14 Beautiful Nabokovian Words You Should Incorporate Into Your Daily Speech

For all logophiles, logodaedalians, and logomancers.

Daniel R. Blume / Via Flickr: drb62

In Pale Fire, the poet John Shade describes icicles as “stilettos of a frozen stillicide.”


In Lolita, Humbert describes a summer day as such: “Heat ripple still with us; a most favonian week.”


The word appears in one of Humbert’s fantasies: “There would have been a sultan, his face expressing great agony (belied, as it were, by his molding caress), helping a callypygean slave child to climb a column of onyx.”


Humbert expresses the nightmare of his roadside travels with Lolita as such : “We passed and repassed through the whole gamut of American road side restaurants, from the lowly Eat with its deer head (dark trace of long tear at inner canthus), “humorous” picture post cards of the posterior “Kurort” type, impaled guest checks, life savers, sunglasses, adman visions of celestial sundaes, one half of a chocolate cake under glass, and several horribly experienced flies zigzagging over the sticky sugar-pour on the ignoble counter.”


Humbert humorously describes the plumbing in his hotels as such: “The baths were mostly tiled showers, with an endless variety of sprouting mechanism, but with one definitely non-Laodicean characteristic in common, a propensity, while in use, to turn instantly beastly hot or blindingly cold…”


In Speak Memory, Nabokov describes some of his first sensations: “a lark ascending the curds-and-whey sky of a dull spring day, heat lightning taking pictures of a distant line of trees in the night, the palette of maple leaves on brown sand, a small bird’s cuneate footprints on new snow.”


In Lolita, Humbert describes how he and his first love Annabel stole away in the middle of the night: “Through the darkness and the tender trees we could see the arabesques of lighted windows, which, touched up by the colored inks of sensitive memory, appear to me now like playing cards — presumably because a bridge game was keeping the enemy busy.”


When describing Quilty, Humbert says, “He mimed and mocked me. His allusions were definitely highbrow. He was well-read. He knew French. He was versed in logodaedaly and logomancy.”


In Speak Memory, Nabokov describes his hatred of sleep (“Sleep is the most moronic fraternity in the world, with the heaviest dues and the crudest rituals”) and says his only respite from it as a child was the “vertical of lambency” that stretched into his room from his nanny’s chandelier when the door was ajar.


Describing how happy he was to finally have her, Humbert writes, “How smugly would I marvel that she was mine, mine, mine, and revise the recent matitudinal swoon to the moan of the mourning doves…”

Paramount Pictures

Appears most notably in Speak, Memory when he describes his love of Russian sleeper trains: “In delicate verisimilitude it completely outranked the painted tin of my clockwork trains.”


Nabokov famously coined this term in his translation of Eugene Onegin when he felt that “bird cherry tree” didn’t do phonetic justice to the Russian name for the tree cheryomuha.


In discussing his jealous regarding other men, Humbert wrote, “Suddenly, all dimples, she beamed sweetly at them, as she never did at my orchideous masculinity.”


One of the most beautiful stanzas of Pale Fire reads: “My picture book was at an early age / The painted parchment papering our cage: / Mauve rings around the moon; blood-orange sun; / Twinned Iris; and that rare phenomenon / The iridule — when beautiful and strange, / In a bright sky above a mountain range / One opal cloudlet in an oval form / Reflects the rainbow of a thunderstorm / Which in a distant valley has been staged— / For we are most artistically caged.”

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