The Weekly Word: Effluvium

weekly word

The Weekly Word is a feature where I highlight a word that I stumbled over in a book, explain where it was found and what it actually means. Reading can expand your vocabulary as long as you don’t allow the same words to continue to trip you up.

Yay for a new feature and the first post of it! I am excited for this feature because I think there is real potential in it. Once upon a time, I used to subscribe to an email list from like or some similar site where I would get daily words to learn. There are only two that I can remember from that: phantasmagoria and hobbledehoy. That said, as I was studying for the GRE, I discovered that while I thought I knew the meaning of some words, I was really quite confused about them. And while I can easily skip over a word here and there in a novel and still understand it, that’s not exactly doing myself a great service.

So, today’s word is:


Where was it found:
I’m reading Book Two of The Mongoliad by Neal Stephenson and 6 other authors (I know I do the other authors a disservice by not listing them too, but there are really too many authors of this book). It was found on the Kindle page 106:

It is going to be a warm day, Andreas noted as he walked. He could smell the pungent effluvium of the makeshift city already–the miasma of unwashed bodies, offal, fermenting ale, and cook fires rolling across the fields like a slow-moving wave.”

Why it confused me:
I figured it meant some kind of smell, but I figured it could also mean something a bit more specific. I had never seen this word before; or quite a few words in these books.

What it means:
n. (plural effluvia) an unpleasant or harmful odour or discharge: smoke and effluvia from factory chimneys

Origin: mid 17th century from Latine, from effluere: “flow out”


What do you think?

  • Julie says:

    Well, that is one complicated seeming word that has a simple meaning heh. I’m glad the meaning of it is just “odor”, which was what you guessed from context, but I too would have expected a word that fancy would have some specific meaning. This is a really cool feature by the way. Maybe I’ll learn something from following this :)

    • Michelle Michelle says:

      Thanks! I’m strangely excited about this feature. It just seems sort of fun. Of course, the book I’m reading now is giving me so much fodder for it. I wonder how many words there will be when I go back to reading middle grade or young adult. 😛

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