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Extant and other archaic words
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I recently read a sentence to the effect that "Il Duomo is Florence's most extant building." I thought to myself, well, of course it's existing (the current definition of extant), but what an odd way to use the word.

Turns out there is an archaic definition of extant, wherein it means standing out or conspicuous. In the sentence I came across, that's a perfect usage of the word. I should have taken into account the fact that the book was written approximately 150 years ago and word definitions--especially of very popular or very erudite words--have shifted.

The archaic meaning of extant makes sense, now that I think about it. Several years of Latin in high school (and Italian in college and in Italy) I was taught stare means "to stand" and ex means "out". To stand out. To be obvious or conspicuous. Which Il Duomo certainly is, from nearly every place you stand in Firenze.

Speaking of reading stuff and archaic words, I'm currently reading Niccolo Rising by Dorothy Dunnett. I'm on page 66 and we haven't met Niccolo yet, though we've met a couple dozen other characters. Nor is it clear at this point which of these many characters is going to be central to the story and which are, so to speak, local color. The first four pages of the volume are lists of characters--four pages, single spaced. It would be too daunting to count them. (Daunt--a nice 13th century word.)

There are unending side comments and allusions, which I am sure are fascinating to someone familiar with 15th century Bruges, but which to me are totally opaque. It's like reading a history text into which you've been dropped without benefit of backstory.

My usual method with difficult books is to give it a hundred pages (I figure that's a fair sample) and then either give up and move on to the next book in my pile, or settle down and wade through. This one, if I decide to finish it, will have to be read some every day, or I'll forget who is doing what to whom and why.

Doesn't help, either, that characters are sometimes referred to by first name, then elsewhere by family name, in a third place by relationship to some other character-- and yet again elsewhere by occupation or social placement.

I had to cheat and read a brief review of the book to discover that the woman we meet in the first few chapters is a key player. I'm sure that her early obscurity makes the point that she didn't start life as a major character, but did the author have to hide her quite so thoroughly?

My friends rave about this author in general and this book in particular, so I'm hoping to tough it out. Given the eponymous title, the novel should get more interesting when the main character appears.

Niccolo, where are you?

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