Pynchon's Indicative Naming: Onomatophobia? Onomatomania? Or None of the Above?
In June 1953, when Thomas Ruggles Pynchon Jr. graduated from Oyster Bay High School, the yearbook editor noted Pynchon had the largest vocabulary in the class. By age 15, our boy-author was already a noticeable onomatophile, or, from the Greek, a lover of words. We don't have any evidence, but based on his earliest available writings, we don't think he suffered from the medical definition of onomatomania: "an abnormal impulse to dwell upon certain words and their supposed significance." Nor was there any mention in our reading that Pynchon may be an onomatophobe, or one suffering from "an abnormal dread of certain words." These medical-sounding definitions come from Stedman's Medical Dictionary.
In the less formal Mrs. Byrne's Dictionary, onomatomania is merely "the preoccupation with words," while onomatophobia is "the fear of hearing a certain word." These descriptors may or may not wiggle themselves into the lexicon of words about Pynchon's vocabulary. Since his earliest efforts, Pynchon has displayed a highly disciplined control over his choice of words, use of words, use of escalating or diminishing rhetorical registers, and rhetorical devices from the obvious hyperbole to the subtler enthymeme (a syllogism with one of the premises implicitly or purposefully withheld for the reader to infer, for example: "All men must die; Socrates is a man; therefore, ..."). All this started with his highschool newspaper "columns" (1952-53) and his collegiate short stories.