Tag Archives: scrofulous

Weekly Word Wrangle: Scrofulous


Ah… the word for this week (or fortnight as I am running late already on the ‘weekly’ idea) is scrofulous.

Ponder the sound of this word for a minute; what does it make you think about?

I found it while reading the latest novel of another of my favourite Australian authors, Tim Winton, Eyrie (review soon to be found on this blog). I just loved how it rolled around my mouth before it came out, but I also thought that it didn’t sound like a particularly complimentary term.

Winton is a master of words and uses it in the context of his protagonist walking around a dock area and teams it up with the word ‘strakes’. Not being a boating aficionado I really had no real clue as to its meaning, which was refreshing. ‘Scrofulous strakes’ (see alliteration can be good!) is part of the description of boats in the dock area.  So now I had to find out not only the original word ‘scrofulous’ (adjective) but also the noun that Winton paired with it – ‘strakes’.

I hear you saying get on with it; tell us what it really means. Skipping into my synonym and thesaurus search on my computer tells me nothing.  So off I went to the trusty old (or not so old) Macquarie Dictionary (online), which tells me that ‘scrofulous’ has two meanings, the first is to be affected by scrofula, I hear you say what the?? This is where the picture can really start forming in your mind because scrofula is a “disorder of a tuberculous nature” which involves the swelling and degeneration of glands.  The second meaning has us thinking about moral corruption, so I am going with the first meaning.  To narrow it down I went in search of the meaning of ‘strakes’, which in this context relates to the planking on the side or bottom of a boat.

There you have it, the boats had bulging, swollen or degenerated planks (not sure if they were also morally corrupt!). To give you the full context, I am providing the sentence in which I found these little beauties so you can judge whether I should have worked it out without a dictionary. “He sidled between buffed hulls and scrofulous strakes, beneath stepped masts and exhaust-blackened transoms as drills and sanders wailed in the bellies of launches, ocean racers, gamefishers.”(Winton, p.120).

Not sure that I will find a use for this description in my own writing but you have to hand it to Tim Winton it does conjure a picture.


Source of definition


Also referenced,

Winton, T. Eyrie. Penguin Group. 2013. Print