Lord of the Flies Words I
Bill Long 11/27/08
Each significant work of literature not only has memorable phrases but also uses a vocabulary that ought to be studied closely, to see how we can draw upon it in constructing our own verbal universe. Even though Lord of the Flies is a book meant for middle or high schoolers, it nevertheless has a series of instructive phrases and words.
Starting with a Random Word--Not From the Book
While looking up "meliorism" for the previous essay, my eye fell upon a word I didn't know--meldrop. It is derived from the usual suspects of early Scandanavian and Old High German and means "a drop of mucus hanging or falling from a person's nose. Also: the foam which falls from a horse's mouth." Perfect, absolutely perfect. Instead of telling a snot-nosed kid (or adult) that there is a piece of snot hanging from their nose, all you have to say is "meldrop, my man."
Turning to Lord of the Flies
I will give the sentence or context for these nine words or phrases.
1. "The shore was fledged with palm trees" (p. 6, Coward-McCann ed.). The primary meaning of fledge is in reference to young birds. It means "to acquire feathers large enough for flight." It also means "to provide or furnish with feathers." But a figurative use of the term developed beginning with Shakespeare (2 Hen IV, I.ii.23: "the Juvenile (the Prince your Master) whose Chin is not yet fledg'd"). Maybe that is where Golding got the term. It means to "cover as with feathers or down." So, Golding's sentence actually works very well. He is saying that the palm trees cover the shore with a downy-type covering. Brilliant, really.
2. "Out there, perhaps a mile away, the white surf flinked on a coral reef" (p. 6). This is an unusual word. The OED only has one attestation of flink and this means "to behave in a cowardly manner," which is obviously inapposite here. One place I looked mentioned that flink is a synonym of fling, the first meaning of which is "dash" or "rush." This latter usage would make flink understandable.
3. When Ralph sounded the conch to summon the boys for the first time, Golding writes, "The note boomed again; and then at his firmer pressure, the note, fluking up an octave, became a strident blare..." (p. 15). The verb "to fluke" means, among other things, "to get (in) or obtain by a fluke." As we know, a "fluke" is a something that happens by chance rather than by skill. So, the sense here would be that Ralph was experimenting with the sound of the conch and it, by chance, played an octave higher than earlier. So, it fluked up an octave. I think this use of the term is suggestive...
4. "The suffusion drained away from Jack's face," (p. 23). Jack had just been embarrassed by losing the election for leader to Ralph. We know the verb suffuse means "to overspread as with a fluid, a color, a gleam of light," and so a suffusion is the fluid which is spread or covers the bodily part. In this case we might render the word suffusion as color. I like the first OED definition of suffusion: "the defluxion or extravasation of a fluid..over a part of the body; the fluid itself." You can go a long way in life with the words defluxion and extravasation in tow.
5. Describing the boys on their first exploration of the island, Golding says: "The found the end of the island, quite distinct and not magicked out of shape or sense." Magic as a verb means "to transform, produce (as if) by magic." If one magicks something away, one causes it to disappear as if by magic. From Kipling: "There was Oak and Ash and Thorn enough in that year-end shower to magic away a thousand memories." But I am a bit perplexed by Golding's use of the term here. Does he mean that the shape of the island is not unexpected, i.e., predicatable and thus isn't made out of "magic?" I think the best synonym for "magicked" here is "imagined" or "made up" as in the way in Anne of Avonlea: "I actually have a half guilty feeling, as if I really had 'magicked' it [sc. a storm]."
6. Oh, back on p. 15, there is the appearance of wubber, a word not attested in any dictionary I ran into: "The birds cried, small animals scuttered. Ralph's breath failed; the note dropped the octave, became a low wubber, was a rush of air." Actually, scutter in the first sentence is a good word, and it means "to go hastily with much fuss and bustle." A synonym is scuttle. But what can wubber mean? I suppose it means "a rumble" or "a gurgle" or "
a low note." Not otherwise attested, however...
7. Ralph is moving over the "scar" (i.e., the carved out land) of the beach. Golding has the following:
"Then, with the martyred expresion of a parent who has to keep up with the senseless ebullience of the children, he picked up the conch, turned toward the forest, and began to pick his way over the tumbled scar," (p. 42).
What does "tumbled" mean? The OED is quick to help. "That has tumbled or fallen; also, tousled, disordered, rumpled." One might have "tumbled" hair or "tumbled-together books" or even a "tumbled" character. It suggests something disorderly or chaotic.
8. On p. 56, Golding describes one of the shelters which Ralph and his company are building. "Ralph turned to the shelter and lifted a branch with a whole tiling of leaves." Here is another use of a common verb (like tumble) adjectivally or nominally to modify a concept. Tiling is "the action of the verb tile; the covering (of a roof, etc) with or as with tiles." It is the "as with" part of the definition that fits here. It is as if the leafy border between the shelter and the outside world is a roof of tiles. Thus, it is a "tiling" of leaves. Clever.
9. Let's close this essay not with a word that we want to examine but with a sentence or turn of phrase that just invites you to slow down and picture it. The boys are talking about the crucial importance of maintaining the fire. Then, the narrative continues:
"The two boys trotted down the beach, and, turning at the water's edge, looked back at the pink mountain. The trickle of smoke sketched a chalky line up the solid blue of the sky, wavered high up and faded," (p. 60).
I just wanted to stop and "drink in" this picture. The phrase "sketched a chalky line" vividly lets me see the thin wisp of smoke reaching up towards the sky before it "wavers" by becoming more diffuse and then fades. That phrase, "sketched a chalky line" could well come in handy to describe not only the escaping of smoke but also to capture any long filamentous object rising from the ground toward the sky (such as a narrow tree trunk or flower stem).
I thought I could do this in one essay. How wrong I was. One more, however, will suffice me.