Paul O'Brian writes about Watchmen, trivia, albums, interactive fiction, and more.


Words Infocom taught me

One of Textfyre‘s marketing claims is going to be that interactive fiction teaches literacy: vocabulary, reading comprehension, that sort of thing. (It also teaches typing — I have long claimed that Infocom taught me how to touch-type, because I was too absorbed in the game to look down at the keyboard.)

The vocabulary claim is certainly true for me. I always suspected that Infocom had a hidden agenda to broaden our vocabularies, because there were always a few words in their games that sent me to the dictionary. When I wrote my first game, I tried to inject a little tribute to this tradition, with a peninsular location I called “Chersonese.” I was reminded of this recently as I thumbed through a thesaurus given to me as a gift.

In that spirit, I present an incomplete list of the words I learned from Infocom games:

gnomon (Trinity)
menhir (Zork II)
oubliette (Spellbreaker)
reliquary (Beyond Zork)
reticule (Plundered Hearts)
skink (Trinity)
topiary (Zork II)

These are just the ones that turned up in a cursory search of my brain. Anybody else got others?


The Hero With A Thousand Bat-themed Gadgets


The Magnetic Fields in Boulder, 10/15/08


  1. jrw

    Heh, I’m with you on topiary and EBCDIC. But I learned menhir from Asterix books.

    • Yeah, “Words comic books taught me” could be the subject of another post. “Prehensile” springs to mind — always makes me think of Nightcrawler’s tail, thanks to the tics of Mr. Claremont.

  2. I definitely learned to touch type playing Infocom. And learned a great deal of vocabulary to boot. Menhir and topiary, as well as phosphorescent, sceptre, brandishing… hard to say how many. Eight years old was probably a touch on the young side to be playing Zork, so I picked up a lot of words playing that on my C64.

  3. Playing English-language adventure (not necessarily text) games was, I’m sure, an important way to build vocabulary for me as an ESL speaker.

  4. I learned oubilette from The X-Files. I have learned many words from World of Warcraft, most of which are related to armor, such as pauldron.

    • However, The X-Files did not teach me to type. 🙂

    • Hey, there’s potential for a whole series here! “Words TV taught me” (like “tontine” — thanks M*A*S*H!) “Words Dungeons & Dragons taught me” (halberd! greaves! thaumaturge!) Not to mention the oft-overlooked “Words Books taught me.”

  5. Okay, now I really need to replay the Infocom games…I’m drawing a blank.

    The games that are coming to mind are all non-Infocom, e.g. “plover” in Adventure and “ichor” in Gateway.

  6. Bacteriophage. (Stationfall)

  7. Words Ann Rice taught me (over and over): prescient and preternatural.


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