Challenging Word of the Week: gargantuan

(gar GAN choo un) adjective

Anyone or anything described as gargantuan is huge, gigantic, vast, or of enormous proportions. The adjective, often capitalized, is derived from Gargantua, the amiable giant king whose exploits are recorded in the novel of that name, one of the two great satirical works by Francois Rabelais (1494-1553). His books, full of coarse, broad, boisterous wit and humor, are characterized by the type of licentious language associated with the adjective Rabelaisian. Gargantua was noted for his incredibly voracious appetite (garganta is Spanish for “gullet”; cf. French gargoille, throat, and English derivatives gargle and gargoyle), so great that on one occasion the insatiable guzzler swallowed whole five pilgrims – with their staves! – mixed in a salad. In Shakespeare’s As You Like It (Act III, Scene 2), Rosalind asks Celia a torrent of questions about Orlando and winds up: “Answer me in one word.” Celia replies: “You must borrow me* Gargantua’s mouth first: ‘tis a word too great for any mouth of this age’s size…” One can speak of the gargantuan appetite of a trencherman, the gargantuan length of one of those endless historical novels, or the gargantuan task of cleaning up after a hurricane.

* (Note: Shakespearean scholars have apparently overlooked this indication of the bard’s Minnesota upbringing. NW)

My example: As with Gargantua, the gargantuan federal budget could stand to mix in a salad.

From the book, “1000 Most Challenging Words” by Norman W. Schur, ©1987 by the Ballantine Reference Library, Random House. I post a weekly “Challenging Words” definition to call more attention to this delightful book and to promote interesting word usage in the blogosphere. I challenge other bloggers to work the current word into a post sometime in the coming week. If you manage to do so, please leave a comment or a link to where I can find it. Previous words in this series can be found under the appropriate Category heading in the right-hand sidebar.

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