The Word-Hoard: Balustrade



A railing or wall to prevent people from falling over the edge of stairs, a balcony, etc.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve seen plenty of impressive or notable architectural features in your day without having the slightest clue what they’re called – like those latticed wooden structures erected in a lot of gardens, often with a mess of vines drooping all over them.

It’s called a pergola, by the way.

Jack Vance, of course, knew the names of all these miscellaneous constructions and formations. Why, just crack open the first Planet of Adventure book, City of the Chasch, and you’ll encounter a slew of such words within the first two or three chapters. Hell, we could have gone with “belvedere” today, but we all already know that one.


Let’s go to the text to see how exciting Vance can make little railings:

Low in the sky appeared an aircraft, which first hovered, then settled: a sky-raft fifty feet long, twenty feet wide, controlled from an ornate belvedere at the stern. Forward and aft great lanterns dangled from convolute standards; the bulwarks were guarded by a squat balustrade. Leaning over the balustrade, pushing and jostling, were two dozen passengers, in imminent danger, so it seemed, of falling to the ground.

– Jack Vance, City of the Chasch (1968)






  1. A very interesting series! I’d recommend checking the etymologies of some of the words too. It may be useful for discerning where the word would be most appropriate or how to distinguish it from very similar ones. Not in this case, though, although it may be interesting to know that baluster comes from the flower of the pomegranate…

    • Thanks for the idea! That could indeed be a very cool avenue to explore for some of these words.

      The series was part inspired by a blog post I read not that long ago about how writers can (and perhaps should) actively build up their vocabulary not just by reading, but by studying words. I think it was at the Pulp Archivist (, but I can’t find the post now. The more immediate impetus was in observing how many new words I was learning from reading Jack Vance.

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