In Quicksilver by Neal Stephenson, this week I read a description of the shipyard of the Dutch East India Company in Amsterdam, 1684:
This was a wonder all by itself, with its ropewalks–skinny buildings a third of a mile long–windmills grinding lead and boring gun-barrels, a steam-house, perpetually obnubilated, for bending wood, dozens of smoking and clanging smithys including two mighty ones where anchors were made, and a small tidy one for making nails, a tar factory on its own wee island so that when it burnt down it wouldn’t take the rest of the yard with it. pp. 480, 481
I actually know ropewalks, but only from the last few years. They’re buildings for making rope. Here’s a photo of a couple of people doing it outside that shows the amount of space you need.
You can see that to make a long rope, protected from the weather, would require a long skinny building.
Obnubilated is new to me, although somewhat clear from context. It comes from Latin, ob- which means “in the way” — like obscure. Nubilare means “to be cloudy” and is also related our word nuance. Nebulous is related as well, but it came to English via a detour through Old High German. So, obnubilated is covered by clouds (of steam, in this case). That would be a good way to describe tall mountains or skyscrapers when you can’t see the tops due to clouds — they are obnubilated.
Wondrous Words Wednesday is hosted by Bermudaonion’s Weblog. Kathy says: “Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our reading.”