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Lucubration

Today a lucubration (or lucubrations — the word more often appears in the plural) is a derisive reference to a pedantic, over-elaborate or muddled attempt to make a point.

But Coleridge was an unselfdisciplined monologist addict who left a few brilliant poems and poetic fragments behind him, along with a blather of sometimes suggestive but mainly inane lucubration.

A C Grayling, in the Financial Times, 14 Oct. 2006.

Lucubration literally means thought, study or writing that has been undertaken by artificial light. Its origin is Latin lux, light, via the stem of the verb lūcubrāre, to work by lamplight. Imagine a scholar hunched beside a guttering flame, striving late into the night to get his ideas on paper.

The word appeared first in English around the time of Shakespeare at the end of the sixteenth century. People soon started to use it for the result of the activity as well as the activity itself.

Unfortunately, as every student struggling against a deadline to write an essay will know, such burning of the midnight oil is likely to produce work that won’t stand the light of day. Hence its current meaning.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 2 Aug. 2014

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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Last modified: 2 August 2014.