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670 Cards in this Set

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ABATE (uh BAYT) v to lessen in intensity or degree ● We realized with great relief that the storm had abated before breaking through the sea wall. ● Attempts by the administration to abate the intensity of the controversy were mostly unsuccessful; it continued to consume everyone's attention. Abatement is a lessening in amount or degree. ● The city's new noise abatement plan targeted live music venues, but many people felt the focus should be on decreasing the number of low flying airplanes passing over the city.
ABERRANT (A bur unt) ad] deviating from the norm ● Jim's aberrant behavior at the dance raised some eyebrows; he was certainly the only one who spent the night walking (and dancing) on his hands. Someone or something aberrant is an aberration. ● The D Jenny received on the chemistry test was just an aberration, since she has received only A's the rest of the semester.
ABJURE (ab JUR) v to renounce or reject solemnly; to recant; to avoid ● The reformed socialite abjured her former lifestyle and all those with whom she had previously associated. ● Steve had to abjure all indulgence when he entered the training camp. For a related word, see recant.
ABROGATE (AB roh gayt) v to abolish or annul by authority; put down ● The court ruling abrogated the defendant's rights to any profit from the sale of the house. ● Darren abrogated his responsibility to the paper when he went on vacation without submitting his article before the deadline.
ABSCISSION (ab SI zhun) n act of cutting off or removing ● Dr. Carter recommended an immediate abscission of the abscess in order to minimize any further infection. Abscise means to cut off or remove. ● When she called for the resignation of key legislators, the congresswoman claimed that it was the only way to abscise the corruption before it spread. Abscission can also mean the actual cut itself.
ABSCOND (ab SKAHND) v to depart clandestinely; to steal off and hide ● Doug was left penniless when the two con men absconded with his life savings. ● Raccoons are notorious for absconding and hiding shiny objects; no one knows why they need all those spoons and watches, though.
ABSTAIN (ub STAYN) v to refrain from an activity ● Sheryl chose to abstain from eating chocolate, her favorite treat, for the season of Lent. The act of abstaining is called abstinence. ● The old health textbook recommended abstinence from sexual activity as the primary means of birth control. Abstemious is a related word meaning marked by moderation, particularly where food and drink are concerned. ● Though some regard the diet as a fad, in fact it recommends some very traditional habits, such as consuming sugar and alcohol abstemiously.
ACCOLADE (AK o layd) n an expression of praise; an award ● The diva received her accolades graciously, blowing kisses to her adoring fans. ● Doris so craved her coach's accolades that she showed up an hour early to every practice. The word accolade comes from a French word meaning to embrace, which, logically enough, comes from the same root as collar. You can also associate lade with laud (meaning praise), though they probably don't have the same etymological backgrounds.
ACCRETION (uh KREE shun) n growth, increase by successive addition, building up ● Limestone is formed by the accretion of tiny particles from objects such as shells and coral over a very, very long time. ● The accretion of dirt has changed the color of the kitchen floor from white to brown, which is pretty disgusting.
ACERBIC (uh SUHR bik) adj having a sour or bitter taste or character ● Dorothy Parker was famous for her wit, which could be quite acerbic; Parker could be devastating when she wanted to be. ● I like my lemonade with very little sugar in it; the acerbic tang is refreshing when the weather's warm.
ACUMEN (AK u men) n quick, keen, or accurate knowledge or insight ● The media often comments on the CEO's business acumen, remarking on his company's financial successes, but I think his fashion sense is much more interesting. ● Her acumen in anticipating her opponent's strategy is legendary; it's what makes her so hard to beat. If you think about it, you probably know several words with acu in them that mean "sharp." Acute is frequently used to describe sharp pain and sharp angles (less than 90 degrees). People with good acumen are often described as being sharp, too! That's because these words come from the Latin root acus, which means needle.
ADMONISH (ad MAH nish) v to reprove; to express warning or disapproval ● How many times has your roommate admonished you to put the toilet seat down? An admonition is a warning or a scolding and admonitory means expressing warning or disapproval. ● He tried to admonish us not to open the secret passageway, but his admonition fell on deaf ears. Man, were we sorry we hadn't listened to him when all the monsters came rushing out! ● Dad's admonitory tone made us feel guilty about ruining our appetites with pre-dinner cookies.
ADROIT (uh DROYT) adj adept, dexterous ● Karl had always been an adroit manipulator; even when he was a kid he could get people to do what he wanted. ● Although her adroit handling of the situation minimized the damage, nothing could really save the conference after the room flooded. ● Since he is ambidextrous, he is equally adroit at shooting marbles with either hand. Maladroit means clumsy or bungling. ● Jerry Lewis was able to make a career out of playing maladroit characters.
ADULATION (a ju LAY shun) n excessive praise; intense adoration ● Leif Garrett was the object of much adolescent adulation. ● Samuel had taken his little brother's adulation for granted until his brother grew four inches taller and was no longer as easily impressed.
ADULTERATE (uh DUL tur ayt) v to reduce purity by combining with inferior ingredients ● There was a huge scandal when customers discovered that the health food store had been adulterating the wheat grass juice with clippings from the front lawn. ● In an effort to determine why the house's foundation was crumbling, the inspectors tested the concrete to see if it had been improperly adulterated when it was mixed. Adulteration is the process or effect of adulterating. Unadulterated, appropriately enough, means pure. ● I could tell that what her used car salesman was saying was one hundred percent, pure, unadulterated hogwash.
ADUMBRATE (a DUM brayt) v to foreshadow vaguely, intimate, suggest, or outline sketchily ● The possibilities for further cooperation between the two parties were adumbrated at the first, private meeting, but nothing was finalized until much later. ● The first volume of the trilogy only adumbrates the basics of the story that will be developed in the next two books.
ADVOCATE (AD vuh cayt) v to argue for or support a cause ● Though the senator did not advocate the bill openly, he voted for it because he thought it would save him some face among his critics. A person who advocates something is called an advocate, but be careful; the noun form is pronounced differently.
AESTHETIC (es THET ik) adj dealing with, appreciative of, or responsive to art or the beautiful ● Many people say they see no aesthetic value in some modern artwork, claiming the pieces look like a kindergartner's finger painting. ● Her finely tuned aesthetic sensibilities made it very painful for her to be around so much baby blue polyester.
AGGRANDIZE (uh GRAND yz) v to increase in intensity, power, or prestige; to make appear greater ● Michael's attempts to aggrandize his achievements produced the exact opposite effect; everyone ended up thinking he had accomplished less than he really had. In other words, he would have been better off without the self-aggrandizing. ● The multi-million dollar advertising campaign was part of a plan to aggrandize the company's stock before it went public.
ALACRITY (uh LAK ruh tee) n eager and enthusiastic willingness ● Amy responded to the invitation to join the planning committee with alacrity, and even volunteered to take on additional responsibilities. ● The alacrity with which Calvin offered to do the dishes made his mother suspicious; usually he would only do chores kicking and screaming.
ALCHEMY (AL kuh mee) n a magical or wonderful transformation Alchemy was originally a medieval science aimed at changing metals, particularly changing base metals into gold and silver, and the creation of a remedy that could cure all diseases. Though alchemy wouldn't be considered science today, alchemists did make some important strides in understanding chemistry. ● The remarkable alchemy among the cast members transformed watching the familiar, and sometimes boring, play into a completely new experience. An alchemist practices or studies alchemy.
ALLOY (uh LOY) v to commingle; to debase by mixing with something inferior ● Alloying the punch with prune juice turned out not to be such a good idea after all. ● Alloy can also be a noun, in which case it is the mixture itself, as in an alloy between sitcom and game show. Unalloyed means pure. ● The reviewer described the movie as an unalloyed pleasure, saying it was the first film in years in which every single minute was worth watching.
AMALGAMATE (uh MAL guh mayt) v to combine several elements into a whole ● A griffin, theoretically at least, is an amalgamation of an eagle and a lion into one mean-looking mythical creature. ● It makes sense that the metal used in fillings is called an amalgam since it is a combination of mercury and silver.
AMBIGUITY (am big YOU uh tee) n uncertainty in meaning ● The ambiguity of the poem's title allows scholars to interpret it many different ways. The adjective form of the word is ambiguous. ● Samir left the note purposefully ambiguous, figuring that Sonya would give him the benefit of the doubt if she wished to. Be careful; ambiguity is frequently confused with ambivalence.
AMBIVALENCE (am BIV uh lunts) n the quality of having opposing ideas or feelings ● Nikki's ambivalence about the job offer was apparent; on one hand, the money and benefits would be better than at her current job, but on the other, she didn't want to risk losing the wonderful work environment she already had. Ambivalent is the adjective form of ambivalence. Be careful; ambivalence is often confused with ambiguity, probably because ambivalence can also mean uncertainty (par-ticularly about what course one should follow).
AMELIORATE (uh MEE lee or ayt) v to make better or more tolerable ● Jonas was sure that nothing could ameliorate the taste of beets; brussels sprouts, on the other hand, could be made quite palatable with the introduction of plenty of butter. ● All attempts to ameliorate the relationship between the longstanding adversaries seemed futile; they were as hostile toward one another as ever.
AMENABLE (uh MEE nuh bul) adj agreeable; responsive to suggestion ● If you're amenable, let's go for a walk before lunch. ● The actress was known for being amenable to direction, which made her a favorite of directors. If you think you see the word amen in amenable, you're right. Amen is an expression of agreement or approval, which is why it often follows a prayer. Amenable, of course, comes from the same root.
ANACHRONISM (uh NA krah ni zum) n something or someone out of place in terms of historical or chronological context ● The wristwatch worn by one of the characters in the period movie set in Rome in 25 B.C. was just one of the many anachronisms that spoiled the movie's credibility. ● Mr. Jones' students felt his insistence on strict classroom discipline was an anachronism and that he should "get with the times."
ANATHEMA (uh NA thuh muh) n a solemn or ecclesiastical (religious) curse; accursed or thoroughly loathed person or thing ● He was an anathema to his entire town once it was revealed that he had been a secret police informant. ● The precepts of eugenics became almost universally anathema around the world once the horrors of World War II began to be revealed. ● Hearing the anathema pronounced against her filled her with foreboding.
ANODYNE (AN uh dyn) adj soothing ● Don't you agree that nothing is quite so anodyne as a long soak in a bubble bath? ● I've also found that its anodyne effect can be enhanced by some good music and a glass of wine. Anodyne can also be a noun, spelled the same way, and meaning something that assuages or allays pain, or comforts. ● After such a hectic week, Casey very much looked forward to the anodyne of a relaxing weekend of camping at the lake. For words with similar meanings, see emollient and mollify.
ANOMALY (uh NAH muh lee) n deviation from the normal order, form, or rule; abnormality ● Pickles for sale in a tire store would be an anomaly; tires for sale in a pickle store would be equally weird. ● The anomalous results the scientist received the third time she ran the experiment made her question her initial hypothesis, since she couldn't find any other reason for the deviation from her prior results.
ANTAGONIZE (an TAG uh nyz) v to irritate or cause hostility ● Alonzo constantly antagonized his younger sister by stealing her lunch money and refusing to give it back. Antagonize has the Greek root agon, which means contest. Agony has the same root. The hero's primary rival or adversary in a play is called the antagonist. The hero, on the other hand, is called the protagonist.
ANTIPATHY (an TI puh thee) n aversion, dislike ● Sam very clearly expresses his antipathy toward certain breakfast foods in the Dr. Seuss classic, Green Eggs and Ham. ● Her longstanding antipathy toward her boss was tempered with at least a little gratitude after she received her big raise and promotion. Antipathetic means showing a strong aversion. ● He was completely antipathetic to any new ideas, especially any that might suggest that his way wasn't the best way. I've never met such a close-minded person!
ANTITHETICAL (an tuh THET i cul) adj diametrically opposed, as in antithesis ● I couldn't help but feel that he always deliberately expressed a position antithetical to mine, as if he enjoyed playing devil's advocate even more than he cared about expressing what he really thought. ● Nothing could be more antithetical to the spirit of sportsmanship than point shaving. The antithesis is the opposite of something. ● The antithesis of poverty is wealth.
APATHY (A puh thee) n lack of interest or feeling ● There was such a pervading air of apathy in the high school that most clubs were shut down due to lack of interest. The adjective form is apathetic. ● Though my pipes have been leaking for days, my landlord is so apathetic that he hasn't answered any of my phone calls or come by to fix anything. Apathy shares a root with the word pathos, which means feeling. The prefix a- means without.
APOCRYPHAL (uh PAH cri ful) adj of dubious authenticity or origin; spurious You may have heard this word before—or something close to it—in a religious context. The Apocrypha were religious writings that were not included in the Bible because they weren't considered canonical (see canon) by the Protestant church of the day, or their authenticity was in question. If you see the word Apocryphal with a capital A, the writer is referring to those writings specifically. ● Most people believe that stories of alien abduction are apocryphal, but what if there really is a big government conspiracy and all those stories are true? ● My favorite urban myth is the one about the fate of Little Mikey swallowing pop rocks and then drinking soda. I know it's apocryphal, but I still think it pays to be careful.
APOGEE (A poh jee) n farthest or highest point; culmination; zenith ● No one could have foreseen that receiving the Pulitzer Prize at the age of eighteen would be the apogee of his career, and that nothing he produced afterward would achieve any kind of critical success. Perigee is the lowest or closest point, or the nadir. ● The moon is at apogee when it is at its farthest point away from the earth in its orbit; it is at perigee is when it is closest to earth. For a related word, see nadir in this book.
APOSTATE (uh PAH stayt) n one who abandons long-held religious or political convictions, a betrayer of a cause ● Jordan was an apostate of modern culture; he renounced all the trappings of modem life that he used to love, and went to live in a cave. ● His fellow party members were shocked when Fred became an apostate, running for office on his former opponent's ticket.
APOTHEOSIS (uh pah thee 0 sis) n deification, glorification to godliness, the perfect example ● The apotheosis of technology in modem society seems to be reaching new highs; computers and gadgets are practically worshipped by consumers. ● She is the apotheosis of nurturing motherhood; she makes soup for sick friends, nurses wounded birds, and listens to everyone's problems.
