Word + Quiz: expatiate

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Word + Quiz: expatiate

1. add details, such as to an account or idea

2. clarify the meaning of and discourse in a learned way, usually in writing

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The word expatiate has appeared in seven articles on NYTimes.com in the past six years, including on May 11, 2014, in the Bookends column “Do Critics Make Good Novelists?” in which Daniel Mendelsohn writes:

At the beginning of “In America,” Susan Sontag’s novelization of the life of a 19th-century Polish actress, the suspiciously Susan Sontag-esque American narrator takes a break from her Mitteleuropäisch milieu to talk about — well, Susan Sontag. Eavesdropping on some characters speaking Polish, she’s amazed to find she understands every word:

“I, with my command only of Romance languages (I dabble in German, know the names of 20 kinds of fish in Japanese, have soaked up a splash of Bosnian, and understand barely a word of the language of the country in which this room is to be found), I, as I’ve said, somehow did manage to understand most of what they were saying.”

If I had more space, I’d happily expatiate on what’s wrong with this mortifying passage. But two things leap out right away: the gratuitous humblebrag about the speaker’s fancy expertises (sashimi!), and the labored, self-conscious explanation of her narrative context. The author of this tortured self-advertisement wasn’t a born novelist.

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