I am determined to mine every nugget of pleasure out of The Unbearable Lightness of Scones by looking up all the words I don’t know . . . yet. Mind you, it is rare for me to not know all the words in a book. But the latest 44 Scotland Street novel by Alexander McCall Smith has me stymied. Is it the setting? I don’t remember this problem with The Number One Ladies Detective Agency, the book that introduced me to the delights of Alexander McCall Smith. That book was set in Botswana but this one is set in Edinburgh, a city I have never visited. I do however feel some connection, some small inkling of familiarity because my handsome son-in-law, a Britalian (English mum, Italian dad) proposed to my beautiful daughter atop Arthur’s Seat four years ago just moments before a torrential downpour. We still have pictures of them, the bright happiness beaming through their smiles, faces haloed by hoods pulled so tight against the driving rain that their heads reminded me of Teletubbies.
Arthur's Seat on a summer evening. Unfortunately Dan proposed in December.
And one of our oft recited family stories comes from Edinburgh. It goes like this. My husband once tried to order a half-pint in a pub in Edinburgh. He had already downed a pint and wanted a bit more, but the bartender leaned across the bar and looked him in the eye and growled, “No man will drink a half-pint in my pub!” A half-pint is a lady’s drink, you see, something any self-respecting Scotsman would know.
On to the mystery words:
Mendacious, an adjective that means lying, not telling the truth. As in “Olive’s account of the incident in which the teacher had pinched her ear was at the very least confused, and more likely mendacious.” In other words, the little brat Olive, torturix of our beloved Bertie was lying when she accused Miss Harmony of pinching her ear.
Wittering. I read the sentence to my family and asked them what they thought it meant: “”He could switch it off in the face of constant wittering,” found on page 43 and my daughter, Sarah, thought it meant whining but the definition of witter (which was not found in my dictionary) is, according to Wiktionary, to speak at length on a trivial subject. I am not sure whom we should pity more: Julia whose honeymoon has not yet begun, yet her groom already see her attempts at conversation as wittering or the prince of narcissism, Bruce, who has stepped on the path of almost certain unhappiness by marrying for all the wrong reasons.
Byres. Now I feel quite foolish because this is one of those words that you see quite often in English novels and yet, when I read it with my new dedication to understanding-every-word I found that I could not pin point what it meant. A hedge perhaps? But it means simply a barn, specifically one for keeping cattle. All I can say in duhhh . . . .