APPOSITE (A pah zit) ad] appropriate, pertinent, relevant, apropos ● His choice of songs for the opening ceremony was entirely apposite; everyone agreed that it was perfectly suited to the event. ● The fact that she hasn't called for two weeks is hardly apposite to whether she's going to call me today, since she hadn't read my amazing love poem before.
APPRISE (uh PRIZ) v give notice to, inform ● The officer apprised Chris of his rights before questioning him. ● The shipping department left a message to apprise me of the status of the shipment, letting me know it was scheduled to arrive the following day.
APPROBATION (a pruh BAY shun) n an expression of approval or praise ● Providing approbation for good behavior is the best way to train puppies; the praise is particularly effective when accompanied by treats. ● The judges expressed their approbation of Stephen's performance by awarding him the gold medal. To approbate is to approve something officially.
APPROPRIATE (uh PRO pree ayt) v to take for one's own use, confiscate ● As they passed through the town, both armies appropriated housing, food, and ammunition from the town's residents. Whatever hadn't been taken by the first was taken by the second, leaving the inhabitants with insufficient resources to survive the coming winter. ● My friend Oscar is a natural mimic; he unintentionally appropriates the mannerisms of others until it's impossible to tell which ones are his own. Even though this word looks like one you may use and hear every day, be careful! The meaning and pronunciation are different when it is used as a verb.
ARABESQUE (ar uh BESK) n complex, ornate design ● A beautiful arabesque of fruits and flowers surrounded the central pattern of the print. An arabesque is also a position in ballet, and is sometimes used metaphorically in this sense. ● Her assistants performed an arabesque of practiced efficiency around her as she prepared for the press conference.
ARCANE (ar KAYN) adj mysterious, abstruse, esoteric, knowable only to initiates ● Elizabeth was a font of arcane knowledge; she could tell you not only the names of the pets of every cabinet member of every administration, but also how many gumballs are produced annually. ● Knowledge of the arcane secrets of any bureaucracy is always restricted to those who work within it. They're the only ones who know how to fill out the forms, too. Arcana are deep secrets. The singular is arcanum, but it's almost always used in the plural.
ARCHAIC (ar KAY ik) adj outdated; associated with an earlier, perhaps more primitive time ● Geoff's archaic leisure suit looked like it had been in storage for thirty years, and it probably should have stayed there. ● The archaic instruments used in the village clinic shocked the visiting physicians.
ARDUOUS (AR juh wus) adj strenuous, taxing, requiring significant effort ● This is the third time since we got here that Grandpa's told us the story of his arduous trips to and from school when he was a kid—uphill in the snow both ways. ● Learning all these vocab words may seem like an arduous task, but if you just learn a few a day, it will be a piece of cake, I promise.
ARRANT (AR unt) adj impudent; in every way, being completely such, bare-faced, utter ● Don Juan's arrant philandering made him a legend. He seemed to have had the ability to turn many of his admirers into arrant fools. Don't confuse this with errant, which means itinerant.
ARREST (uh REST) v to suspend; to engage ● Sometime I think my brother's emotional development was arrested at a young age; he often acts like a five year old. ● My attention was immediately arrested by the view, a breathtaking panorama of mountains and lakes that had me completely mesmerized. Arresting means holding one's attention. ● It was a most arresting portrait; there was a crowd of people staring at it for hours.
ARTICULATE (ar TIK yoo layt) v to enunciate or pronounce clearly; to express oneself clearly ● The new radio announcer could not be understood because he had not yet learned to articulate his words clearly. As an adjective, articulate is used to describe someone who can articulate ideas clearly. But be careful; the pronunciation changes even though the spelling doesn't. ● Though she was just six years old, Misha presented a cogent and articulate argument for why she should receive an allowance.
ARTLESS (ART luhs) adj completely without guile; natural, without artificiality ● Her artless portrayal of the young ingenue charmed the critics, who all commented on her fresh, unaffected performance. The opposite of artless is artful. ● The Artful Dodger was a cunning pickpocket in Dickens's Oliver Twist. Artful can also mean showing art or skill, and artless can mean without skill, but the definitions above are the ones more likely to be tested on the GRE.
ASCETIC (uh SET ik) n one who practices rigid self-denial, especially as an act of religious devotion ● A true ascetic would be able to resist eating these chocolate eclairs, which is why I know I'm not an ascetic. Ascetic can also be an adjective, meaning austere or stark. ● His ascetic lifestyle was indistinguishable from that of a monk. ● In keeping with Larry's ascetic taste in home furnishings, the only place to sit was the floor, which didn't even have a rug. Asceticism is the adherence to or belief in ascetic practices. To learn about practices an ascetic would not espouse, see hedonism.
ASPERITY (uh SPER uh tee) n severity, rigor; roughness, harshness; acrimony, irritability ● The asperity of her response to his pleas for leniency suggested that there was no chance she would be ending his detention any time in the next three months. ● The asperity of a northern winter can lead to serious depression.
ASPERSION (uh SPER zhun) n an act of defamation or maligning ● Pete resented the aspersions cast by his opponent, who called Pete a low-down, no good snake who didn't eat his vegetables. ● She had to resort to aspersions when she realized her argument wouldn't hold up against close scrutiny.
ASSIDUOUS (uh SID yoo us) adj diligent, hard-working ● Pedro's assiduous preservation of every fragment of the document that had survived eventually allowed him to reconstruct whole stanzas of the poem. ● Carla was an assiduous note-taker. She wrote down almost every word of each of her professor's lectures.
ASSUAGE (uh SWAYJ) v to ease or lessen; to appease or pacify ● Convincing her that it was all the rage in Paris helped assuage Christine's fears about painting her walls chartreuse. ● Ken was able to assuage the pain of his headache by lying in a dark room with a damp cloth over his eyes. Assuage is used to describe the lessening or easing of things that cause pain or distress, so you don't assuage happiness or good humor (unless they're causing you pain in some way).
ASTRINGENT (uh STRIN junt) adj having a tightening effect on living tissue; harsh; severe ● Although she hadn't intended to be quite so harsh, Kayla's astringent remarks apparently made the board drop the proposal altogether. ● Witch hazel is a mild astringent that is sometimes applied to the face.
ATTENUATE (uh TEN yoo ayt) v to rarefy, weaken or make thinner, lessen ● Copper's highly ductile nature allows it to be attenuated to a thin filament without breaking, and makes it a useful material for wiring. ● The atmosphere at the top of Mt. Everest is so attenuated that climbers must carry oxygen with them in order to breathe for any length of time. ● The endless discussion attenuated the point until everyone lost interest in it. For a related word, see rarefy.
AUDACIOUS (aw DAY shus) adj daring and fearless; recklessly bold • Liz is an audacious mountain climber who goes where few of her competitors dare to follow. ● No matter how audacious a cartoon villain's plan for world domination may be, there always seems to be hero waiting to foil it. Audacity is the quality of being audacious. ● His friends were surprised by Lewis's audacity; he just went up to the podium and started speaking, even though he wasn't on the program for the evening.
AUGURY (aw GYUH ree) n omen, portent, the reading of omens ● Augury in ancient Rome and other societies was performed largely by interpreting the flight of birds. ● His first attempts at glassblowing gave little augury of the skill he would later develop with practice. Augur means to predict if it is used as a verb, and the person or thing doing the foretelling if it's used as a noun. ● The flowers my girlfriend sent augur well for the weekend.
AUGUST (aw GUST) adj majestic, venerable ● The august presence of the pharaohs endures through the millennia, embodied in their massive tombs. ● Despite his simple dress and advanced years, the august politician managed to convey a sense of dignity and subtle power.
AUSPICE (AW spis) n protection or support, patronage ● As long as we were working under the auspices of the local authorities, the villagers were extremely cooperative; once we headed out on our own, however, we found that no one wanted to talk to us. Auspice can also mean sign or portent. ● Since the auspices seemed good, we decided to go ahead and buy thirty lottery tickets.
AUSPICIOUS (aw SPI shus) adj favorable, propitious, successful, prosperous ● The sold-out opening night and standing ovation from the audience provided an auspicious beginning for the play's run on Broadway. ● Weddings are generally considered auspicious occasions; you can tell by all the toasting and well-wishing that goes on.
AUSTERE (aw STEER) adj without adornment; bare; severely simple; ascetic ● The building's austere facade gave no indication of the rich ornamentation inside. ● Lincoln's often austere appearance reflected the somber, grave side of his personality, but not his sense of humor. ● The austerity of her writing style can make it seem as if her meaning is similarly simple, but she is actually known for the subtle complexity of her ideas. Austerity can also mean rigid economy. If used in this sense, it is often followed by measures. ● The Prime Minister imposed austerity measures in an attempt to stop the country's downward economic spiral.
AVARICE (A vuh rus) n greed, especially for wealth ● Her avarice for power was matched only by her lust for money; even when she had more money than she could ever spend in a lifetime, she schemed to get still more. ● King Midas' avarice led him to wish for the power to turn everything he touched to gold; we know how well that worked out for him. Avaricious means greedy. ● Even though the jury decided in favor of the plaintiff, it awarded very little in the way of punitive damages; the jurors apparently felt the request for 40 million dollars was avaricious.
AVER (uh VUR) v to state as a fact; to confirm or support ● When the suspect solemnly averred that he had been on another planet when the burglary occurred, the investigators didn't know whether he meant it literally or figuratively, but they could tell he meant it. ● Although Michelle averred that she would never be late again, her friends remained understandably skeptical.
AXIOM (AK see um) n a universally recognized principle; a generally accepted or common saying ● It is an axiom of the American legal system that one is innocent until proven guilty. ● It is hardly surprising that every field has its axioms, which are universally held within the discipline; what can be surprising is how often they are mutually incompatible when compared across fields. The adjective form of this word is axiomatic, which means generally accepted or taken as a given. ● In this society, we take it as axiomatic that individual merit rather than family name should be the basis for success in life. ● Nowadays it is axiomatic that most contagious diseases are caused by microscopic organisms, but it wasn't long ago that most people thought these diseases were caused by everything from harmful vapors to personality traits.
BALEFUL (BAYL ful) adj sinister, pernicious, ominous ● The basilisk is a notoriously cranky, albeit mythical, creature whose baleful glare is fatal. Looks, glances, and glares are more often baleful than anything else is, but other things can be baleful too. ● A sort of baleful miasma lingered in the room after the infamous Sir Evildoer departed in a swirl of black and red cape.
BANE (bayn) adj cause of injury, source of harm; source of persistent frustration ● Even for those who recognize that smoking is far more of a bane than a benefit, quitting can be a struggle. ● Paolo's little sister was the bane of his existence; she followed him everywhere and told their mom whenever he did anything he wasn't supposed to. Baneful means causing harm or ruin, pernicious, destructive. ● The baneful effect of the curfew on my social life cannot be overestimated.
BEATIFY (bee AT uh fy) v to bless, make happy, or ascribe a virtue to; to regard as saintly ● She was described in such a glowing way; every single quality she possessed was beatified. Beatitude is a state of bliss, and beatific means having a blissful appearance. ● His beatific smile could only mean that he had just eaten some exceptionally good sushi. Be careful not to confuse this with beautify, which means to make beautiful.
BEDIZEN (bi DY zun) v to adorn, especially in a cheap, showy manner; festoon, caparison ● The speakeasy was bedizened with every manner of tawdry decoration. ● Sophie the cow came wandering home after the festival, bedizened with a wreath of flowers over each horn and somewhat the worse for wear.
BELIE (bih LYE) v to give a false impression of, to misrepresent ● Carlos' disapproving countenance was belied by the twinkle in his eye, making it hard to believe that he was angry at all. ● Gabriela's seeming clumsiness belied her true grace as a dancer.
BELLICOSE (BEL i kohs) ad] belligerent, pugnacious, warlike ● The bully's bellicose demeanor hid a tender side, but he was too busy getting into fights to reveal it. ● Ted's bellicose expression warned me that he had discovered I had eaten the last of the ice cream. Bellicose shares a root with belligerent. Both come from the Latin belliger, which means warlike.
BENIGN (buh NYN) ad] favorable, harmless In medicine, we often hear benign describe a tumor that is not cancerous, though it certainly has other uses. ● Though we were afraid the tumor would be fatal, a biopsy showed that it was, in fact, benign. ● The pictures taken of the millionaire in the years before his death show a curmudgeonly scowl, but the ones taken of him as a young man show him beaming with a gentle and benign expression. Many words that start with ben- have a positive connotation, such as benefit, benefactor, and benediction. Words that start with ma!-, on the other hand, usually have a negative connotation. See malevolent for some more examples.
BENT (bent) n leaning, inclination, proclivity, tendency ● Puck was notorious for his mischievous bent; wherever there was trouble to be stirred up, he was certain to be found. ● Mike's bent for self-destructive behavior worried his friends.
BLANDISH (BLAND ish) v to coax with flattery, toady or fawn ● The minister was famous for his ability to blandish his way from obscurity to vicarious power; it seemed as if every ruler was receptive to bootlicking. Blandishment is flattery intended to cajole or coax. ● Blandishment plus a really big present might convince me to forgive you. Be careful not to confuse this with brandish, which means to shake or wave menacingly.
BLITHE (blithe) ad] carefree, merry ● Stephanie's blithe disregard for what her peers might think made her the perfect hero for a clever yet moving coming-of-age teen movie. ● Paul's blithe attitude toward his housecleaning led to a comfortable, if sometimes dusty, clutter.
BOISTEROUS (BOY stur us) ad] loud, noisy, rough, lacking restraint ● After a while, our neighbors became reconciled to our boisterous weekend gatherings, even joining us on occasion; the rest of the time they were probably wearing earplugs. ● A popular image of the Wild West is the boisterous saloon where the piano player pounds out songs while the burlesque dancers perform the Can Can.
BOLSTER (BOL stur) v to provide support or reinforcement ● He hoped his frequent references to legal theory would bolster his argument, but all they did was make him seem pompous. ● I tried to bolster my confidence with some slow deep breaths, but I just ended up hyperventilating. I would have been better off picturing the audience in their underwear or having a stiff shot of whisky.
BOMBASTIC (bahm BAS tik) ad] pompous; grandiloquent ● The self-important leader's speech was so bombastic that even his most loyal followers were rolling their eyes, and no one else could even figure out what he was talking about. Bombast is self-important or pompous writing or speech. ● His books were always so filled with bombast that they were almost impossible to read; it sounded as if he had swallowed a thesaurus whole.
