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The Clarification of Words in The Confusion of Languages

This week’s words come from the novel The Confusion of Languages by Siobhan Fallon. Two women, army wives living in Jordan, become friends despite their opposing reactions to the culture.

Cassie initially seems like the woman with her head on straight: she follows the rules and accepts their function to protect her from real danger. Yet she proves herself to be hypervigilant, so that embassy guards and other characters discount her claims of danger.

Margaret is one such character who shrugs off Cassie’s endless warnings, instead choosing to prioritize acts of kindness, regardless of the rules and cultural norms she defies in the process. She comes off as naive and awkward, but neither is an act. Margaret has lived a sheltered life taking care of her mother who recently died after living with lupus for years.

I wanted a clear message from the author about which woman was right. I wanted to know if Fallon would condemn Margaret’s kindness as weakness, or if she would condemn Cassie’s fear as constricting. She didn’t condemn either. Instead, Fallon writes two characters who seem deeply human in their desire to connect with others, seek comfort and protection, and ultimately, to feel chosen and loved.

For Wordy Wednesday I’ve selected four words from Fallon’s The Confusion of Languages. The definitions are from the New Oxford American Dictionary. I start with the citation from the novel that includes the word, followed by the definition, and last is a sentence in which I use the word myself.


“When Margaret holds Mather she proves she has sworn fealty to a man, given him an heir” (87-88).

Noun, a feudal tenant’s or vassal’s sworn loyalty to a lord

Millennials’ student debt is like modern feudalism, all of the graduates signing their fealty to Great Lakes, Navient, and Nelnet, the lords of the twenty-first century.


“He was telling us not to look like MTV strumpets” (96).

Noun, a female prostitute or a promiscuous woman

As a chiropractor and a tutor, I strive to dress with modesty, but even in my casual attire I am far from a strumpet.


“I could smell the loamy farmland of Gilroy and Salinas give way to the salt of Monterey” (205).

Adjective, denoting or relating to a fertile soil of clay and sand containing humus

Hiking in verdant trails with last Autumn’s leaves on the ground I smell the loamy soil under my steps.


“So the ingénue act was wearing thin and the real Margaret was peeking out” (239).

Noun, an innocent or unsophisticated young woman, especially in a play or film

In Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia, the ingénue Thomasina is foil to disillusioned Hannah.

What characters have captivated you from your reading lately? And what words are they teaching you? Share in the comments, and happy reading!



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