Anne Fadiman takes the cake in my personal “sexiest vocabulary” competition. The ease and panache with which she employs such gems as hortatory, alluvium and premasticate stand as the final flourishes in a bourrée of words, glances shot coyly over departing shoulders in a flirtation that leaves me smitten and begging for more.

Those desiring multiple pages of such treatment are advised to seek her 1998 collection of essays, Ex Libris, a book offering meat enough for even the most rapacious logophile. (For particularly gratuitous indulgence, c.f. The Joy of Sesquipedalians, p.11) My own rambles through the book have overturned many a delectable morsel, but one in particular which struck my fancy and for which I vowed to find a conversational use – specifically, eidetic. It’s a Greek-rooted adjective, defined as “marked by or involving extraordinarily accurate and vivid recall, especially of visual images <an eidetic memory>” (courtesy of Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary).

Fadiman uses the word on page 67 in the essay You Are There. I tried to use it last night at a contra dance, but failing to have quite an eidetic mind, instead said euchetic. Something didn’t taste right about the pronunciation, and my suspicion of personal verbal misuse was confirmed this afternoon upon consulting the source. Euchetic appears nowhere in Fadiman’s book, but I was fairly sure it was a word – likely a word I’d seen before, since I’m not prone to making neologisms. Thus, in an effort to determine origin, I naturally turned to THE source. I went to Google.

I will confess to rarely consulting printed dictionaries. Wikipedia, Dictionary.com, Merriam-Webster’s Online, and a host of other electronic sources provide ample opportunity to check appropriate usage and until now have never failed me. Until now. Euchetic, it turns out, is a single-word Googlewhack. Actually, my usage is a little off. Technically, a Googlewhack is any two-word phrase which elicits exactly one result when searched. The magazine New Scientist has suggested the term Googlewhackblatt for single-word Googlewhacks, but, rather like antidisestablishmentarianism, this verbal innovation strikes me as a little over the top. It’s not like I have room to talk, though. I’ve never found a single Googlewhack or a Googlewhackblatt before today, whereas some people have spent large amounts of time and money pursuing these ephemeral and fleeting quarry. The British comedian Dave Gorman even published a book about them – the people, and the Googlewhacks.

The troublesome part, though, was that I still hadn’t found the definition of euchetic. I was convinced it was a word. The instance of euchetic yielded by Google existed in a call for papers for the 28th Symposium of the Christian Archeological Society with the special aim of “…enhanc[ing] the meaning of the written word (prose or metrical) on all manner of moveable [sic] objects, both religious and secular, in the Byzantine Age (4th-15th century).” Papers dealing with “euchetic and apotropaic enscriptions” were among the topics accepted. So here stood an apparently scholarly use of the word. But knowing the verbosity of scholars, why was there only one use of euchetic online? I had developed a fondness for the word by now, I didn’t want it to be a typo, but like the protagonist in Borges’ Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, I was beginning to wonder if I had found an artifact of an imaginary world.

It turns out I’m not delusional. Thankfully, euchetic is indeed a word. And we should all at this point raise a resounding huzzah, because the The Oxford English Dictionary (bless you, O editors of that illustrious publication) trumps Google. Found in Volume V of XX of the Second Edition, the Oxford only needs one entry for its victory to be complete. Euchetic stems from euchet, an alternate spelling of euchite, defined as “One of a sect which arose in the fourth century, taking its name from a belief that perpetual prayer was the only means of salvation. The name was also applied to later sects holding similar views.” It was with great satisfaction that I folded the blue covers shut, nodded in triumph to the Wake reference librarian, and walked back down to the atrium.

To quote a friend, “Word.”

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