BOOR (boor) n a rude or insensitive person; lout; yokel ● I have learned never to take a boor to dine with royalty; last time we had tea with the Queen of England, my boorish boyfriend put his feet on the table! ● Although she was usually very sweet and considerate, she became downright boorish when she was drunk.
BROACH (brohch) v bring up, announce, begin to talk about ● To broach the subject of her truly hideous brooch would have been impolitic. There's no way I could have managed to say anything nice about it.
BROOK (bruk) v to tolerate, endure, countenance ● Our drill sergeant made it very clear she would brook no insubordination; even any quiet grumbling would be grounds for endless pushups. ● The conductor refused to brook any more delay and ordered those without tickets off the train immediately.
BUCOLIC (byoo KAH lik) adj rustic and pastoral; characteristic of rural areas and their inhabitants ● Pastoral poetry tends to depict bucolic wonderlands of shepherds tending their flocks in verdant meadows, but poets always leave out the part about getting up at five o'clock in the morning to take those flocks out to graze. ● Their plans for a life of bucolic tranquility were rudely shattered when they discovered the rolling fields pictured in the brochure for their new house were really part of a busy golf course.
BURGEON (BUR jun) v to grow rapidly or flourish ● When the wildflowers burgeon in April and May we know that spring has truly arrived. ● The burgeoning population transformed the town into a bustling metropolis.
BURNISH (BUR nish) v to polish, rub to a shine ● Be careful about burnishing certain old lamps; you never know which one is going to have a genie in it, and history shows that those three wishes lead to no good. ● Attempts to burnish the former council member's image were useless; he would forever be remembered as the one whose toupee was stolen by a bird during the Fourth of July parade.
BYZANTINE (BI zan teen) adj labrynthine, complex ● Tom's byzantine explanation of why he missed curfew was confusing even to his parents who were used to his convoluted punishment-avoidance strategies. ● I can't stand playing cards with Max because he makes up such byzantine rules that even he can't keep track of them. You may occasionally see this word with a capital B, in which case it is referring to the city of Byzantium or the Byzantine Empire.
CACOPHONY (ca CAH fo nee) n harsh, jarring, discordant sound; dissonance ● The cacophony coming from the construction site next door made it impossible to concentrate on the test. ● It was a testament to unconditional love that the parents of the kindergartners could call the cacophony of the band recital "music." Some of them even seemed to enjoy the screeching racket. For a related word see dissonance.
CADGE (kaj) v to sponge, beg, or mooch ● He was always cadging change from me, which added up to a lot of money over time, so eventually I presented him with a loan statement and started charging interest.
CAJOLE (kuh JOL) v to inveigle, coax, wheedle, sweet-talk ● Even though I resolve not to give in, my dog is always able to cajole an extra dog biscuit out of me just by looking at me with his big brown eyes. ● I can't believe Wendy cajoled her way out of another mess; all she has to do is smile sweetly and everyone agrees to her every demand.
CALUMNIATE (kuh LUM nee ayt) v to slander, make a false accusation ● Tom calumniated his rival by accusing him of having been unfaithful, but it backfired because when the truth came out, Tom ended up looking petty and deceitful. Calumny means slander, aspersion. ● Whenever she was afraid someone would discover her own incompetence, she would resort to calumnies and claim everyone else was doing a bad job.
CANON (KA nun) n an established set of principles or code of laws, often religious in nature ● She was forever violating the canons of polite conversation by asking questions that were far too personal for the circumstances. ● Adhering to the dictates of his religion's canon meant that he couldn't eat pork. Canonical means following or in agreement with accepted, traditional standards. ● The canonical status of the standard literary classics has been challenged by the emergence of the work of feminist and third-world scholars, among others.
CAPRICIOUS (kuh PRI shus) adj inclined to change one's mind impulsively; erratic; unpredictable ● Lee's capricious behavior this weekend shouldn't have come as much of a shock; it's not as if he's usually all that stable and predictable. Having caprices (sudden changes of mind or actions) makes you capricious, which then means that you can be described as tending toward capriciousness.
CARDINAL (KAHRD nul) adj of basic importance or consequence; primary ● His cardinal error was in failing to bribe his sister; otherwise his parents might never have found out about the party and grounded him. ● According to classical definition, the cardinal virtues are: prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude.
CARET (KAR ut) n an insertion mark (A) used by editors and proofreaders ● The manuscript was littered with carets indicating all the missing letters the proofreaders had found.
CARNALITY (kahr NAL uh tee) n something relating to the body or flesh ● Though the book was primarily concerned with spiritual matters, its descriptions of earthly pleasures were sometimes shocking in their sheer carnality. Carnal desires are those that relate to bodily or sexual appetite. ● Mac intended the carnival ride as an aphrodisiac, but the effects of the spinning actually dampened any carnal desires that were already there. It may seem a little odd, but the word carnage is related—it means physical remains.
CASTIGATION (KAS tuh GAY shun) n severe criticism or punishment ● Harriet's expression as she slunk out of the room indicated that the castigation she had received was even worse than expected, and that we were probably in for a similar tongue-lashing. ● The rack was one of the many gruesome tools of castigation available to the medieval torturer.
CATALYST (KAT uh list) n a substance that accelerates the rate of a chemical reaction without itself changing; a person or thing that causes change ● Enzymes are common biological catalysts which regulate the speed of many critical processes in the human body. ● Steve was hoping the romantic music would be all the catalyst the evening needed. To catalyze is to act as a catalyst, to bring about. ● Some argue that while the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand catalyzed World War I, the war would still have happened in the absence of his death, even if it might have begun some months or years later.
CAUSALITY (kaw ZAL uh tee) n the relationship between cause and effect ● The fact that Caroline saw a stork the week before she became pregnant is merely a coincidence; it should not imply any causality whatsoever. ● Because the experiment tested so many factors at the same time, it is difficult to prove the causality of one agent over another.
CAUSTIC (KAW stik) adj burning or stinging; causing corrosion ● Even washing her hands repeatedly couldn't stop the stinging of the caustic bleach she had used on her clothes. ● Her caustic wit was legendary—everyone enjoyed reading Sandra's articles as long as he or she was not the target of her humor.
CENSURE (SEN Shur) v to criticize severely; to officially rebuke ● Though the board censured the gallery for holding the exhibition, the event continued as planned, and even drew larger crowds than expected before the board's outspoken disapproval. n
CHAOS (KAY ahs) n a condition of confusion or unpredictability ● Some seem to thrive on chaos in the workplace, but Lucy relishes a clean desk and predictable schedule. Chaotic is an adjective that describes a state of chaos. ● When Shigeru arrived home after being robbed, he found his apartment in a chaotic state. Originally, the Greek word for chaos meant space, or emptiness (think chasm), but now it has more to do with disorder.
CHARY (CHAR ee) ad] wary; cautious; sparing ● Claudette was chary with her praise lest it go to Fredrick's head. ● Chary of revealing his hiding place, Fido only reluctantly led us to the spot behind the sofa where we discovered a stash of fifty dog bones.
CHASTEN (CHAY sun) v to chastise or correct; subdue ● The "time out" seems to have become a common parental means of chastening younger children, somewhat similar to being forced to sit in the corner wearing a dunce cap, but without the element of public humiliation. ● The piano teacher knew it would be difficult to chasten the student's rebellious spirit without breaking it. The trick was to get her to sit still long enough to learn something without destroying her spontaneous creativity. Chastened as an adjective means corrected, punished, or humbled. ● Rita was chastened by the effect her thoughtlessness had on those around her, and she resolved to consider her actions more carefully in the future.
CHAUVINIST (SHOH vuh nist) n one blindly devoted to a group of which one is a member ● She was such a party chauvinist; her blind devotion made her refuse to acknowledge the changes underway that would lead to the party's downfall. ● His chauvinism for Dutch soccer led him to paint everything he owned, including his car, orange. A male chauvinist believes in the inferiority of women to men. This term is often followed by the word pig.
CHIC (sheek) adj stylish and fashionable; sophistication in dress ● As a true native New Yorker, Kenya remained a chic dresser long after she moved to Kansas; it's too bad there was no one there to appreciate her sense of style. ● Jorge opened a chic boutique near the affluent suburb, to cater to shoppers with fashionable tastes and expendable incomes.
CHICANERY (shi KAYN uh ree) n trickery or subterfuge ● Bernard's reputation for legal chicanery made judges and prosecutors distrust him, but his clients had a hard time seeing past his successes. ● I refuse to let such chicanery go unpunished!
CHIMERA (kye MEER uh) n an illusion The chimera was originally an imaginary fire-breathing she-monster in Greek mythology. Its body was an amalgam of different animals, and sighting it was a bad omen. In today's speech, though, none of these bad connotations remain. ● Walter Mitty's life was a series of chimeras; the fantastic daydreams in which he starred were completely real to him. Chimerical means illusory or improbable. ● The fantastic successes of some internet start-ups turned out to be chimerical once the tech boom ended.
CHOLERIC (KAHL er ik) adj tending toward anger ● Choleric by nature, the boxer had no trouble mentally preparing to face his opponent. According to Aristotle, choleric personalities were supposed to be caused by too much stomach bile. This book contains vocabulary words based on three other personality types that he identified based on bodily fluids... can you find the rest?
CHURLISH (CHUB lish) adj boorish, vulgar, loutish; difficult and intractable ● Underneath Mr. Oleander's churlish exterior, there's a nice guy hiding somewhere; it's just hard to tell because he is so rude most of the time. A churl is someone who is churlish. ● Since everyone knew that Brad became a churl whenever he'd had too much to drink, they were just waiting for him to start saying inappropriate things and getting into fights at the party.
COALESCE (ko uh LES) v to come together; to fuse or unite ● It took a major internal crisis for the rival factions to coalesce around a single goal. ● Cosmologists theorize that matter began to coalesce into stars and galaxies about one billion years after the Big Bang.
CODA (KO duh) n concluding section to a musical or literary piece, something that concludes or completes ● The presentation of the lifetime achievement award was a fitting coda both to the evening and to his years of work with the organization.
COGENT (KO junt) adj appealing forcibly to the mind or reason; convincing ● I'll only let you borrow the Ferrari if you can give me a cogent reason for why you need to drive more than one hundred miles per hour. ● He may have gotten the day off because his argument for why he deserved it was so cogent, or it could just have been that it was Saturday and he wasn't scheduled to work anyway.
COLOR (KUH lur) v to change as if by dyeing, influence, distort, or gloss over Though color is a simple enough word in everyday speech, its secondary definition is often tested on the GRE. ● Knowing that he had lied about his previous experience colored our evaluation of his application. ● He may have colored the truth a little bit when he said he had jogged 20 miles, because he probably hadn't run more than two.
COMMENSURATE (kuh MEN sur it) adj matching, corresponding, or proportionate in degree, size, amount, or other property ● Although Allen's salary at the Department of Social Work was hardly commensurate with his work experience and previous salary history, the challenge of the job and the feeling that he was giving back to the community made it worth his while. Only if the team won the national championship would the fans feel the team's performance was commensurate with its potential.
COMPLAISANCE (kum PLAY sunts) n the willingness to comply with the wishes of others ● A "yes man" is characterized by his complaisance. Complaisant means showing a willingness to please. ● The patriarch was most likely to be complaisant after he had eaten a sumptuous meal, so everyone saved his or her requests for such a time. Don't confuse this with complacent, which means self-satisfied.
CONFOUND (kun FOWND) v to cause to be confused; to frustrate ● By the time my roommate and I parted ways, our things were such a confounded mess that it was hard to remember what belonged to whom. You probably already recognize the prefix con- (or corn-), which often means joining or bringing things together. Confound means to mix together or confuse things. To be confused is to be confounded.
CONNOISSEUR (kah nuh SOUR) n an informed and astute judge in matters of taste; expert ● An internationally recognized connoisseur of wines, Natasha was often hired as a consultant for private collectors. ● Did you know that some people call themselves connoisseurs of water?
CONSEQUENTIAL (kahn suh KWEN shut) ad] pompous, self-important Be careful; this is one of those words with multiple definitions. The primary definitions are: logically following; important, but on the GRE it is more likely to be used as we've defined it here. ● Although he thought himself a respected and well-liked man, his consequential air was intensely annoying to those around him. He seemed to think he was the best thing since sliced bread.
CONTEMN (kun TEM) v to scorn or despise ● I contemn their attempts to curry favor; nothing is more contemptible than a sycophant. Be careful not to confuse this with condemn, which seems very similar, but means to pronounce judgment against.
CONTENTIOUS (kun TEN shus) adj argumentative; quarrelsome; causing controversy or disagreement ● Sometimes Lydia's contentious nature really drove me crazy; it seemed as if she argued with everything I said simply out of habit or some sort of strange pleasure. ● The judges' contentious decision of the title bout led some to claim that undue influence had been exerted in deciding the outcome of the fight.
CONTIGUOUS (kun TIG yoo us) adj sharing a border; touching; adjacent ● The contiguous United States include all the states except Hawaii and Alaska, since they are the only ones that don't share at least one border with another state. ● The kitchen and dining room in our house are contiguous, making it easier to carry food and plates from one to the other.
CONTRITE (kun TRYT) adj regretful; penitent; seeking forgiveness ● Wayne was hardly contrite for the practical joke he pulled; even though he said he was sorry, the twinkle in his eye and barely suppressed grin seemed to indicate otherwise. ● David's contrite words were long overdue; if he had made his apologies last week, his sister would have been a lot more willing to accept them. Contrition is regret or remorse. ● Once she expressed genuine contrition for wrecking my car I was willing to forgive her, though she would still have to pay for the damages.
CONVENTION (kun VEN shun) n a generally agreed-upon practice or attitude ● The convention of wearing a bridal veil was apparently begun by the Romans, who thought the veil would protect the bride from evil spirits. ● The conventions of modem poetry are much less rigid than those of classical poetry; in fact, it is difficult to find any two poets or critics who could even agree on definitions, much less rules.
CONVOLUTED (KAHN vuh loo ted) adj complex or complicated ● Cynthia's convoluted response to the question made her listeners think she was concealing something; it was as if she hoped they would forget the question as they tried to follow her answer. ● I do not know by what convoluted reasoning you arrived at the idea that you should have three weeks extra vacation, but I can't argue with the conclusion!
