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On 1 July 2003, the Observer reported various comments that had been made by visitors to its Web site: “Meanwhile ‘stochata’ suspects that George Orwell is ‘the reason we have the word “turgescent” in the English language.’ No-one at the Observer was aware that we did have the word ‘turgescent’ in the English language, so we’re grateful for that, at least.”

You may share the Observer’s misapprehension, though you can be excused, as turgescent rarely appears except in technical specialities such as anatomy or botany, in the sense of becoming or seeming swollen or distended. In these fields you may find usages such as “the mucosal lining of the nasal septum is less turgescent than that of the nasal conchae” or “the stigma often remains turgescent and fresh for a period of 6 to 7 days”.

You may also occasionally encounter it in the turgid prose of some fantasy writers. “To one who dared peer within,” wrote Clark Ashton Smith in his short story Demon of the Flower, published in 1933, “the cup was lined with sepulchral violet, blackening toward the bottom, pitted with myriad pores, and streaked with turgescent veins of sulphurous green.”

Turgescent is from Latin turgescere, beginning to swell, from turgere, to swell. This last word is also the origin of turgid, swollen or distended, and of turgor, the normal swollen condition of cells or tissues. Another Latin verb meaning to swell, tumere, has bequeathed us tumescent , with a similar meaning, though one that often appears in sexual contexts.

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Page created 15 Sep 2007