I just finished a fascinating thriller called Impact by Douglas Preston.  His books, both solo and with Lincoln Child, are the kind that keep me up at night so I can read as much as possible, even though the loss of sleep will haunt me the next day – they are that good.  This book is about as close to science fiction as I get in my reading.  Preston depicts a small Maine fishing village, a California space research lab, Cambodian illegal gem traders, and Washington bureaucrats all with stunning depth and, as far I can imagine, accuracy.  He also throws in the occasional fun word like desuetude or quincunx.  Desuetude I kind of knew, or at least could figure out from context, but quincunx threw me for a loop.  You can look it up – it is basically four things in a square with a fifth in the middle, like the pips on the five side of a die.  The only thing I could figure out from the word itself is that it had something to do with the number five.  There are lots of words like this – tricycle, quartet, etc.  But there are also words with a number root that have lost their original meanings.  Decimate means to kill ten percent of something but it is now used to denote a total rout.  I had thought section meant one-sixth of something, but Merriam Webster does not seem to bear this out and traces the origins to a Latin word for to cut.  Sextant, the thing sailors would use to figure out where they were, has origins in the number six, so maybe that is what I was thinking.  There are others but I am blanking…

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