CORRIGIBLE (KOR uh juh bul) adj capable of being set right, correctable, reparable ● Stuttering is often a highly corrigible speech impediment, which can be corrected through speech therapy. ● The trend away from rehabilitative programming in prisons may indicate a decrease in the public's belief that inmates are corrigible. Corrigibility, a noun, is the capacity to be set right. ● The corrigibility of the damage to the train could only be determined after extensive inspection and testing. The opposite of corrigible is incorrigible, meaning not reformable, uncontrollable, recalcitrant. ● Julius was an incorrigible daydreamer; no matter how much his teachers scolded him, he would much rather be hanging out in his own imaginary world than paying attention to his lesson.
COUNTENANCE (KOWN tuh punts) v to approve of or tolerate ● Her refusal to countenance any of what she called "backtalk" made her an unpopular babysitter, but even the children had to admit that things were less chaotic when she was around. ● The dean fully countenanced the addition of the new athletic complex, saying that a healthy body would only aid in the development of a healthy mind. Countenance can also be a noun, in which case it means mien, face, composure. ● The countenance of the woman in Dorothea Lange's famous photograph, "Migrant Mother, Nipomo, California" is one of the most powerful and enduring images of the Great Depression; the woman's face communicates such fear and despair, and yet also strength, that it has become iconic.
COZEN (KUH zun) v to deceive, beguile, hoodwink ● The corrupt televangelist cozened millions of dollars out of his viewers by convincing them that he would perform miracles to make them all win the lottery. For a related word, see guile.
CRAVEN (KRAY vun) adj contemptibly fainthearted, pusillanimous, lacking any courage ● His craven cowardice in refusing to admit his mistake meant that a completely innocent person was punished. ● Steve lived in craven fear of being found out as a fraud.
CREDULOUS (KRE juh lus) adj tending to believe too readily; gullible ● That sculpture in the lobby was so obviously a fake that it would convince only the most credulous person; after all, the "gold" left something that looked suspiciously like paint on our fingers when we touched the sculpture. ● Nathan was so credulous that he believed us when we told him that naugahyde comes from horse-like creatures called naugas, who eat plastic grass.
CRESCENDO (kruh SHEN doh) n a gradual increase in intensity, particularly in music Usually, crescendo is used to describe music or sound, but it can be used in more figurative ways, as well. ● The audience's attention was held rapt as the orchestra worked its way to a crescendo, filling every nook in the hall with thunderous sound. ● The crescendo of RSVPs seems to have passed, as we now are receiving only one or two replies per day.
CULPABLE (KUL puh bul) adj deserving blame ● Pat could hardly be thought culpable for spilling the cranberry juice on the floor, since he wasn't even in the room at the time. ● If she is judged culpable of improper conduct, the governing board will decide her punishment. Culpability is blameworthiness. ● His culpability was never in doubt once the auditors traced the embezzlement back to his department. For a realted word, see exculpate.
CYNICISM (SIN uh si zum) n an attitude or quality of belief that all people are motivated by selfishness ● Tricia's cynicism was matched only by her own selfishness; she believed no one else was altruistic because she never was herself. Someone who displays cynicism is called a cynic. ● The cynics say that these donations were made to receive public praise, but if that's true, why were they made anonymously?
DAMP (damp) v to diminish the intensity or check something, such as a sound or feeling ● Her hopes were damped when she checked the mailbox and there was still no letter for the fourth day in a row. ● The mattresses and foam placed around the room damped the noise to a sufficient degree that the band could play without disturbing the neighbors.
DAUNT (dawnt) v to intimidate or dismay ● At first, the protagonist of the fairy tale was daunted by the task given to him; he didn't know how he would ever sort the grains of wheat and barley until the ants arrived to help him. The adjective daunting means dismaying, disheartening. ● The daunting prospect of getting all our laundry done by Sunday afternoon was so overwhelming that we decided to put it off yet again. There's another related adjective, dauntless, which means fearless, undaunted, intrepid. ● Robin Hood and his dauntless henchmen defeated the bad guy, Sheriff Nottingham.
DEARTH (durth) n smallness of quantity or number; scarcity; lack ● The dearth of snow this winter increases the likelihood of a drought next summer. ● Since there is a dearth of talented singers who auditioned for the part, I may actually end up singing, which isn't good at all!
DEBACLE (di BAH cul) n rout, fiasco, complete failure ● The performance was a complete debacle; not only did I end up singing, but the cloud props we were using also fell down mid-way through the play, prompting the audience to shout "the sky is falling, the sky is falling." ● Trying to avoid a debacle, the candidate decided to withdraw from the race shortly before election day.
DECORUM (di COR um) n politeness or appropriateness of conduct or behavior ● In Shaw's Pygmalion, Henry Higgins attempts to train Eliza Doolittle in proper decorum for high society, with often very funny results. ● Where did we ever get the notion that extending one's pinky finger while drinking tea was the height of decorum? Something marked by decorum is decorous. ● Olivia's decorous decline of our invitation was so politely and perfectly said that we could hardly take offense.
DELETERIOUS (del uh TEER ee us) adj injurious; harmful ● The symptoms originally seemed to indicate something as innocuous as the common cold, but eventually the disease's deleterious effects were better understood. ● Though it originally seemed like a good idea to cut the quality of the product, the overall effect on customer relationships has been deleterious. Do you see delete inside of this word? It's no accident something that is deleted is erased, and something deleterious is likely to have a similar harmful effect.
DEMUR (di MUR) v to question or oppose ● I hesitated to demur from the professor, until he said something factually inaccurate, at which point I felt I had to speak up. ● Bob demurred at the suggestion that he clean the house while we swim.
DENIGRATE (DEN i grayt) v blacken, belittle, sully, defame, disparage ● Though some might have denigrated our efforts at cooking breakfast, which consisted of cold eggs, bitter coffee and burnt toast, our mother was very appreciative of our attempt and bravely ate all of it. ● Edna was notorious for denigrating everyone else's work, but never being willing to hear the slightest criticism of her own. Denigration is the act of denigrating, or the act of making denigrating comments. ● William's confidence was so shaken by the months of denigration at the hands of his former boss, that he almost didn't believe the praise he was getting now.
DENOUEMENT (day noo MA) n an outcome or solution; the unraveling of a plot ● Receiving the Nobel Prize was a fitting denouement to his brilliant research. ● The denouement seemed completely contrived; the happy ending didn't fit with the tone of the entire rest of the movie.
DEPRECATE (DE pri kayt) v to disparage or belittle ● You can deprecate his work all you want but it won't affect my opinion; I don't care if his writing is sometimes amateurish, I still like it. To be self-deprecating is to belittle yourself or your accomplishments. ● We worried that his self-deprecating humor wasn't as light-hearted as it seemed, but was instead a sign of deeper insecurity.
DEPREDATE (DE pruh dayt) v to plunder, pillage, ravage or destroy; to exploit in a predatory manner ● The pirates depredated every ship that came through the straits for two years, until no captain was willing to risk that route and the port town became deserted. Depredations are attacks, or ravages. ● Ten years of the dictator's depredations had left the country a wasteland. ● The depredations of time and hard living have left his once handsome face a mass of wrinkles and broken blood vessels.
DERISION (di RI zhun) n scorn, ridicule, contemptuous treatment ● Her derision was all the more painful because I suspected that her review of my performance was accurate. To deride is to express contempt. ● The media derided her attempted comeback, calling her a "has been," even though she had been their darling only a few months before.
DERIVATIVE (di RI vuh tiv) adj unoriginal, obtained from another source ● Some people claim that there is nothing new under the sun, and that all contemporary art is therefore derivative of work that came before it.
DESICCATE (DES u kayt) v to dry out or dehydrate; to make dry or dull ● Pemmican, a food developed by Native Americans, is made by desiccating meat so that it can be preserved for long trips, then pounding it and combining it with other ingredients ● His skin was so desiccated by sun exposure that it looked like parchment. ● The desiccated prose of the old volume of stories I found in the attic was as dull in style as its actual pages were dry and brittle.
DESUETUDE (DES wi tood) n disuse ● After sitting abandoned for years, the house's desuetude came to an end when the county bought it and turned it into a teen center.
DESULTORY (DES ul tor ee) adj random; thoughtless; marked by a lack of plan or purpose ● His desultory efforts in studying for the test were immediately obvious to his teacher as soon as she began to score his exam. ● We abandoned our desultory attempts to form a book club once our primary instigator gave up on us and joined another group.
DETRACTION (di TRAK shun) n slandering, verbal attack, aspersion ● Apparently the mayor's campaign of detraction backfired, since a record number of people voted for his opponent, many of them citing the vitriol of the mayor's attacks as the reason they voted against him. ● Terrence's detraction of Raul's performance only served to reveal how jealous he was of Raul's success.
DIAPHANOUS (dy AF uh nus) adj transparent, gauzy ● Her diaphanous gown left little to the imagination. As we stood behind the waterfall, the cascade of water formed a sort of diaphanous veil in front of us.
DIATRIBE (DY uh tryb) n a harsh denunciation ● What started out as seemingly normal discussion about what to have for lunch, rapidly and somewhat bizarrely turned into a diatribe about the difficulty of finding a decent pickle. ● His anti-development diatribe was well-received by local residents who wanted to see the field preserved as an open space rather than turned into a shopping center.
DIDACTIC (dy OAK tik) adj intended to teach or instruct ● Rachel's attempt to hide the activity's didactic intent by wrapping it in the guise of a fun game didn't fool the third graders for a minute; they could always smell something educational a mile off. ● His didactic tone grated on me; whom did he think he was to try to teach me something while we were on a date?
DIE (dye) n a tool used for shaping ● When coins are made by hand, a die is usually used to press the design on each coin
DIFFIDENT (DIF uh dint) adj reserved, shy, unassuming; lacking in self-confidence ● He was a diffident reader of his own poetry, and which sometimes kept his audience from recognizing the real power of his writing. The noun, diffidence, means a lack of confidence. ● I began to suspect that her diffidence was merely an act, and that this seemingly meek woman was really plotting to take over not only the department, but also the entire world.
DIGRESS (dy GRES) v to stray from the point; to go off on a tangent ● My aunt's tendency to digress is legendary; she can get so far off topic that no one can remember the starting point, but the journey is always fascinating. A digression is something that has digressed. ● The speaker asked our indulgence while he made a short digression, the point of which would become clear eventually.
DILATE (DYE layt) v to become wider or more open ● Until Khoa's eyes dilated to let in more light, he couldn't find an empty seat in the darkened theater. To dilate can also mean to speak or write about something at length.
DILATORY (OIL uh tor ee) adj causing delay, procrastinating ● The legislator was able to create the dilatory effect he sought by means of a twenty-three-hour-long filibuster. ● His dilatory habits were a source of exasperation for his boss, who never knew whether something would be finished on time or not.
DILETTANTE (OIL uh tahnt) n one with an amateurish or superficial interest in the arts or a branch of knowledge ● The negative connotation of a dilettante as one whose interest in a subject is trivial is relatively recent; it hasn't always been a bad thing to be a dilettante. ● Dilettantes did much of the scientific work in early America; professional positions for scientists are largely a phenomenon of the twentieth century. A dilettantish effort or interest is one that is frivolous or superficial. This can also be spelled "dilettanteish." ● Even though she didn't take it very seriously at the time, her dilettantish interest in the arts while in college laid the framework for a satisfying career as curator of a major art museum years later.
DIN (din) n loud sustained noise ● Because we couldn't hear each other over the din coming from the kitchen, I thought she said she had met Sasqautch, when she had really asked whether I was wearing my watch. ● The din of the faulty muffler drowned out all the other noises that would have confirmed the very poor odds of my car making it another five miles. For a related word, see cacophony.
DIRGE (durj) n a mournful song or poem for the dead ● Because Grandma wanted no dirges sung at her funeral, we hired a singer to reinterpret some of her favorite popular music from her teen years. Dirge can also be used figuratively, to describe something that sounds like a funeral lament. ● The only sound on the dark prairie was the dirge sung by the wolves.
DISABUSE (dis uh BYOOZ) v to undeceive; to set right ● The screws left over after he had assembled the bookcase, along with its tendency to tip over, disabused Joe of the idea that reading the instructions was optional. ● I hate to disabuse you of the notion of your own genius, but you just got a "D" on that midterm that you said you were going to ace.
DISCOMFIT (dis KUM fit) v to defeat, put down Nowadays, discomfit also means to embarrass or make uncomfortable, but its original meaning is to thwart the plans of. ● The enemy's superior planning and resources discomfited us. They defeated us easily, despite our hopes of discomfiting their attack.
DISCORDANT (dis KORD int) adj conflicting; dissonant or harsh in sound ● Because the group had been fractured by discord for so long, it was surprising, to say the least, to watch them put aside their discordant views and begin to get along as if they had never disagreed. ● As one discordant note followed another, I started to get a headache from the noise.
DISCRETION (dis KRE shun) n cautious reserve in speech; ability to make responsible decisions ● The matchmaker's discretion was the key to her remarkable success; her clients knew she would not reveal their identities inappropriately. ● The discretion required of the agent should not be underestimated; he will need to make critical decisions under severe time constraints and often at considerable risk to himself.
DISINTERESTED (dis IN ter est ed) adj free from self-interest; unbiased This one gets a little complicated. Disinterested and uninterested have a pretty convoluted history. Uninterested, when it first showed up in the seventeenth century, meant "impartial." At some point, though, that meaning was replaced in popular usage with its current meaning: "not caring or having an interest in," as in the sentence, "I am completely uninterested in attending the concert." At about the same time, the original use of disinterested to mean "not caring or having an interest in" was changing in favor of "free from bias." Confused yet? It gets worse. To recap: disinterested means "unbiased" and uninterested means "uncaring," right? However, increasingly writers are switching them back around. The people who police the proper usage of words in English say this isn't allowable, but the writers do it anyway. Usually you can tell from con
DISPARAGE (dis PAR aj) v to slight or belittle ● I don't think you have any right to disparage his attempts until you have tried riding the mechanical bull yourself. Disparaging remarks are those that express a negative, usually dismissive, opinion of something or someone.
