Wednesday Word of the Week 4

Into Thin Air

Word of the Week 4: Laggard(ly)

Welcome back to Wednesday Word of the Week, a hump-day cyber celebration of skillful and felicitous word choice selected from my current reading.

This week’s word comes from Jon Krakauer’s harrowing and controversial account of the disastrous 1996 ascent of Mount Everest, Into Thin Air.

Contracted by Outside magazine to join and write an article about a guided ascent of Mount Everest in May of that year, Krakauer got much more than he bargained for when a wicked convergence of circumstances—human error, poor judgment, and damnably bad luck with the weather—conspired to bring about the worst mountaineering disaster on record. By the time he descended to Base Camp, nine climbers from four expeditions had perished, three more would succumb shortly, and at least two were left severely maimed from frostbite.

What makes Krakauer’s account so grippingly enjoyable is not only his insider’s informed take on alpine climbing, but his Valkyrian (another great word employed in this book) command of the language. Here, in a passage describing a second attempt to reach Camp Three, is this week’s example:

“A thousand feet up the immense slant of the Lhotse Face, I ascended a faded nylon rope that seemed to go on forever, and the higher I got, the more laggardly I moved.”

Having pulled this book off my shelf for a quick study in grabbing the reader’s attention from the first paragraph, filling in historical and personal detail without bogging down into an “information dump,” and crafting dynamic and memorable characters, my earlier hunch that this was a book to be savored once a decade was reaffirmed.

I invite other examples of a particularly adept use of “laggard” or “laggardly,” or other words like it. Comment here if you are not feeling too laggardly yourself.

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