The cemetery was stagnating in a precarious calm … Occasional bursts of lamentation from the hired mourners … could be heard in the overheated air, like the echo of unspeakable suffering. … An old man with a white beard dragging a rachitic donkey at the end of a rope passed in front of the mausoleum and greeted Karamallah with a slight nod befitting an exiled monarch. … Karamallah [was disturbed by] the donkey’s gaze; it was both dejected and accusing, as if Karamallah were the one at the root of its downfall.
This is the sort of word I usually don’t look up. It is defined sufficiently by context that I don’t feel I’m missing much by not turning to the dictionary. Turning to the dictionary is such a bother, especially when you end up being told what you’ve already figured out. So I’m going to tell you that I have copied out the contextual passage and I have written up to this point without having turned to the dictionary. I might as well guess what the dictionary is going to say. Rachitic means skinny and/or diseased-looking, undernourished, perhaps aged.
definition (according to Miriam-Webster): rickety
Rachitic specifically refers to rickets, the disease. Which makes me realize I never knew what I was metaphoring when I said something looked “rickety,” that is, as though it were about to fall apart.
How did I do? What I learned from the dictionary was not the definition — my guess was perfectly adequate — I learned that the word evokes the ravages of a specific disease, rickets, and that rickety is another way of saying rachitic. I didn’t need to know this stuff, but it makes a DIR post!
source: “The Colors of Infamy” by Albert Cossery, translation by Alyson Waters, which appears in Two Lines, no.18: Counterfeits, edited by Luc Sante & Rosanna Warren, published by the Center for the Art of Translation