DISPARATE (DIS puh rut) adj fundamentally distinct or dissimilar ● I found it amazing that two people with such disparate tastes could decorate a house together. ● The disparate results of the two experiments confused the scientists who had conducted both in exactly the same manner; the only explanation seemed to be that the samples used were fundamentally different in a way the scientists had not previously realized.
DISSEMBLE (di SEM bul) v to disguise or conceal; to mislead ● Her coy attempts to dissemble her plagiarism were completely transparent; no one believed her. ● Dissembling on your grad school application is an absolute no-no.
DISSOLUTION (dis uh LOU shun) n disintegration, looseness in morals ● The dissolution of the warlord's power left a power vacuum in its wake that many minor chieftains competed to fill. ● The company would be threatened with dissolution if it were judged to be operating as a monopoly. ● Wilde's novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, shows all the consequences of the protagonist's dissolution as a result of his excessive vanity. The adjective dissolute means licentious, libertine. ● His dissolute indulgence in every form of hedonism horrified his morally conservative colleagues. For related words see libertine and hedonism.
DISSONANCE (DIS uh nunts) n lack of harmony; conflict. Literally, dissonance refers to sounds, such as musical notes, that lack harmony. However, it can also refer to any conflict in a figurative sense. ● The dissonance in the grunge album suited Kumiko's foul mood perfectly. ● There is so much dissonance among the team members that it is difficult to reach consensus on even the smallest points of the proposal. Something with dissonance can be described as dissonant.
DISTRAIT (dis TRAY) v distracted; absent-minded, especially due to anxiety ● When he kept forgetting what he was talking about during dinner, it became clear that he was distrait, and was no doubt preoccupied with the meeting planned for the next day. Be careful not to confuse this with the somewhat similar distraught, which means extremely agitated with emotion.
DIVULGE (di VULJ) v to disclose something secret ● She believed she had been fired because she had threatened to divulge information about the company's mismanagement. ● It is a basic tenet of most secret societies that members are not allowed to divulge anything about the initiation rites to outsiders. ● His journal divulged a side of his personality that no one had ever seen.
DOGGEREL (DAW guh rul) n trivial, poorly constructed verse ● For some reason, I could always remember the bit of doggerel I read on the bathroom wall, though I had long since forgotten all the exquisite poetry I read in my classes in college.
DOGMATIC (dawg MAtik) adj authoritatively and or arrogantly assertive of principles, which often cannot be proved; stubbornly opinionated ● Evelyn's dogmatic insistence on the importance of following procedure to the letter frustrated her coworkers who were willing to cut a few corners in the interest of saving time. ● Percy always became dogmatic when it came to any discussion of music; he absolutely insisted that jazz was the only music worth listening to and that all other kinds were completely devoid of merit. Dogma is a related word that you may be familiar with, and it means a statement of ideas that is considered to be absolutely true. Though these ideas can be set forth by a religious order; they don't have to be; the definition here is purely secular.
DROSS (drahs) n slag, waste or foreign matter, impurity, surface scum ● We discarded the dross that had formed at the top of the cider during the fermentation process. ● Howard has convinced himself that his poor memory is a consequence of all the unnecessary information his brain has accumulated over the years; that's why he is busy cataloguing all the dross, especially the obsolete telephone numbers and advertising jingles, that he plans to forget systematically in order to create space for more important information.
DULCET (DUL sut) adj melodious, harmonious, mellifluous ● The dulcet tones of the dulcimer were exquisite and made the performance particularly memorable. ● The fact that I thought her voice a dulcet wonder shows you how infatuated I was; most people thought she sounded like a sick moose.
DUPE (doop) n one who is deceived ● What do I look like—a dupe? No one with any sense could possibly believe the story you're trying to sell. Dupe can also be a verb. ● No one will ever be able to dupe Sara into giving out her social security number again; that one case of identity theft was enough.
DYNAMO (DY nuh moh) n generator; forceful, energetic person The technical definition of a dynamo is a generator of current, which gives rise to the metaphorical use for describing a person as forceful or energetic. ● Courtney was truly the dynamo of the group; without her we'd probably still be sitting on the couch instead of being three days into our road trip. It's no accident if this word reminds you of dynamite or dynamic; all three words have roots in the Greek word for power.
EBULLIENCE (ih BOOL yunts) adj the quality of lively or enthusiastic expression of thoughts and feelings ● Vivian's ebullience was contagious, which is what made her such a great tour guide; her infectious enthusiasm for her subject always communicated itself to her listeners. ● Allen's love of birds was clear from the ebullience with which he described them.
ECCENTRIC (ek SEN trik) adj departing from norms or conventions ● Although he was often described by colleagues as a bit eccentric, it was precisely the unconventionality of his bedside manner that made the doctor so beloved by his young patients. Something or someone eccentric demonstrates eccentricity. ● The big purple flower tied to the antenna of Felicia's car is hardly a mark of eccentricity; it's there so she can easily find her car in a parking lot.
ECLECTIC (ek LEK tik) adj composed of elements drawn from various sources ● It was easy to get a sense of Alison's eclectic taste from looking at her music collection, which contained everything from Mahler to Metallica. ● The house's eclectic architectural style somehow managed to combine elements of seemingly incongruous periods into one cohesive design.
EDIFYING (ED i fy ing) adj enlightening, informative ● The lecture we attended on the consequences of globalization was highly edifying, but what I learned only made me want to know more. Edification is the process of edifying. ● Upon his promotion, Krishna attended a seminar on being a first-time manager that his boss recommended for professional development and edification. Some people incorrectly use edifying to mean satisfying, and while being enlightened can be satisfying, the two are not the exactly the same.
EFFICACY (EF ih kuh see) n the ability to produce an intended result ● Though anecdotal stories abound regarding the efficacy of the herb, its effectiveness has not been studied scientifically in any major way. ● The efficacy of the ad campaign cannot be definitely measured at this stage in the game, but already the public response seems positive. Efficacy shares a root with effectiveness, and means pretty much the same thing.
EFFRONTERY (i FRUNT uh ree) n extreme boldness; presumptuousness ● The effrontery of her demand astonished everyone; no one had ever dared ask the head of the department to explain his reasoning before. ● Gary's effrontery in inviting himself to the party said a lot about his inflated sense of himself as well as his lack of sense about how others saw him. ● Teresa couldn't believe her boss's effrontery in asking her to start a new project at eight o'clock on a Friday night.
EFFUSIVE (i FY00 siv) ad] gushing; excessively demonstrative ● Her effusive good wishes seemed a bit forced; it was hard to believe she was no longer bitter about having had her own grant proposal turned down. ● The effusiveness of the review from a critic known for his stinginess with praise might have had something to do with the VIP treatment from the entire restaurant staff.
EGRESS (EE gres) n exit Egress can either be a noun, meaning an exit or going out, or a verb, meaning to exit or emerge. Ingress is the opposite of egress. ● The dancer's final egress from the stage brought the audience to its feet in a standing ovation. ● Although the egress was clearly marked with a big green sign saying "EXIT," I still had trouble locating it because I had lost my glasses by the time I was ready to leave.
ELEGY (EL uh jee) n a mournful poem, especially one lamenting the dead; any mournful writing or piece of music ● His elegy for the long-lost carefree days of his youth was moving, if somewhat cliched. ● It seemed a little silly for him to compose an elegy for his pet tadpole, especially since it hadn't died, even if now it was a frog instead of the tadpole he once loved. It's very easy to confuse elegy with eulogy, which is also in this book, but the two aren't exactly the same.
ELOQUENT (EL uh kwent) ad] well-spoken; expressive; articulate • It was hard to believe English wasn't her native language given her eloquent use of it. ● Admittedly, it's hard to be eloquent with peas in your mouth and mashed potatoes on your nose, but I think you communicated your ideas quite clearly nonetheless. ● The eloquence of his prose is even more incredible given its simplicity; he conveys his meaning clearly and beautifully without any frills at all.
EMOLLIENT (i MAHL yint) adj soothing, especially to the skin; making less harsh; mollifying ● Oatmeal's emollient qualities when added to bath water make it an effective aid in soothing the discomfort of poison oak. ● Her kind words had an emollient effect on us, soothing our bruised egos.
EMPIRICAL (im PIR i kul) adj based on observation or experiment ● Skeptics demanded empirical evidence before accepting the psychic's claims that he was communicating with representatives from beyond the grave. ● The empirical data produced by the study was surprising to many; it contradicted the assumptions researchers had been operating under for decades.
ENCOMIUM (en KOH mee um) n glowing and enthusiastic praise; panegyric, tribute, eulogy ● The recently released tribute album was created as an encomium to the singer many considered the grandfather of soul music. ● The encomiums swelled to a torrent as details of the philanthropist's billion-dollar donation became known; each newspaper tried to outdo the others in praising her.
ENDEMIC (en DEM ik) adj characteristic of or often found in a particular locality, region, or people; restricted to or peculiar to that region; indigenous ● Some pundits argue that the corruption endemic to politics today is responsible for the public apathy evident in record low voter turnouts. ● The species of badger endemic to the region has recently been placed on the endangered species list; its territory is being encroached upon by housing developments and that specific habitat is the only one in which it can survive. For a related word, see pandemic.
ENERVATE (EN ur vayt) v to weaken; to reduce in vitality ● We were so enervated by the heat and humidity that we didn't even have the energy to turn on the fan. ● Having braved the malls on the day after Thanksgiving, we were so enervated by the time we got home that we didn't even make it all the way into the house; we had to take a nap on the front steps first. ● Enervation is a common symptom of anemia. Be careful! Enervate is extremely easy to confuse with innervate, which is also in this book. Although their spellings are similar, their meanings and pronunciations are very different. See innervate for more information.
ENGENDER (en JEN dur) v to cause, produce, give rise to ● Clyde's announcement that he plans to retire at the end of the year engendered intense speculation about whom he will appoint as his successor. ● Technical manuals, ostensibly designed to make things easier, can sometimes engender even more confusion than they prevent.
ENIGMATIC (en ig MAT ik) adj mysterious, obscure, difficult to understand ● The only clue to the famous economist's disappearance was an enigmatic message left on his desk that said "gone home"; it took hours for anyone to realize that it meant nothing more mysterious than that she had gone home to feed the dog. ● Some archaeologists speculate that the enigmatic markings on the cave wall may be the earliest known human representations of religious worship. ● Enigma is the noun form of enigmatic and means a mystery or puzzle.
ENNUI (ahn WEE) n dissatisfaction and restlessness resulting from boredom or apathy ● The end-of-summer ennui had set in, making Hannah and Jeremy almost look forward to the distraction of going back to school... almost. ● Serena's claim that a rousing game of Go Fish would cure us of our ennui left us somewhat skeptical.
ENORMITY (i NOR mi tee) n excessive wickedness, evilness Be very careful not to confuse this with enormousness. Enormousness means huge size; enormity does not. Thus, if we talk about the enormity of a crime we are never talking about its size; we're talking about its wickedness. ● The enormity of the terrorist act stunned and outraged the world.
EPHEMERAL (i FEM uh rul) adj brief; fleeting, short-lived ● My ephemeral first romance lasted precisely as long as summer camp did. ● The effects of the treatment were powerful but ephemeral, so that patients had to return to the hospital to repeat the procedure as often as once a day. ● Oh, how ephemeral is fame! It lasts but fifteen minutes, it seems!
EPICURE (EP i kyur) n one devoted to sensual pleasure, particularly in food and drink; gourmand, sybarite ● After watching too many cooking shows, Larry became such an epicure that he lost his ability to appreciate the gustatory pleasures of a frozen pizza. Epicurean means appropriate to an epicure's tastes. ● The exotic epicurean pleasures provided at the five star restaurant made it very popular despite its exorbitant prices. ● Because of the high levels of humidity in the region, equable temperatures are maintained almost year-round.
EQUIVOCATE (ee KWI vuh kayt) v to use ambiguous language with a deceptive intent ● She argued that the company was guilty of equivocating when it claimed it could "teach you to type in one hour or less" because it was unclear whether that meant they guaranteed you would be able to hit a single key or type fifty words a minute at the end of that hour. ● The equivocal language of the contract was designed to deceive gullible buyers—caveat emptor indeed!
ERRANT (ER unt) ad] traveling, itinerant, peripatetic • A knight-errant was a guy in armor who wandered around looking for adventures to prove his general studliness. ● Travels with Charley is Steinbeck's account of his errant journey across America with his French poodle, Charley. Be careful! Errant doesn't have anything to do with errors, despite its appearance and even though inerrant means infallible.
ERRATIC (ur RAT ik) ad] without consistency ● Chau's capability to regulate her movements seems to evaporate when she hits the dance floor, and she flails around to an erratic rhythm only she can hear. ● Though Lorne's boss always came up with wonderful ideas, Lorne sometimes found it difficult to follow her erratic trains of thought. Erratic comes from a root meaning to wander, and that's just how you can think of this word: wandering off the steady course. Eccentric is a close synonym.
ERUDITE (ER yuh dyt) adj very learned; scholarly ● All six volumes of Gibbon's erudite Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire have long been required reading in Professor Smith's course on the history of classical scholarship. Erudition is profound learning or extensive knowledge, learned primarily through books. ● Although his dissertation was generally hailed as a masterpiece of erudition, some critics who acknowledged the virtuosity of its scholarship nonetheless took issue with its lack of reference to the lived experience of actual people.
ESCHEW (e SHEW) v to shun or avoid ● Daniel was unwilling to eschew her company even though I reminded him of how many times she had stood him up in the past. ● Some vegans eschew all forms of animal products, refusing to wear leather or use lotions containing lanolin in addition to not eating anything that comes from animals
ESOTERIC (e soh TER ik) adj intended for or understood by a small, specific group ● Even though most of the sect's practices were well-documented by anthropologists, some of its most esoteric rites had never been witnessed by outsiders. ● The most esoteric course offering this spring seems to be Advanced Pig Latin.
ESSAY (e SAY) v to test or try; attempt, experiment ● It was incredible to watch Valerie essay her first steps after her long convalescence; we were so proud of how hard she had worked at her rehabilitation. Essay can also be a noun, meaning the attempt itself. ● My frequent essays at organization were always successful for a few weeks but fell apart shortly thereafter.
ESTIMABLE (EST uh muh bul) adj worthy, formidable ● Despite his estimable efforts, Alvin was unable to finish his spinach; it really was an impressive attempt, though. ● Garry Kasparov's estimable opponent in the famous man versus machine chess game was a computer named Deep Blue.
