Home » Things I have learned so far » To flense, or not to flense

To flense, or not to flense

dictionary - Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash

Photo credit: Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash


Is there anything more delicious than a new word?

Yes: the moment you realize that a true artist has used that new word. Brilliantly.


I read a lot. I write a lot. I like to think I have a decent vocabulary. Yet today, I stumbled upon a fabulous, evocative new word.

In a review of what sounds like a very intriguing psychological mystery, author Kevin Power made this statement: “Like a surgeon, or a serial killer, Moshfegh flenses her characters, and her readers, until all that is left is a void.”


It’s not often that I encounter a word I’ve never heard. Even if the word seems unfamiliar, the context usually gives its meaning away.

But not this time.

And so, like any good student, I promptly Googled “flense.” This is what I found:

Flense (verb): slice the skin or fat from (a carcass, especially that of a whale).

According to the author of this review, one Kevin Power, Ottessa Moshfegh slices the skin or fat from her characters, and her readers. She leaves no defense (the skin) and nothing extraneous (the fat). Only the exposed internal essential remains.

Again, sigh.

A word from an entirely different world, one of physicality and sweat and brute strength, used in a completely different context to describe the work of an artist. To flense: an act which, for a writer, is at once vastly different and precisely the same as its initial meaning implies.

The perfect word, perfectly executed.

My day is complete.


Note: The New Yorker, where this review appeared, states simply that Mr. Power “teaches in the School of English at Trinity College Dublin.” He has a new novel coming out in 2021. I will be waiting for it.

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