Contextual Vocabulary Acquisition: "tatterdemalion"

  1. Transylvania presents visitors with none of the logistical hurdles encountered in the hardscrabble lands to its east. Trains go almost everywhere, and tickets cost roughly two dollars an hour for first-class travel (first-class Romanian-style, that is, with tatterdemalion but comfortably upholstered compartments and equally tatterdemalion but solicitous attendants). There is not need to rent a car: taxis may be hired in the cities at a rate of only thirty cents a mile (if you are not a poker- faced bargainer, have a concierge or a Romanian acquaintance arrange this). Serviceable, clean hotels run a reasonable $15 to $40 a night. Latinate Romanian comes easily to the ears and tongues of French- or Italian-speakers, and English is no longer a rarity. All in all, ten to fourteen days should make a good trip, allowing you to see the places described below and perhaps a couple of others, such as Cluj, the vibrant fin-de-siècle Magyar capital of northern Transylvania, and Sibiu, the German bastion of the south. Transylvanians tend to be unpretentious and hospitable, and you may well be invited home to share a meal. Once you make local friends, you may decide to scrap your itinerary and surrender to the near-bucolic rhythm of life in this largely agricultural land.

  2. In 1935 Powys moved to Wales. This was not only a physical move but also a journey into his past. Wales was the land of his distant ancestors and home to the sixth-century magician-cum-bard Taliessin, who had been a sort of role model for Powys since childhood. In fact, he sometimes called himself a "tatterdemalion Taliessin."

    Powsys was at heart a primitivist, for whom virtually every modern invention was anathema. In Wolf Solent he referred to airplanes as "spying down upon every retreat like ubiquitous vultures." He never drove a car and never used a typewriter. He thought television was pernicious. He didn't like talking on the telephone, because he didn't want his words violated by a tangle of wires. So it's not surprising that after his move to Wales he looked to the inviolate past, especially the inviolate Wales past, for inspiration.

  3. Throughout thirtieth birthday party, tequila stultifies Timothy Tuttle, transubstantiating Timothy into tottering tatterdemalion. Constable stops Tuttle. Timothy, stuttering with attenuated thought, threatens constable with trinitrotoluene. Tuttle, expeditiously eradicated, departs interstate.

  4. Breaking the deadlock points to numerous flaws in the opinions in Bush vs. Gore (while noting how hard it is to write a good judicial opinion in so little time). It dismisses as "tatterdemalion" the views of seven Justices--including moderate liberals Stephen G. Breyer and David H. Souter as well as the five conservatives--that the Florida court had violated equal protection (or perhaps due process) by mandating manual recounts skewed by inconsistent chad-counting standards. It punctures a Republican myth by asserting that a majority of Florida's voters "thought they had voted for Gore" and that Gore might have won if all Florida counties had used voting machines more accessible to "people of limited literacy."

  5. Nanny and Grandad gave me a cardboard cutout of Buckingham Palace. I lined up the miniature guardsman in the car's rear window as we headed to the beach. Grandad struck the pose of a sailor and Mom took the shot with her Brownie camera.

    Before they left we put a thick plank in the backyard for Grandad to do the "tatterdemalion Train". The dance mimicked a locomotive, starting slowly, a little faster then roaring down the track with his heavy brogues a blur. I called it a "Dandy Lion Train", perhaps because our yard was so full of dandelions. Grandad's hair was gray; his fedora bobbed like smoke from a stack.

  6. Also see:
        I guess there is even a comic book character named after this word!
        The story behind the word.

  7. Protocol transcript

Copyright © 2004 by William J. Rapaport (
file: CVA/tatterdemalion.2004.01.30.html