EULOGY (YOO luh jee) n a speech honoring the dead ● It was impossible for Sonya to conceal her grief at the funeral; she started weeping during the delivery of the eulogy. ● The eulogy briefly mentioned his many public accomplishments, but focused far more on how much he had meant to his friends and family. You may have already seen the word elegy in this book. It is easy to confuse elegy with eulogy, but they're not entirely the same.
EVANESCENT (e vahn E sunt) adj tending to disappear like vapor; vanishing ● All trace of the evanescent first snow vanished as soon as the midday sun appeared. ● Thankfully, the pain of my first heartbreak was as evanescent as the romance itself; we fell in love on the way to school one morning, broke up on the monkey bars during lunch, and I was sufficiently recovered to fall in love with someone else on the way home.
EVINCE (i VINTS) v to show clearly, to indicate ● The expression on Jane's face evinced what she thought of the proposal; it's amazing how clearly "you must be kidding" can be communicated without speaking a word. ● Although Victor's work evinced great potential, he had significantly more to do before his article would be ready for publication. ● Yolanda evinced great heroism during the fire, reentering the house twice to save the children trapped inside.
EXACERBATE (ig ZA sur bayt) v to make worse or more severe ● My mother insisted that going outside with wet hair would only exacerbate my cold, and she was probably right since now I have pneumonia. ● The government's refusal to recognize the new ambassador exacerbated an already tense situation; many feared it could lead to war.
EXACT (ig ZAKT) v to demand, call for, require, take ● Celebrities often complain that fame exacts a heavy price in loss of privacy, but their fans don't seem to care much, perhaps thinking that this is a reasonable exchange for the money and glory. ● In the Merchant of Venice, a pound of flesh is exacted in exchange for money.
EXCORIATE (ex KOR ee ayt) v to censure scathingly, to upbraid ● The editorial excoriated those artists who attended the event instead of observing the boycott called for by human rights groups. ● Even though the mayor was excoriated by many for his role in the scandal, he nonetheless chose to run for reelection and seemed to have a reasonable chance of winning, which many found appalling.
EXCULPATE (EX cul payt) v exonerate; to clear of blame ● Far from exculpating him as he had hoped, the new evidence only served to convince the jury of his guilt. ● I was able to exculpate myself from the charges of cheating by taking another exam and receiving the same grade on it as I had on the first one. For some examples of words with the same root, see culpable.
EXEMPLAR (ig ZEM plar) n typical or standard specimen; paradigm, model ● We were excited to find the perfect exemplar of the species of beetle we had studied in school; it conformed to the description in the guidebook in every way. ● He was the exemplar of success; if you looked up "successful" in the dictionary, you would probably find his picture next to the definition. Exemplary means worthy of imitation, so an exemplar can be exemplary, but doesn't have to be.
EXHORT (ig ZORT) v to incite, to make urgent appeals ● At the last second I realized that he was waving his arms frantically to exhort me to look down before I fell off the cliff. ● Our coach exhorted us to greater and greater efforts, urging us not to give up even in the face of a twenty-point deficit. ● His exhortations failed to motivate us; we were just too tired from moving boxes all day.
EXIGENT (EX i junt) ad] urgent; pressing; requiring immediate action or attention ● Exigent circumstances require extreme action; if we didn't act soon we would lose the scavenger hunt, so we just went to the store and bought the rest of the items. It may have been cheating, but we felt the situation required it. Exigencies are urgent or pressing situations. ● The exigencies of the food shortage brought out a level of altruism and compassion in the townspeople that they didn't demonstrate under ordinary circumstances.
EXONERATE (ig ZAHN ur ayt) v to remove blame ● The number of death row inmates exonerated by DNA tests in the last few years has caused some to call for a moratorium on executions. ● Kim was exonerated of having taken her sister's shoes when the missing boots were discovered under a pile of dirty laundry. Exculpate is similar in meaning to exonerate.
EXPATIATE (ex PAY shee ayt) v discuss or write about at length; to range freely ● My aunt and uncle expatiated on the subject of their Florida vacation for three hours, accompanied by slides, until we were all crazy with boredom. ● His ability to expatiate on such a variety of subjects without notes made watching him speak something like taking a trip without a map; the journey set its own course.
EXPIATE (EX pee ayt) v to atone or make amends for ● He feared that nothing could expiate the insensitivity of his comments. ● Elvira tried to expiate her lateness by bringing flowers. ● In the Middle Ages, it became a common practice to expiate one's sins by buying indulgences.
EXPURGATE (EX pur gayt) v to remove obscenity, purify, censor ● The expurgated version of the novel was incredibly boring; it turned out that the parts the censors removed had been the only interesting ones. ● The editorial committee removed some sections of the essay that it found morally objectionable, and it also expurgated a significant number of factual errors. Expurgate shares a root with purge, which means to cleanse or make pure.
EXTANT (EK stunt) adj existing, not destroyed or lost ● There are forty-eight copies of the Gutenberg Bible extant today. ● Since there are no portraits extant of the famous general, we have only written descriptions to tell us how he looked.
EXTEMPORANEOUS (ek stem por AY nee us) adj improvised; done without preparation ● Her extemporaneous remarks at the reception demonstrated that her speechwriter must largely be responsible for her reputation for eloquence. ● Their skit was pure comic genius; I couldn't believe it was extemporaneous.
EXTIRPATE (EK stur payt) v to destroy, exterminate, cut out, pull out by the roots ● The dodo bird was extirpated by a combination of hunting by humans and predation by non-native animals. ● She set out on a self-improvement plan to extirpate every single one of her bad habits, but quickly realized she would have nothing left to do if she cut them all out. ● My worst summer job ever involved extirpating an entire acre of weeds.
FACETIOUS (fuh SEE shus) adj playful; humorous; not serious ● It took me a while to figure out that his offer to pay me a million dollars for doing the dishes was facetious; it wasn't all that funny since I didn't get the joke until after I had spent an hour cleaning up. ● I hope his comment about the thirty page paper due tomorrow was facetious, or I'm going to be up all night writing.
FALLACY (FAL uh see) n an invalid or incorrect notion; a mistaken belief ● Penny refused to listen to any attempts to explain the Easter Bunny fallacy; every spring she went looking for a big pink fuzzy rabbit carrying baskets of chocolate eggs. ● Unfortunately, the fallacies of diet programs promising effortless weight loss continue to find plenty of people willing to be fooled.
FALLOW (FAL oh) adj untitled, inactive, dormant ● The farmer hoped that leaving the field fallow for a season would mean that next year he could grow a bumper crop of Brussels sprouts. ● Joe's experiment in applying agricultural principles to self-help was unsuccessful; it turns out that a mind left fallow for two months is not rejuvenated the way soil is.
FANATICAL (fuh NAT ik ul) adj zealous; single-mindedly obsessed with one thing ● Nick Hornby's Fever Pitch tells the story of a true fanatic: a man so obsessed with his favorite team that major life events have to be scheduled around its games. Fanatic originated from the Latin word for temple, because possession by a god or demon could cause someone to behave fanatically. Fanatic is also the source of a very common word in today's speech: fan.
FATUOUS (FAT yoo us) adj silly, inanely foolish ● We suspected that the fatuous grin on Amy's face was evidence of a chocolate chip cookie overdose; she had eaten so many that she had become completely goofy. ● Despite the sitcom's fatuous dialogue, it continued to be number one in the ratings. Fatuous often has a connotation of smugness to go along with the foolishness. ● The politician's fatuous remarks revealed that he was not only pompous, but also not very bright.
FAWN (fawn) v to flatter or praise excessively ● Hector used to think it would be great to be a rock star and have groupies fawning all over him; he changed his mind the first time the fans tore all his clothes off. ● Even though the press fawned over him incessantly, Brian was able to see through the flattery and realize that only his close friends really respected him.
FECKLESS (FEK lus) adj ineffectual; irresponsible ● My feckless brother managed to get himself grounded again, proving one more time that I am the more responsible sibling.
FELICITOUS (fi LI suh tus) adj apt; suitably expressed, well chosen, apropos; delightful ● She can always be counted on for the most felicitous remark; she has something appropriate for every occasion. ● We found our favorite restaurant by a felicitous accident; we misread the directions to our planned destination and ended up someplace much better. Felicity is the state of or something that causes happiness. Infelicitous, on the other hand, means unfortunate or inappropriate. ● It was an infelicitous mix-up when the clown and the exotic dancer got the addresses mixed up for the birthday parties at which they were supposed to perform.
FELL (fel) n a barren or stony hill; an animal's hide ● The cabin stood isolated on the wind-swept fell. Fell has a wide variety of meanings. In addition to the past tense of "to fall," it can also be a verb meaning "to cut down," as in "The lumberjacks felled many trees that day." As an adjective it can mean cruel, savage, or lethal.
FERVENT (FUR vunt) adj greatly emotional or zealous ● It looks as if it is going to be a long night of polka, since the band rejected our fervent pleas for a change in musical selection. ● Her fervent support of environmental protection policies led her to write over a thousand letters to Congress last year alone. Fervor is a related word that means passion or intense emotion.
FETID (FE tud) adj stinking, having a heavy bad smell ● We were never able to determine exactly what the fetid green substance we found in the refrigerator was; no one was willing to get close enough to that horrible smell to investigate. ● The fetid swamp that lay between the beach and us led us to reconsider our plans for the day; staying inside with all the doors closed started sounding—and smelling—pretty good.
FETTER (FWE tur) v to shackle, put in chains, restrain ● Fran was fettered in her attempts to find the hotel by her inability to speak French. Fetters are literally shackles that are used to bind someone's feet or ankles together, but the word can also be used figuratively to mean anything that restrains. ● The image of the freedom fighter tearing off the fetters that bound her became a worldwide symbol of liberation. ● Responsibilities to her family and caring for her younger brothers and sisters were the fetters that kept Connie from pursuing her dream of acting. Unfettered means free or unhampered.
FILIBUSTER (FIL uh bus tur) n intentional obstruction, usually using prolonged speechmaking to delay legislative action ● Strom Thurmond holds the record for the longest filibuster in the history of the U.S. Senate, speaking for more than twenty—four hours to block a bill. Filibuster can also be used as a verb. ● The senator threatened to filibuster in order to stop the bill from reaching a vote.
FILIGREE (FIL uh gree) n an ornamental work, especially of delicate lacelike patterns; resembling such a pattern ● The decorative filigree of its design disguised the wrought iron fence's practical purpose. As a verb, to filigree means to adorn. ● The brooch was filigreed with a delicate pattern of vines and grapes.
FLAG (flag) v to sag or droop, to become spiritless, to decline ● The fans' spirits flagged when the opposing team intercepted the ball in the last few minutes of the game and scored. ● Our unflagging efforts, aided by a few pots of coffee, were rewarded when we finished the project in time for the competition.
FLIP (flip) adj sarcastic, impertinent ● His flip remarks were intended to keep anyone from realizing how much he actually cared. ● One more flip answer out of you, young man, and you're going to your room without supper. Flippant and flippancy probably come from this word and have related meanings. ● Her flippant attitude made her beloved by her classmates and distrusted by her teachers.
FLORID (FLOR id) adj flushed with color, ruddy, ornate ● Glen always became a little florid when he drank; his face became bright red. ● His florid prose style was perfect for romance novels, but not very well suited to his current job writing for a business magazine.
FLOUT (flowt) v to demonstrate contempt for ● Gertrude's reputation for flouting the rules was so well known that she was no longer able to get away with anything at all. ● Alice flouted convention by showing up for the wedding in a bathing suit and the picnic in a tuxedo.
FOMENT (FOH ment) v to stir up, incite, rouse ● Although they accused Kayla of fomenting the protest, she had actually been the one trying to calm everyone down. ● When Eris, the goddess of discord, threw the golden apple into the wedding to which she had not been invited, she fomented the conflict that would result in the Trojan War. Be careful not to confuse this with ferment. Both can mean to agitate, but ferment usually means to cause to undergo the chemical change of fermentation.
FORBEARANCE (for BAYR unts) n patience, willingness to wait ● Lacy hoped that her professor's reputation for forbearance was well founded and that she would get an extension on her paper. ● You have tested my forbearance as far as it can go; if you don't stop drinking my milk I'm going to pour it over your head. Forbearance can also be a legal term describing a creditor's agreement not to demand payment of a debt when it is due. For instance, if a forbearance is granted, you might be able to pay your student loans over a longer period of time than originally allowed. Forbear means to refrain from and the past tense is forbore. The noun forbear is a variation of forebear, which is an ancestor.
FORD (ford) v to wade across the shallow part of a river or stream ● I may have lost my shirt and my pants while trying to ford the river, but at least I still had my hat when I got to the other side.
FORESTALL (for STAHL) v to act in a way to hinder, exclude or prevent an action; to circumvent or thwart ● Thank goodness Louise forestalled any further discussion of what we were going to eat for dinner by ordering a pizza; otherwise we'd still be hungry and talking five hours later. ● The famous actress was trying to forestall aging by undergoing ever more bizarre therapies and cosmetic surgeries.
FORSWEAR (for SWAYR) v to renounce, disallow, repudiate ● Forswearing all previous alliances, the paranoid dictator vowed to allow no one to share his power. ● Even though she forswore all other vices, Gina knew she wouldn't be able to give up smoking cigars.
FORTUITOUS (for TOO uh tus) adj happening by fortunate accident or chance ● The movie's reliance on the heroine's fortuitous meeting with her long lost brother in order to provide a happy ending displeased many critics. ● How fortuitous that I happened to be home when the sweepstakes people stopped by to give me a million dollars!
FRACAS (FRAY kus) n noisy fight or quarrel, brawl ● Every good honky tonk needs a fracas now and again in order to maintain its reputation. ● The fracas that started between the two cab drivers gradually grew until it included most of the bystanders as well and turned into a small riot.
FRACTIOUS (FRAK shus) adj quarrelsome, rebellious, unruly, cranky ● Vince's fractious response to my suggestion was completely uncharacteristic, given his usually easygoing and agreeable attitude. ● The party's fractious internal politics made it difficult for it to gain influence, since all its members' time was spent quarreling. ● Nothing makes me more fractious in the morning than not being able to find a parking space when it's raining.
