Stickybeak’s Lexicon. ‘Esculent’.

No flash from me today; instead I offer you a new entry in Stickybeak’s Lexicon. Please feel free to comment.

Also, you might like to visit flashquake where you can read my flash fiction ‘Fast lane Phonetics’ which appears in the new Winter 2011 issue.

Right, enough with the shameless self-publicising; instead, let’s open the Lexicon……

Stickybeak’s Lexicon

Expanding my vocabulary one word at a time.



Occasionally I come across words whose meaning is a bit of a let down; a rather dissatisfying anti-climax. My mind has conjured up an exciting and descriptive visual image, only to be brought back to earth with a dull thud.

Standing in the dock, ready to face charges, is the word esculent.

Firstly, the word I was actually searching for was esculence, but it doesn’t appear in my dictionaries; even googling esculence (which I discovered on a page of Jack Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’) produced the answer: “Do you mean esculent?” This leaves me wondering whether Kerouac made use of literary license and created a new the word. Anyway, here it is as used by the man himself:

“There were seafood places out there where the buns were hot, and the baskets were good enough to eat too; where the menus themselves were soft with foody esculence as though dipped in hot broths and roasted dry and good enough to eat too.”

To me, this conjures up images of hot, sticky, dripping cheese; of the glistening, sweet filling of a fresh apple doughnut; or the gleaming, unctuous sauce of a classic coq au vin. Imagine my disappointment to find that esculent (adj) means merely to be eatable; fit to be used as food by human beings, esculent (n) being an edible substance. Was there ever a word which held so much promise, but which turned out to be so functional? Far from the romantic, descriptive use I imagined, esculent refers simply to whether something is edible or not, or whether swallowing said food item will render you prostrate on the kitchen floor, clutching your sides, moaning, “Oh why did I ignore the eat by date on those chicken breasts?”

I love this passage from ‘On the Road.’ Kerouac’s imagery encapsulates Sal Paradise’s fixation on the feasting possibilities San Francisco has to offer a half-starved beatnik; in it, esculence (esculent) is raised from the merely perfunctory to the sensual. The reader is left in no doubt as to how very hungry Sal is.


Before I enter esculent into the Lexicon, I should offer a brief etymological explanation: esculent comes from the Latin (don’t they always?) esculentus, eatable, esca meaning food.

I said it would be brief.

Finally, it has just occurred to me that esculent has a totally false rhyming antonym in excrement. You have to admit, there is a kind of linguistic poetry in that. Well, maybe you don’t.

© flyingscribbler 2011.

5 comments on “Stickybeak’s Lexicon. ‘Esculent’.

  1. John Wiswell says:

    I wouldn’t have gotten my hopes up very high when the word was used directly after an adjective like “foody.” Oh, Kerouac.

  2. A new word to me too. And a good spot by John, didn’t even notice “foody”.

  3. FARfetched says:

    I was thinking it might be a lifting force, like an escalator. 😛

  4. Helen says:

    Well, that is a disappointing word isn’t it and what’s more my on-line dictionary didn’t even know it!

    I image if I read it in a line that said ‘the dinner she cooked tonight was at least esculent’ – I might have been able to guess it’s meaning. But the quote you gave us “soft with foody esculence ” does hold promise of something far more spectacular than eatable. 😦

    I enjoy these random words of yours ^__^

  5. dannigrrl says:

    That is a rather disappointing definition to such a succulent word, but I love the rhyming antonym at the end. 🙂

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