gradual disuse of the Serpent and Ophicleide, the Euphonium is becoming the chief representative of the eight-foot octave among the brass instruments."1


A member of the patrician order in Rome; in wider sense, A noble or aristocrat 1920 AUDEN About House "As Neitzsche said they would, the plebs have got steadily Denser, the optimates Quicker still on the uptake."1


1. the sacred banner of St. Denis, a banderole of two or (according to some accounts) three points, of red or orange-red silk, attached to a lance, which the early kings of France used to receive from the hands of the abbot of St. Denis, on setting out for war; 2. transf. and fig. something which serves the purpose of the Oriflamme of St. Denis; any banner or ensign, material or ideal, that serves as a rallying point for a struggle, etc. 1885 Standard "[There] will be reared masts bearing the oriflamme of the town [Paris]."

  • Again, from the parable of Ymar: Ymar sees troopers galloping by bearing an oriflamme. They are probably bound for war, which adds to the meaning of the parable.1

A strong corded or gros-grain silk fabric, much worn in the 18th c. by both sexes, of which POULT-DE-SOIE is the modern representative; also attrib. and ellipt. a garment of this material

  • Another kind of fabric in Agia's shop.1

a) the territory or district under the rule or jurisdiction of a palatine or count-palatine; b) in England or Ireland: A country palatine or palatine earldom so, also palatine - of or belonging to the imperial palace of the Caesars; of or belonging to the palace or court of the German emporers; of or belonging to a palace; of the character of or befitting a palace; palatial

  • Agia tells Severian that he has "...the face of someone who stand to inherit two palatinates and an isle somewhere..."1

A pilgrim who had returned from the Holy Land, in sign of which he carried a palm-branch or palm-leaf; also, an itenerant monk who travelled from shrine to shrine, under a perpetual vow of poverty; often simply an equivalent of pilgrim

  • When Severian disguises his fuligin, Agia tells him he looks like a good palmer, or poor monk.1

The name given to the vast treeless plains of South America south of the Amazon, esp. of the Argentina and the adjacent countries (The similar plains north of the Amazon are know as llanos.) 1880 C.R. MARKHAM Peru. Bark "At lenth we came to a rocky ridge which bounded the vast pampas of Vilque."

  • Wolfe probably just means it as a geographical feature--a wide, treeless expanse--and not a hint to the story's location. But 'ya never know; many of these words are Eastern.1

men from the ancient Athenian coastal regions.


1. a level space in a garden occupied by an ornamental arrangement of flower-beds of various shapes and sizes; 2. a level space on which a house or village stands; 3. the part of the ground floor of the auditorium of a theater behind the orchestra; later, in the U.S., that part beneath the galleries 1816 J. SCOTT Paris Revisit. "What must have been the beautiful Hougomont, with its wild orchard, its parterred flower garden, its gently dignified chateau."

  • The OED spells the word without the hyphen: parterre. Severian uses the word to describe the par-terred privacy afforded some of the buildings in Nessus by their use of balconies.1

N. 1. stylized staff of office (pastoral staff) carried by high-ranking Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and some Lutheran and Pentecostal prelates. Synonyms: Crosier, Crozier, pastoral staff Wikipedia, Accessed May 18, 2012.


Of or pertaining to, resembling or characteristic of a peacock

  • The shopkeeper wore a "pavonine brocade".1

a name applied from time to time to various fashions of mantles or capes worn by women; in nineteenth century use, a long narrow cape or tippet, with ends coming down to a point in front, usually of lace or silk, or of the material of the dress The cape appears to have been in vogue 1740-50 (it was obsolete to Fielding in 1752); again about 1764; also 1823-25, 1855-68, 1884-1904; the shape or material being probably more or less new each time.

  • The religious order which holds the Claw of the Concilliator is called the Pelerines.1
Pele tower

Gr. Hist. a kind of soldier 1849 GROTE Greece II. xiix. VI. "Peltasts, a species of troops between heavy-armed and light-armed, furnished with a pelta (or light shield) and short spear or javelin."1


likely derived from "Phenacodus", an early mammal between the size of a cat and a sheep.

Pier glasses

a genus of elephant-like mammals with large proboscis and mouth, extant in the Miocene epoch.


A conductor of souls to the place of the dead; also, the spiritual guide of a (living) person's soul; a person who acts as a guide of the soul. In Greek, a name applied to Charon; more commonly to Hermes, the Anubis of Egypt, and to Apollo. 1958 L. DURRELL Balthazar vi. "If I had been in your shoes and the whole damn thing wasn't just a lie to make yourself more interesting to the psychopomps--I'd...well, I'd bloody well try and sleep with him again."

  • The shopkeeper is surprised to see a journeyman torturer this side of the river, and so far north. He says it's just as unlikely to see a psychopomp in those parts.1

From the Greek word pyxis meaning a box or receptacle. The plural is pyxides. A pyx (or pix) is a small round container used in the Catholic and Anglican Churches to carry the consecrated host to the sick or those who are otherwise unable to come to a church.