FROWARD (FROH urd) adj intractable, not willing to yield or comply, stubbornly disobedient ● Two year-olds have a reputation for being froward; they've discovered the pleasure of saying no. ● No matter how much I pleaded and prodded, my froward mule refused to take a single step. Don't confuse this with forward!
FULMINATE (FUL muh nayt) v to attack loudly or denounce ● Since he had been fulminating against corporate misconduct for years, his enemies were gleeful to uncover evidence of the million-dollar payoff he received from the state's largest company. ● Grandpa Joe's favorite activity was fulminating against the decline of modern civilization, as evidenced by heavy metal bands and game show hosts.
FURTIVE (FUR tiv) adj marked by stealth; covert; surreptitious ● The dog's furtive attempts to steal food from the table while no one was looking were thwarted when a whole turkey came crashing to the floor. ● His furtive glances around the room made him look guilty, even if he wasn't really trying to hide anything.
GAINSAY (gayn SAY) v to deny, dispute, contradict, oppose ● It is difficult to gainsay the critics when every new movie the director makes is a flop. ● Joel refused to be gainsaid, insisting all along that he was right despite the evidence to the contrary.
c(GAM bul) v to skip about playfully, frolic ● Every March, the students performed the rites of spring by gamboling about half naked. ● Gamboling in the meadow, the lambs were the very embodiment of playful innocence.
GARNER (GAHR nur) v to gather and save, store up, acquire ● The ants garnered food for the winter while the cricket spent the whole summer playing. ● Lester was the class clown, always playing practical jokes in an obvious attempt to garner attention.
GARRULOUS (GAR uh lus) adj pointlessly talkative, talking too much ● It was easy to see how nervous Gary was by how much he was talking; he always gets garrulous when he is anxious. ● My garrulous neighbor is very sweet, so I try not to act too impatient when she tells me yet another long meandering story.
GAUCHE (gohsh) adj crude, awkward, tasteless ● In some cultures it is considered gauche to belch loudly at the end of dinner; in others it is the height of courtesy. This word comes from a French word meaning left, because left-handedness used to be synonymous with clumsiness and awkwardness. These days, it would be gauche to make fun of someone for being left-handed!
GERMANE (jur MAYN) adj relevant to the subject at hand; appropriate in subject matter ● I love reading her column because her remarks are always germane and central to the most important issues of the day. ● Although his stories were seldom germane to the topic at hand, it was impossible not to enjoy his entertaining tangents.
GLIB (glib) adj marked by ease or informality; nonchalant; lacking in depth; superficial ● Although everyone had thought he was virtually guaranteed the position, his glib attitude during the interview made the director think he didn't care and cost him the job. ● Laurence glibly dismissed his critics' attacks, refusing to take them at all seriously.
GOSSAMER (GAH suh mur) ad] delicate, insubstantial or tenuous; insincere ● The kite was made out of a gossamer substance that seemed hardly substantial enough to let it survive even the lightest of breezes. ● His gossamer promises of justice turned out just to be a way to fool everyone into thinking he planned to be true to his word.
GRANDILOQUENCE (gran DI luh kwunts) n pompous speech or expression ● His grandiloquence made him an easy target for ridicule once we all figured out he didn't even know most of the big words he used. ● The author's grandiloquent style gave me a headache; it was so hard to wade through all the flowery language to get to the real meaning that I gave up after an hour. For a related word, see bombastic.
GREGARIOUS (gri GAYR y us) ad] sociable; outgoing; enjoying the company of other people ● Cherie's gregarious nature always made her the life of the party. ● Although they are not usually known as gregarious creatures, some cats love to be the center of attention and want to hang out with everyone who comes to visit.
GROUSE (grows) v to complain or grumble ● Although I always grouse about my roommates and their tendency to eat all the food and leave dirty dishes and laundry lying around, I still wouldn't trade them for anything in the world. ● Ferdinand's constant grousing about my violin playing has finally convinced me I might need lessons.
GUILE (GYE uhl) n trickery, duplicity, cunning ● The wily con man used guile to part us from our money, but at least we ended up with this lovely snake oil. ● I always admired his preference for guile over hard work; if I'd been able to get away with it I might have tried to accomplish things by trickery instead of effort as well. Guileless, as you might expect, means naive or free from guile. ● His guileless answers convinced everyone of his complete innocence and he was acquitted of any wrongdoing. Beguile means to deceive by guile, or to charm. ● She beguiled us all by batting her lashes, right before she picked our pockets. Another related word is gullible, which means able to be beguiled. A person who believes anything he or she is told would be known as a gullible person.
GUY (gye) n a rope or cord attached to something as a brace or guide ● We were all nervous that the guy for the pulley would give way, but the platform stayed intact, so it must have been fine.
HACKNEYED (HAK need) adj rendered trite or commonplace by frequent usage ● Every hackneyed phrase began as something other than a cliche; it only ended up on the greeting card circuit because enough people repeated it over and over. ● Despite the often hackneyed writing, some pulp fiction can still be fun to read. Want to insult a writer? Then call her a hack, which is a writer for hire (and often carries the connotation of being worn out). The word comes from horses that were hired out to drive hackney carriages, or taxicabs.
HALCYON (HAL see un) adj calm and peaceful, prosperous ● I always hated it when the halcyon days of summer were interrupted by the start of school in the fall. The halcyon was a legendary bird that was thought to be able to calm the waves so that it could nest on the sea.
HALLOW (HAL oh) v to set apart as holy ● The site for the new church was set aside and hallowed in a special ceremony. As an adjective, hallowed means consecrated, or highly venerated. ● Abraham Lincoln remains one of the nation's most hallowed heroes. ● Graceland is hallowed ground for Elvis's legions of fans.
HARANGUE (huh RANG) v to deliver a loud, pompous speech or tirade ● After having been harangued for hours about the superiority of his methods, we should be forgiven for laughing when his demonstration failed. A harangue is what you deliver when you are haranguing someone.
HARROW (HAR oh) v to distress, create stress or torment ● The sadistic professor loved to harrow his students with harrowing tales of the upcoming final exam that no student in the school's history had ever passed.
HEDONISM (HEE dun izm) n devotion to pleasurable pursuits, especially to the pleasures of the senses ● Spring break is popularly known as a festival of hedonism when thousands of college students gather for a week of debauchery in the sun. ● He had to give up his hedonistic lifestyle once he had a full-time job; it was just too hard to get up in the morning after a long night of partying. Someone who embraces hedonism is called a hedonist. For an antonym to hedonist, see the entry for ascetic.
HEGEMONY (hi JEM uh nee) n the consistent dominance or influence of one group, state, or ideology over others ● It has been argued that the United States has achieved global hegemony in the post-Cold War era. ● Many people point to the growing power of multinational corporations as evidence of the hegemony of globalization and capitalism. ● The company's hegemonic control over the market was threatened by the gains its competitors were making as well as by the changing economy.
HERETICAL (huh RET i kul) adj violating accepted dogma or convention, unorthodox ● Galileo was brought before the Inquisition because of his heretical agreement with Copernicus that the earth moved around the sun. ● The once heretical notion that computers would become more than calculating machines or toys is now so obvious that it's hard to remember when we ever thought differently. A heresy is an idea that is heretical.
HERMETIC (hur MET ik) adj airtight, impervious to outside influence ● The tomb's hermetic seal allowed its contents to be perfectly preserved for thousands of years. ● The hermit's hermetic existence in a cave kept him from hearing any news of the outside world. ● We discovered that the jar had not been hermetically sealed when we finally identified it as the source of the nasty smell in the cupboard. Don't confuse this with hermeneutic, which means explanatory or interpretive.
HETERODOX (HET ur uh dahks) adj unorthodox, heretical, iconoclastic ● Einstein's heterodox theories changed our fundamental understanding of time and space forever. ● The designer's heterodox assertion that it is perfectly fine to wear white after Labor Day shocked the fashion world. A heterodoxy is an idea that departs from what is accepted.
HIRSUTE (HUR soot) adj hairy, shaggy ● If he hadn't been so hirsute, the werewolf might have escaped detection forever and settled down into a nice, quiet life in the suburbs. ● My hirsute dog sheds life-size replicas of himself and still has more hair left over.
HOMILY (HAH muh lee) n a sermon or morally instructive lecture, a platitude ● The subject of the minister's homilies ranged from the importance of compassion to the virtues of brushing one's teeth three times a day. ● Spare me the homilies; I already know why I should do the right thing. Homiletics is the art of preaching. ● She was famous for her homiletic skill; people came from all of the surrounding counties to hear her preach.
HOMOGENOUS (hu MAHJ un us) adj same throughout ● The town had so little influx of new people and ideas that its population seemed homogenous to outsiders. ● What seemed like a homogenous coating from a distance was really a swirl of different colors and textures when you examined it up close. Homogeneous is a less common way of expressing the same idea; the current usage of homogenous probably came from the word homogenize, which is to process a liquid so that its particles do not separate.
HUBRIS (HYOO brus) n arrogant presumption or pride ● Icarus was destroyed by the sun god, who melted the wax in Icarus's wings as punishment for his hubris in daring to fly so close to the sun. ● The company president's hubris turned out to be his downfall when he ignored all of the warnings of the coming depression, thinking that he could predict the future on his own. Hubris is frequently used in describing classical and epic characters, such as humans who wish to be gods and kings who think they are infallible, but the word has just as many applications in the modern world.
HYPERBOLE (hy PUR buh lee) n an exaggerated statement, often used as a figure of speech ● I should have realized she was using hyperbole when she promised me the moon and stars; that way I wouldn't have been disappointed when I only got the moon. Something or someone that uses hyperbole is hyperbolic. ● His hyperbolic claims for what the company could produce next quarter made him seem unreliable, since everyone knew he was wildly exaggerating.
ICONOCLAST (y KAHN uh klast) n one who attacks or undermines traditional conventions or institutions ● Frank always insisted on being the iconoclast; whenever everyone else agreed to "up," he would argue for "down." ● In a sense, all great innovators are iconoclasts who challenge the prevailing assumptions of the day. Iconoclastic means attacking cherished beliefs, heretical. ● Jill's iconoclastic attitude shocked everyone when she made an impassioned argument to the class in support of the restoration of the British monarchy's rule over America.
IDOLATROUS (y DAHL uh trus) adj given to intense or excessive devotion to something ● Jim's family realized his love of football was truly idolatrous when they discovered the Raiders shrine in his closet. Idolatry is the worship of idols and images or blind devotion to something.
IDYLL (Y dul) n a carefree, light-hearted pastoral or romantic episode or experience; a literary or musical piece describing such ● The smell of the ocean always made me nostalgic for our summer idyll on the coast two years ago. ● Theocritus is generally credited with originating the poetic form of the idyll, although it is not entirely clear whether he wrote all the bucolic poems we currently associate with him. Idyllic means simple or carefree. ● Our once-idyllic house became a nightmare when the family of kazoo players moved in next door.
IGNOMINIOUS (ig nuh MIN ee us) adj shameful, dishonorable, ignoble, undignified, disgraceful ● It was an ignominious, though deserved, end to all his boasting when the wheels fell off his car halfway through the race. ● The company president made a hasty and ignominious retreat from public life when it was discovered that she had been embezzling money for years. Ignominy is dishonor or humiliation.
IMBROGLIO (im BROHL yo) n difficult or embarrassing situation ● We could see a public relations imbroglio developing before our eyes when the food fight started in the senior citizens' home right as the mayor began his speech. ● Clare tried to extricate herself from the imbroglio she started at the party by sneaking out the back door.
IMMINENT (IM uh nunt) adj about to happen; impending ● Alfred had a hunch that his luck was going to improve shortly and that good fortune was imminent; little did he know, though, that it would show up in the form of a pink poodle. ● They say that a sound like a freight train can be a sign of a tornado's imminent approach. Don't confuse this with eminent, which means prominent or distinguished.
IMMUTABLE (im Y00 tuh bul) adj not capable of change ● Her position on the matter was immutable; no reasoning could convince her that Elvis was not alive and well and working at the car wash down the street. Gravity is an immutable force—what goes up must come down.
IMPASSIVE (im PAS iv) adj revealing no emotion or sensibility ● The guards at Buckingham Palace are required to be completely impassive; they can't show any emotion whatsoever. ● The principal remained impassive in the face of our most impassioned pleas; even our tears didn't move him to leniency.
IMPECUNIOUS (im pek YOON ee us) adj lacking funds; without money ● The impecunious actor was so desperate for money that he had to sacrifice his artistic principles and work as a mime for a few months. ● The worst thing about the impecunious life of a grad student might be the endless diet of ramen noodles.
IMPERIOUS (im PEER ee us) adj commanding, masterful, arrogant, domineering, haughty ● Her imperious manner was extremely annoying to her employees, who thought her arrogance was unfounded since she wasn't even that bright. ● The diva dismissed us from her presence with an imperious wave of her hand.
IMPERTURBABLE (im pur TUR buh bul) adj marked by extreme calm, impassivity and steadiness ● We were in awe of the teacher's ability to remain imperturbable while chaos erupted in the classroom; even with twenty kindergartners running amuck, she managed to stay calm. ● Bo's usually imperturbable nature was put to the test when his roommate spilled cornflakes all over the couch and left without cleaning them up.
IMPETUOUS (im PECH oo us) adj hastily or rashly energetic; impulsive and vehement ● We regretted our impetuous decision to spend our vacation in Greenland when we realized we hadn't packed any warm clothing. ● John's impetuous nature kept him from planning anything in advance, but somehow everything always seemed to work out in the end.
IMPLACABLE (im PLAK uh bul) adj not capable of being appeased or significantly changed ● Her anger over her partner's betrayal was implacable; nothing anyone said or did would appease her. ● Because I have an implacable fear of dentists, I haven't been to see one in twenty years and now only have two teeth left.
IMPORTUNE (im por TOON) v to ask incessantly, beg, nag ● Jerry's constant importuning for time off worked in a way; he had plenty of time off once he was fired for nagging his boss about a vacation. Importunate means persistent in asking. ● Leslie is an importunate borrower of clothing; I'm not sure she even owns any of her own clothes since she is always asking to borrow other people's stuff.
