In a word: lapidary

June 16, 2014|By John E. McIntyre | The Baltimore Sun

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a relatively obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar, another brick to add to the wall of your vocabulary. This week's word: 


If you want to praise a piece of prose as precise, clear, and glowing jewel-like, a word to reach for is lapidary

From the Latin lapis, "stone," lapidary (pronounced LAP-uh-der-ee) means displaying elegance, polish, and craftsmanlike precision, like an inscription on stone. You may recall Samual Johnson's remark about the accuracy of epitaphs: "In lapidary inscriptions a man is not on oath."

A lapidary was originally an artisan who cuts, polishes, and engraves precious stones; also the word for the craft. The word quickly took on its metaphoric associations. 

Example: James Bennet, in "The Anxiety Economy" in The Atlantic in December 2011, writing about Steve Jobs's father, Paul: "Isaacson portrays the elder Jobs as an unfailing source of love and support for his ruthless son, and credits him with, among other accomplishments, awakening Steve Jobs's passion for lapidary craftsmanship." 

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