Rom. Antiq. b) in early times, a public prosecutor in certain criminal cases 1838 ARNOLD Hist. of Rome "The two quaestors who judged in cases of blood, were also chosen from the patricians."

  • This is the public official who also gives the signal to the executioner to chop off a head. Wolfe's spelling is atypical; the OED gives quaestor. But Wolfe's could be a valid variant.1

a pole-mounted stabbing weapon similar to a spear (more commonly spelled "ranseur")


A variety of onyx or stratified chalcedony having white layers alternating with one or more strata of sard

  • Severian describes the great and colorful variety of building materials used in the structures of Nessus: pink and white marble, red sardonyx, blue-gray, and cream, and black bricks, and green and yellow and tyrian tiles..." etc.1

literally 'Slavs' in the Venetian dialect; refers to mercenary Slavs who fought for the Republic of Venice against the Ottoman Empire in the 17th-century Candian Wars.


The distance from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the little finger, or sometimes to the tip of the forefinger, when the hand is fully extended; the space equivalent to this taken as a measure of length, averaging nine inches1


an Ancient Greek headdress or wreath, made of metal, and typically worn by aristocratic women.


A man's great coat or overcoat Applied c. 1870 to a kind of single-breasted frock-coat with pockets cut diagonally in front.

  • Another kind of clothing Severian saw in the shop.1

a) one of a race of beings or spirits supposed to inhabit the air (orig. in the system of Paracelsus); b) applied to a graceful woman or girl; usually with implication of slender figure and light airy movement 1838 DICKENS Nich. Nick. "She's the only sylph I ever saw, who could stand upon one leg, and play the tambourine on her other knee, like a sylph."

  • Dr Talos calls the waitress a sylph.1
a kind of dance

men from Taranto, originally Tares, a Greek colony on the southern coast of mainland Italy.


Good luck on this one; it ain't in the OED. In context, it's a kind of boat, probably a really obscure type Wolfe encountered in Greek or Roman history. He might have made it up, though. The root thalam is Latin, and means "a nuptual chamber". Maybe we can get a hint from that.1. Possibly a plural of "Thalamegos" (a Nile river palace barge) Wikipedia


A worker of marvels or miracles; a wonder-worker 1881 Athenaeum "Pious mythologists have made out that she [St. Frideswide] was a thaumaturge of the first order."

  • Dr. Talos tells the waitress that he's a thaumaturge. In fact, he stages plays; but his language (he's a miracle-worker; she's a sylph; he'll cast a glamour on her) is pretty magical in itself.1

Most likely an intentional or unintentional mis-spelling of 'thylacine' the family of carnivorous marsupials that includes the Tasmanian devil and Tasmanian tiger (extinct 1902). These animals are notoriously vicious and ill-tempered when cornered and make sense in the context as well as with Wolfe's motif of using extinct animals in the text.

Absolutely no clue from the OED. When the cart pulls up to pick up Severian and Agia, the animals are afraid of her, "...as if she were a thyacine". It's either a word Wolfe coined, or a lexeme too obscure for even the OED. For fun, I looked up the prefix "thy-" and the affex "-acine," and found this: thy - adv. Obs. a) by means of or by reason of that, because of that, therefore; b) in relative sense; for the reason that, because; + -acine - Obs. one of the small grains of which a blackberry or mulberry is composed. Put them together: "The animals were afraid of Agia, as if she were a because of a mulberry grain." Probably ain't it.1


a gun mounted on a swivel, to be shot from the saddle or howdah of an elephant


b) spec. in reference or allusion to the purple or crimson dye anciently made at Tyre from certain molluscs

  • Severian, in describing the colors of Nessus, says that some of the tiles are tyrian.1

large herbivorous mammal of the genus Uintatherium, extant in modern China around 30 million years ago; similar in size to a rhinoceros

house of chains

1. a South American animal (Auchemia vicunna), closely related to the llama and alpaca, inhabiting the higher portions of the northern Andes and yielding a fine silky wool used for textile fabrics; 2. ellipt. Vicuna cloth; also, a garment made of this.

  • Fuligin is a blend of vicuna, blended with linen. As with all animals in The Book of the New Sun, I wouldn't take Severian too literally; the fabric more likely comes from an off-world replacement animal, than from South America.1

A large open vehicle, drawn by horses or oxen, for carrying heavy loads, esp. of agricultural produce; usually four-wheeled. The word does not occur in the Bible of 1611, though Wyclif and the 16th c. translators use it. As a colloquial word it survives only in dialects, but in poetry it is commonly used instead of wagon.

  • Severian describes the early-morning street traffic of Nessus; drays and wains cross his path.1

1. Peter Kuchera's compilation