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The literary cheat sheet that makes you sound more well-read than you are

Andrew Kiraly

The phrase: Gladwellian

Obscurogance* level: Low

Definition: Gladwellian evokes the oeuvre of best-selling author, pop socio-wonk and New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell, whose books The Tipping Point, Blink and Outliers discuss phenom such as how successful people succeed. But take note: Gladwellian is not a term of flattery. Instead, lob this jagged gem at something that sounds sophisticated but actually hides a glib, cliché, simplistic and reductive maxim beneath.

Samples: “So you’re telling me that hard work and discipline pay off? Wow. You could have just said that without all the pseudo-philosophical Gladwellian window-dressing.” “Cut the Gladwellian crap and just get to the point already.”

The phrase: Heathcliff

Obscurogance level: Medium

Definition: Naw, not the cartoon tabby of your Sunday comics. I mean the brooding, bitter and vengeful anti-patriarch of Emily Bronte’s celebrated gothic novel Wuthering Heights. Abused as a foster child in the Earnshaw household in Yorkshire, Heathcliff nonetheless turns his simmering wrath to his advantage and grows up to become rich, a nicety that allows him to exact lifelong revenge against the Earnshaws. But Heathcliff’s slow-burn vendetta ultimately turns him into a tortured, hollow wraith, and he dies a broken man. Drop a Heathcliff to describe a particularly complicated, tormented jerk or psycho—when “jerk” or “psycho” just lacks a certain finesse.

Sample: “Can you just let it go already? Don’t be a Heathcliff about this.” “So what if he’s my ex-boyfriend? We were just talking. You don’t have to go all Heathcliff on me.”

The phrase: The Nuremburg Chronicle

Obscurogance level: High

Definition: If you think big-ass books were the preserve of James Michener and David Foster Wallace, think again—The Nuremberg Chronicle is the ur-big-ass book. Published in 1493, it purports to be an illustrated history of the world, from the creation of Earth to Jesus’ crucifixion to the reign of the Holy Roman Emperors to the Last Judgment. It is considered a triumph of printing artistry, of Renaissance values and of collective human effort. Use Nuremberg Chronicle when you want to describe something grandiose and unwieldy.

Sample: “Why do they still publish the phone book? Like I need the friggin’ Nuremberg Chronicle dropped on my doorstep every six months.” “How hard can it be? We’re planning a wedding, not assembling the Nuremberg Chronicle.”

* Obscurogance: obscurity + arrogance

Andrew Kiraly is editor of KNPR’s Desert Companion magazine.

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