Monday, September 21, 2020

Words Gary Taught Me

High Gygaxian is the term used to refer to the pedantic, archaism-laden, run-for-the-dictionary writing style often employed by Gary Gygax, particularly in his AD&D rulebooks and adventures. I'm on record as adoring this idiosyncratic manner of speech. For me, High Gygaxian establishes the feel of the particular strain of fantasy that I associated with Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. This is one area where I believe AD&D is superior to OD&D and goes a long way toward explaining the enduring influence of this version of the game, even though it's been twenty years since any currently published RPG bore this title.

High Gygaxian was educational to me as a young person. Reading through the Players Handbook, Dungeon Masters Guide, and Monster Manual expanded my vocabulary enormously (as well as introduced me to Latin abbreviations that I still use today). I know I'm not alone in this, which is why this post is celebration of just a few of the grandiose turns of phrase I owe to Gary Gygax. 

Deliquescing: Apparently, the soul of the Faceless Lord possesses this quality.

Enmity: This one is simply fun to say; I think it has something to do with the placement of "n" before "m."

Ichor: It's possible I first came across this word in Bullfinch's Mythology, but Gygax used it much more memorably and I now associate it with D&D.

Legerdemain: Synonyms for magic abound in Gygax's writings (v.i.) and this is one of my favorites.

Leman: While I could have included numerous examples of words I learned from unfairly derided harlot table from the DMG, this one has the advantage of being much more handy in real life.

Milieu: If I had to pick a single word that encapsulates the spirit of High Gygaxian, this would be a strong candidate for it.

Offal: Gygax was also fond of synonyms for carrion, garbage, and rubble. This one has the advantage of being useful when talking to your local butcher.

Prestidigitation: Another delightful synonym for magic.

Puissant: Obscure enough that the blog's spellchecker doesn't recognize it.

Weal: Of which assassins are the antithesis.

This is far from an exhaustive list, which is why I encourage readers to share others in the comments below. What words did you learn from Gary Gygax's extravagant diction?


  1. Brazier, which I failed to differentiate from brassiere well into my teenage years. Thanks a lot Gary!

  2. I'd credit him (or at least TSR in general) with the depth of my knowledge of medieval polearms. My vocabulary was already doing fine from years of reading Vance and Moorcock and Lovecraft.

  3. I owe all of my English to D&D and Gygax.
    I taught myself English (with a little help from my older brother) on D&D by the time I was 9.

    1. That's incredible. What a great story!

    2. RPGs are an excellent way to learn another language. My and my friends were way ahead of our schoolmates in english because we spent our free time trying to learn how to play that weird game... and i heard a lot of similar stories through the years in this hobby!

  4. Dweomer. I never see it anywhere else.

    Obscure language was a constant childhood joy of the old AD&D books.

  5. Acolyte, Bailey, Censer, Elixir, Fen, Libram, Magocracy, Melee, Periapt, Philter, Phylactery, Requisite, Scrying, Tun, Vacuous, Vellum ... to name a few others.

    1. Oh I love these words so much. To me, they're perfectly normal. But when I see them all together, ah yes they are unique.

  6. Minor nit:

    Legerdemain refers to stage magic, sleight of hand, and outright trickery - no the casting of spells.

  7. The term “High Gygaxian” first entered parlance in the early 2000s over at Dragonsfoot. A 10-second google search found it already in use as of 2005.

  8. Ratiocinate :) It appears near the tables for randomly generating an NPC's personality.

  9. I'm Spanish and I learned from Gygax amazing words like dweomer, bardiche, ranseur, voulge, cantrip, massmorph, sillelagh... Some of these nice words has a strong link with indoeuropean->latin->romance->spanish languages:
    Ichor -> Ícor -> Veneno (poison).
    Deliquescing -> Deliquio -> Desmayo (Faint, dismay).
    Prestidigitation -> Prestidigitación -> Juegos de manos (Sleight of hand).
    Puissant -> Pujante -> Poderoso, enérgico (Powerful).
    Legerdemain -> Ligero de manos, leger de main -> Hábil (Dextereous, "light of hand").
    Leman -> Lemanita -> Jade (jade, precious gemstone). Lac Léman, Lake Geneva (truly, a Lake on Geneva, Switzerland, Lac de Genève, Lac Léman).
    Phylactery -> Filacteria -> Amuleto (amulet, talisman).
    Libram -> Liber -> Libro (book; maybe a wrong latin declension: appears on The Eyes of the Overworld by Jack Vance).
    Melee -> Melé (spanish) -> Mêlée (french) -> Misculata (latin) -> Mezcla (mixture, used in military argot).
    Vacuous -> Vacuo -> Vacío (empty, emptiness, without meaning; horror vacui, vacuuum).
    Vellum -> Vello (hair) -> vellocino (lambskin, The Golden Fleece -> Vellocino de oro).
    Ratiocinate -> Raciocinar -> Razonar (to think logically).
    Philter -> Filtro -> bebida de amor (beverage to fall in love with someone).
    Elixir -> Elíxir -> Poción (from arabic alchemy, a potion to transmute metals into gold).
    Periapt -> Periapto -> Usually, a greek jewel, specially a necklace.
    Requisite -> Requisito -> Condición, necesidad (required, necessary).
    Spetum -> Espeto -> A roman spear, used in Spain and other Mediterranean countries to cook fishes.
    Acolyte -> Acólito -> Satélite (in catholic liturgy, "someone who follows the path").

  10. dweomer and milieu both stand out in my mind.