New words

During my freshman year in high school, my English teacher had a bright idea for how to help us all increase our vocabulary. “I just want you to pay attention when you encounter words you don’t know, in your daily life, and write them down, and look up their definitions, and then submit your list each week.” This is a well intentioned idea. A great idea. Being aware of the world, and of what you know and don’t know, and making an effort to fill in your gaps — why, that’s brilliant. (Leonardo da Vinci was of a similar mind.)

But it all fell apart when she added, “Your list must have at least ten words on it.” I soon discovered that if your vocabulary is already pretty healthy, it becomes effortful, then difficult, then just plain onerous to meet a new-word quota each week, if the requirement is that they’re words you just happen to run into. After all, most news articles are written at an eighth-grade reading level. Eventually I gave up and resorted to opening the dictionary at random. Sure, I probably learned some new words, but the feeling of being forced into an ethical compromise (it felt like cheating) left a bad taste in my mouth.

Since then, I’ve found a better way to learn new words. I signed up for A.Word.A.Day and thereby get a new word in my inbox each day — and it’s okay if I already know the word! However, the best ones are ones I didn’t already know. Here are ten words I particularly liked, in no particular order:

  1. redoubtable: Arousing fear or awe; evoking respect or honor.
  2. intenerate: To make tender or to soften.
  3. facinorous: Extremely wicked.
  4. corybantic: Wild; frenzied; uncontrolled.
  5. crapulent: Sick from excessive drinking or eating.
  6. kvell: To feel proud; to beam; to gloat.
  7. excerebrose: Brainless.
  8. verecund: Bashful; modest.
  9. philodox: Someone who loves his or her own opinion; a dogmatic person.
  10. irrefragable: Impossible to refute or dispute; incontrovertible.

Now go forth, redoubtable reader, and kvell in verecund fashion about your word-wise knowledge. You might want to avoid situations in which the other words apply.

4 of 4 people learned something from this entry.

  1. stough said,

    January 19, 2007 at 8:46 am

    (Learned something new!)

    I really enjoy the Oxford American Dictionary and, even more, the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus. The dictionary is actually the one which is available through the Mac OSX Dashboard. What I first discovered when looking up pithy and following a tantalizing “See note at TERSE” was a section called “The Right Word.” “The Right Word” describes a spectrum of words and how they relate to each other. It’s awesome. While looking up other words, I kept coming across more “Right Word” sections.

    In pursuit of more commentary on words I ended up reading a paper copy of the Writer’s Thesaurus. That is an excellent book. Not only does it have all of the “Right Word” sections, it also has something called word spectrums which list words which are opposites on either end of a spectrum and then a bunch of words that span the gap. For instance, one of the spectrums went from buy to sell with trade in the middle. It’s awesome. With the paper copy of the thesaurus to look for words, and an electronic copy of the dictionary to look up unfamiliar words, you can peruse all day and learn lots of words and the subtle distinctions between them.

    Try it, you’ll enjoy it.


  2. LearningNerd said,

    January 19, 2007 at 12:08 pm

    (Learned something new!)

    Those are some great words! I’ll have to add those to my list. :)

  3. geoff said,

    January 20, 2007 at 8:43 am

    (Learned something new!)

    I just caught up with you here, Kiri. Inspiring as always, keep it up.

  4. Riihele said,

    August 28, 2007 at 8:28 am

    (Learned something new!)

    Hei there Kiri.

    Came via Liz’s at Learning Nerd.
    Interesting blog entries you have here;
    I have read a selection and really
    I am learning so much of this and that .
    Thank you. Rii :)

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