I was chatting pleasantly on the phone with my parents when my dad asked me what I thought of the most recent action of a certain notorious politician of my region. About three minutes later, as I paused my tirade for a moment to inhale, my parents said it was getting late and they had to head off.

Well, yes, it’s a bit of a fault. I confess to being detonent. I can be quite calm and sanguine, and then something will bring to my mind the actions of someone perfectly awful, and for a short, intense time I am Thor hurling lightning bolts from on high, the environs echoing with the thunder-blasts. And then it’s back to birds chirping and a gentle breeze wafting away the smoke.

Detonent makes you think of detonate, doesn’t it? Like setting off dynamite. And of course they’re related, but the one doesn’t come from the other; they both trace back to Latin tonare, the verb meaning ‘thunder’. The de– doesn’t mean a negative; it has the same ‘releasing’ sense as in declaim. The –ent is as in persistent: ‘prone to, inclined to’. So someone who is detonent is prone to thundering – or, to be more exact, prone to sporadic brief outbursts of sound and fury.

The word may make you think of intone, but it’s not that at all; it’s not a steady or musical sound, and it’s not etymologically related either – intone comes from Latin tonus, ‘tone’, which in turn is taken from Greek τόνος. You may be looking at the Latin tonare and thinking, “Shouldn’t this word be detonant with an a?” And perhaps there’s an argument to be made for that, but I won’t be the one making it. For one thing, the suffix -ant has other meanings – a detonant could be something that causes things to detonate. For another, I invented this word, so live with it.

Yes, that’s right. This is a perfectly plausible word from well-known classical roots, and it fills a lexical space usefully, but you won’t find it anywhere… before now. It’s a new old word.

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