Wondrous Words Wednesday: Donna Leon

This week’s words all come from Friends in High Places by Donna Leon (See this week round-up at BermudaOnion’s blog)


Bonsuan pulled to a stop not far from the enormous ship, stepped off the boat, and began tying it to the mushroom-shaped metal stanchion on the embankment, so thick it must have been intended for larger boats.

Stanchion: n. an upright bar, post, or frame forming a support or barrier

I must admit I am confused. From the context I supposed it was something like this:


Yet Google Images results only look like this:


which would make no sense in that context. I guess the word has a very general meaning!


Patta sat back in his chair, stretched his feet out in front of him, and crossed his ankles. For a moment, he contemplated the gleaming shine on his wingtips.

Wingtip: n a shoe with a toecap having a backward extending point and curving sides, resembling the shape of a wing

I had never heard of this term (I’m no good at fashion!), although it was clear it was some kind of shoe. Again, according to Google Images, this type:



The surface of the table was covered with maps, a ruler, and a protractor.

Protractor:n. 1 an instrument for measuring angles, typically in the form of a flat semicircle marked with degrees along the curved edge 2 chiefly Zoology a muscle serving to extend a part of the body

I gather it’s meaning nr. 1 here, i.e. this:


(I had imagined as much from the context!)


Patta was back: tall, handsome, dressed in a lightweight suit that caressed his broad shoulders with respectful, gossamer fingers.

Gossamer: adj. very fine and insubstantial

Looking up this word made my day! It exists as a noun, meaning: “a fine, filmy substance consisting of cobwebs spun by small spiders, seen especially in autumn”, and look at its etymology:

origin ME: appar. from goose + summer1, perh. from the time of year around St Martin’s day (11 November) when geese were eaten.

Wow, interesting! (OK, I understand not everybody would jump on their seats because of such a discovery, but that’s what I just did!)


The room was empty; that is, no one was inside, though there were some boxes of tools, a pair of sawhorses, and a discarded pair of lime-covered painter’s pants.

Sawhorse: n. a rack supporting wood for sawing

Unfortunately this definition meant almost nothing to me. I couldn’t see what it meant. So it’s back to Google Images, once more:


Oh, OK, so that’s what it is, then!


“Have they ever been audited by the Finanza?” he asked, holding in his hands a fiscal red flag so large and incarnadine as to be easily visible as far away as the central offices of the Guardia di Finanza in Rome.

Incarnadine: n. a crimson or pinkish-red colour

Although I had never heard this word in English, it was quite transparent to me, and I could understand it immediately, maybe because it’s Italian in etymology:

origin C16: from Fr. incarnadin(e), from Ital. incarnadino, var. of incarnatino ‘flesh colour’, based on L. incarnare (see incarnate).


(All definitions are taken from the Concise Oxford English Dictionary © 2008 via WordReference.com)


4 comments on “Wondrous Words Wednesday: Donna Leon

  1. I love your illustrated version of Wondrous Words Wednesday. I remember the days when my dad wore wingtips and I used a protractor in school. Stanchion is new to me, but I had an idea of it from the context. Incarnadine was totally new to me and I would never have figured it out. Thanks for playing along!

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