Lugubrious

Lugubrious. It’s a funny-sounding word. Not something you hear very often, either. In fact, unless you are into classic literature, you may never have heard it at all. I learned the word lugubrious from my dad. Or perhaps I should say I learned the wordform from him–I don’t think I learned what the word actually meant until after I had graduated college.

Dad loves oatmeal. When I was little he made my brothers and me eat oatmeal with him for breakfast every day until we couldn’t stand the sight of the stuff. Eating oatmeal was torture. To Dad, though, eating “thick, lugubrious oatmeal” was the best way to start the day. Dad isn’t a linguist or a wordsmith but he likes the sounds of words, especially the fancy-sounding ones. Lugubrious, he would say, as if to imply luxuriant, delectable, rich. Lugubrious, I would think; sticky, lumpy, slimy.

I’ve come across the word lugubrious from time to time in the past couple of years while listening to audiobooks of classic novels. Although I can’t remember where all the references came from, I’ve heard descriptions of lugubrious London fog, lugubrious clergymen, and “a somewhat lugubrious sextette upon the upper lawn for tea.” Even now I picture the fog as being thick and sticky, the clergyman with a pale lumpy face, and the group gathered on the lawn for tea… well, it’s hard to figure out what makes them oatmeal-like.

One synonym for lugubrious is funereal. Although it’s probably not much more common than lugubrious, it’s a little easier to tell what it means: funeral-like. Mournful. Sad. Melancholy. If you want to keep your audience from guessing blindly at the meaning of the word, funereal is a far better word choice than lugubrious. But if you need a little light in the midst of the melancholy, put the fun in funereal and say lugubrious instead. I’ll just be over here eating my daily bowl of oatmeal.

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5 thoughts on “Lugubrious

  1. I always picture a fat slimy slug inching its way down a garden path. I had never thought of oatmeal as lugubrious before. Now I’m probably going to have visions of slugs every time I have a bowl. 😄

      • Our family played with words the way some families play ball. Mom started us on Boggle as soon as we could spell. We had punning wars with dad over dinner, and of course listening to A Series of Unfortunate Events in audiobook form helped too.

  2. […] My favorite aspect of the book was the mixture of heavy life-and-death themes with the silliness that you would expect from an eleven-year-old narrator and his nine-year-old sister. For instance, a lengthy ballad that the sister composes conveys her deep wrestling with the family’s struggles as well as a ridiculousness that is almost inevitable when romantic nine-year-olds write poetry. This approach allowed the author to deal with extremely weighty topics without making the book feel either flippant or lugubrious. […]

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