IMPUDENT (IM pyuh dunt) adj shamelessly bold; insolent; impertinent ● John's impudent personality on stage enthralled his fans; unfortunately, it also alienated his fellow band members. The characteristic of being impudent is called impudence. ● Adonia was frequently punished in school for her impudence.
IMPUGN (im PYOON) v attack or assail verbally, censure, execrate, deny ● Although the paper impugned his motives for resigning, claiming that he did it to hide his misdeeds, most people still believed he did it for virtuous reasons. ● The candidate's attempt to impugn his opponent's voting record backfired when it merely brought to light his own poor attendance record.
IMPUNITY (im PYOON i tee) n immunity from punishment, penalty or harm ● Barry the bully was able to terrorize the schoolyard with impunity because he was always able to look completely innocent whenever any authority figures were around. ● It is only possible to lie on a bed of nails with impunity if the nails are close enough together that the force per unit area is not enough to break the skin; in other words, don't try this at home without a physicist handy.
IMPUTE (im PYOOT) v to attribute to a cause or source, ascribe, assign as a characteristic ● The mechanic imputed my car's failure to start to the absence of any gasoline in the tank. ● My dance partner kindly imputed my fall to a slippery floor, when in reality my two left feet were the cause.
INALIENABLE (in AYL ee uh bul) adj cannot be transferred Generally, we hear this word with the word "rights," as in inalienable rights. ● The Declaration of Independence states that man is endowed with certain inalienable rights; unfortunately, the author failed to specify whether those rights were also applicable to woman.
INCHOATE (in KOH ut) adj in an initial stage, not fully formed ● Drat, our plan for world domination is still inchoate; how will we finalize it before the deadline tomorrow? ● It was amazing to realize that the inchoate blob in front of us would become a delicate vase when the glassblower was done. For a word with a similar definition, see nascent.
INCIPIENT (in SIP ee unt) adj beginning to come into being orto become apparent ● I could sense the dull throbbing in my head that was the sign of an incipient headache; I knew it was only a matter of time before it had developed into a full-fledged migraine. ● Marta rushed to stop the incipient unrest that began when the food and drink ran out at the party.
INDEFATIGABLE (in di FAT i guh bul) adj not easily exhaustible, tireless, dogged ● Her indefatigable good humor was legendary; she never seemed out of sorts no matter how annoying everyone around her was. ● Although I tried to convince myself I was indefatigable, I started to suspect I would have to be carried the last few miles of the hike. ● His indefatigability paid off when he won the dance contest after dancing for fourteen hours straight.
INDIFFERENT (in DIF ur unt) adj having no interest or concern, apathetic; showing no bias or prejudice Indifferent is a multifunctional word. It can mean having no interest in something, but it can also mean having no bias, which should remind you of all that confusion around disinterested and uninterested. It can also mean not good or bad, not too much or too little, and neither right nor wrong. ● Maria was indifferent about wine and could never understand all that sniffing, swirling and sipping people seemed to care so much about. ● He may have been an indifferent musician, but he was a brilliant composer. ● Her reputation as an indifferent judge made all sides trust her; it was her indifference that made the two parties agree to accept her judgment as final.
INDOLENT (IN duh lunt) adj lazy, listless, torpid ● Alex was so indolent that he hired other people to wash his hands for him. The noun from of indolent is indolence. ● It seemed paradoxical that Anna so wished for a life of indolence that she worked very hard all the time to be able to afford it. For a synonym, see phlegmatic.
INELUCTABLE (in i LUKT uh bul) adj certain, inevitable ● George refused to accept the ineluctable reality of death, so he planned to have himself frozen. ● The outcome of the game seemed ineluctable once the score was 156 to 14.
INERT (in URT) adj unmoving, lethargic, sluggish, not reactive chemically ● Once it hits ninety degrees Fahrenheit and ninety percent humidity, I become completely inert; I can't even move at that point. ● Helium and argon are two of the inert gases, which do not react with much of anything. ● The bureaucracy had become effectively inert; everyone was so bogged down in paperwork that nothing ever moved through the system.
INGENUOUS (in JEN yoo us) adj artless, frank and candid, lacking in sophistication ● His ingenuous question revealed how naive he was, but his ingenuousness was actually refreshing in this group of cynical, scheming old men. Disingenuous means lacking in candor, calculating, duplicitous. ● I suspected that his sudden interest in my. research was disingenuous; he really just wanted an invitation to the party I was hosting. Be careful not to confuse ingenuous with ingenious, which means characterized by skill and imagination.
INHERENT (in HEER int) ad] ingrained within one's nature, intrinsic, firmly established, essential ● His inherent skill at spatial relations reasoning was revealed when he solved the Rubik's cubeTM puzzle at the age of two. ● Some people believe that self-interest is inherent in human nature; others argue that it is a learned characteristic. ● It was inherent to the plot that the protagonist dies; without his death, the story would have made no sense. Inhere means to be inherent or innate to something. ● The age-old conflict that inheres in the parent-child relationship as the child reaches adolescence was not going to be resolved today.
INIMICAL (i NIM i kul) ad] damaging, harmful, injurious, hostile, unfriendly ● While the Antarctic is inimical to most animal and plant life, some organisms nevertheless manage to survive there. ● He seemed inimical to my overtures of friendship, refusing even to talk to me. For a synonym for inimical, look ahead to pernicious.
INIMITABLE (i NIM muh tuh bul) adj one of a kind, peerless ● His inimitable feats of daring on the trapeze were so audacious that no one else even tried to imitate them. ● She lived up to every expectation when she arrived at the party decked out in ostrich feathers and sequins in her usual inimitable style.
INIQUITY (i NIK wuh tee) n wickedness, gross injustice ● The iniquity of the judgment was so blatant that there was immediate worldwide protest of its unfairness. ● Having suffered under the iniquity of the dictator's rule for decades, the citizens understandably celebrated the overthrow of his regime. Iniquitous means characterized by wickedness.
INNERVATE (i NUR vayt) v to supply with nerves, energize Innervate is usually used to describe a physiological process, as in the fibers that innervate the facial muscles, but it can also be used metaphorically. ● Innervated by our coach's pep talk, we were filled with energy for the upcoming game. Don't confuse this with enervate, which is also in this book. Their definitions and pronunciations are very different.
INNOCUOUS (i NAHKyoo us) adj harmless; causing no damage ● The poisonous-looking brew turned out to be innocuous; it didn't taste very good, but it didn't cause any harm. ● At least her practical jokes are innocuous, even if they are annoying. If you associate this word with inoculate, which means to protect, good ear! They don't have the same root, but the association can help you remember the meaning of innocuous.
INNOCUOUS (i NAHKyoo us) adj harmless; causing no damage ● The poisonous-looking brew turned out to be innocuous; it didn't taste very good, but it didn't cause any harm. ● At least her practical jokes are innocuous, even if they are annoying. If you associate this word with inoculate, which means to protect, good ear! They don't have the same root, but the association can help you remember the meaning of innocuous.
INSENSIBLE (in SENS uh bul) adj unconscious, unresponsive, unaware, unaffected, numb ● He lay insensible on the field after being hit in the head by the baseball. ● I am not insensible of your suffering; I just don't care. ● She was insensible to his entreaties, refusing to take him back no matter how much he pleaded. Note the subtle difference in the last two sentences: insensible of your suffering means unaware of it (i.e., "I know you're suffering, but in this case I just don't care.") and insensible to his entreaties means unresponsive to them.
INSOUCIANT (in SOO see unt) adj unconcerned, carefree, nonchalant ● Her insouciant attitude toward her schoolwork meant that she rarely turned in her papers or bothered to study for a test. ● Insouciance may be charming in a friend, but is often annoying in a co-worker if you end up doing his work for him.
INSULAR (IN suh lur) adj parochial, narrow-minded, like an island ● The small fishing community had a very insular attitude toward outsiders, viewing them as strange and generally distrusting them. ● The insularity of his upbringing was reflected in the narrow-mindedness of his views. The primary definition of insular means relating to an island, and insulate, meaning to set off in a detached position, comes from the same root.
INTERDICT (in tur DIKT) v prohibit, forbid, ban, halt ● Although Prohibition attempted to interdict the sale of alcohol, it was never entirely successful. An interdiction is a prohibition against something. ● My parents' interdiction against my going out on a school night never worked as long as I was able to sneak out the window without getting caught.
INTIMATE (IN tim ayt) v to imply, suggest or insinuate ● I'm shocked that you would intimate that I borrowed your car without asking; just because I have the keys in my hand doesn't mean I would ever think of doing such a thing! ● The governor intimated that he might run for Congress, but coyly refused to commit one way or the other. An intimation is a hint. ● Her intimations that I might get the job only made me more nervous.
INTRACTABLE (in TRAK tuh bul) adj not easily managed or directed, stubborn, obstinate ● He was the most intractable child I have ever met; nothing I tried would get him to brush his teeth or go to bed. ● Poverty remains one of the most intractable problems of modem society.
INTRANSIGENT (in TRANS i junt) adj refusing to compromise ● He was an intransigent supporter of the tax cut, refusing to compromise even the slightest bit. ● Her intransigence in the face of all opposing arguments would almost have been impressive if it weren't so dam frustrating.
INTREPID (in THE pud) adj steadfast, courageous ● The intrepid explorers continued on despite the harsh conditions. ● Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen were intrepid journalists, daring to investigate under dangerous circumstances, so it was a good thing Superman was around to save them when they got into trouble.
INUNDATE (IN un dayt) v to cover or overwhelm, to flood ● Because the village sits in a basin, it is easily inundated when river levels rise and there is no escape route for the water. ● Legend has it that the mail-order company was so inundated with orders in its early years that it occasionally burned order slips to get rid of them. Inundation is the noun form of inundate.
INURED (in OORD) adj accustomed to accepting something undesirable ● I have become inured to waking up at 5 A.M.; I still don't like it, but at least I'm used to it. ● Her co-workers were so inured to her sarcasm that they no longer took it personally.
INVEIGH (in VAY) v to attack verbally, denounce, deprecate ● The students inveighed bitterly against the new dress code, complaining that the orange shirts and red pants not only limited their freedom of expression but were also ugly. ● Inveighing against the government's policies will do you no good if you don't bother to vote as well.
INVEIGLE (in VAY gul) v to obtain by deception or flattery ● I can't believe she inveigled a ticket to the concert; I've been trying to get one for weeks. ● Once I realized what he was up to, his attempts to inveigle me out of telling his girlfriend where he'd been were unsuccessful.
INVETERATE (in VET ur ut) adj deep rooted, ingrained, habitual ● Tim was such an inveterate liar that he lied even when he thought he was telling the truth. ● Her inveterate preference for chocolate over vanilla ice cream had stayed the same for fifty years. Inherent is a close synonym for inveterate.
INVIDIOUS (in VID ee us) adj tending to arouse envy or ill will in others ● The promotion was important to Sveri s career; however, it meant that for a while, he was in the invidious position of supervising his former coworkers. When invidious is used to describe a distinction or comparison, it means discriminatory. ● It was invidious to give preferential treatment to one group of graduate students over the other, but no one was likely to question the tenured professor.
IRASCIBLE (eer A suh bul) adj easily angered; prone to temperamental outbursts ● Irascible to the end, the grouchy old man started a fight on his deathbed. ● My roommate is so irascible that I always check for the sound of flying objects before I open the door.
ITINERATE (y TIN uh rut) v to travel from place to place ● After years of itinerating, never staying in one place for more than a couple months, he finally settled down and bought a house. Itinerant is an adjective that means traveling from place to place. ● The itinerant laborers followed the harvest from county to county.
JEJUNE (ii JYOON) ad] vapid, uninteresting; childish, immature; lacking nutrition ● The jejune lecture on various ways to wash clothes had us half-asleep after ten minutes. ● His jejune response to our questions revealed how young he was despite his apparent age. ● After surviving on a jejune diet of saltines and ginger ale during my illness, I was ready for a more nutritious meal.
JIBE (jyb) v to agree, to be in accord ● Since their accounts of the evening's events didn't jibe, we knew at least one of them wasn't telling the full truth. ● I was relieved to find that my account balance jibed with my calculations so that I didn't bounce a check.
JOCOSE (joh KOHS) ad] given to joking; humorous ● The jocose man could always be counted on for some levity, but it was almost impossible to get him to stop joking even for a minute. Jocular is very similar to jocose, but jocund is slightly different in that it means high-spirited rather than specifically humorous. Jocularity is fun characterized by humor.
KINETIC (ki NET ik) ad] having to do with motion; lively; active A kinetic personality is a lively, active, moving personality. ● Our new public relations hire has a kinetic personality.
LABILE (LAY byl) adj readily open to change, unstable ● He was so emotionally labile that he could be crying one minute and laughing the next. ● Radioactive isotopes are labile because they undergo change.
LACHRYMOSE (LAK ri mohs) adj causing tears, tearful, showing sorrow ● His lachrymose apology didn't move me; he was going to have to do a lot more than shed a few tears before I was ready to forgive him. ● Beth's lachrymose portrayal of the heroine didn't work very well since the play was supposed to be a comedy.
LACONIC (luh KAHN ik) adj using few words; terse ● We took her "good" as high praise indeed, since that was more than our laconic band teacher usually said in a whole week. ● His laconic public persona was just a front; once you got to know him he wouldn't shut up. Need an antonym? Garrulous and loquacious are both opposites to laconic.
LASSITUDE (LAS uh tood) n listlessness, languor, weariness ● Those two push-ups I attempted filled me with lassitude for the rest of the day. ● It wouldn't be so bad to be in a constant state of lassitude as long as I could have someone to wave palm fronds over me and feed me grapes, since I would be too exhausted to do it myself.
LAUD (land) v to praise highly ● His first novel was so universally lauded that it seemed almost impossible that his second book could live up to the expectations. ● It is a good idea to laud your partner's skills at house cleaning; otherwise you'll just end up having to do more of it yourself.
LAVISH (LAV ish) ad] extravagant ● No expense was spared in giving the astronauts a lavish homecoming, complete with welcome feasts and a parade down Fifth Avenue, after their arduous mission. As a verb, to lavish is to bestow something in great quantities, or to cover liberally.
LETHARGIC (luh THAR jik) ad] characterized by lethargy or sluggishness ● Though Ryan loves to run through 18 holes of disc golf in 100-degree weather, I am left too lethargic to so much as pick up my bag. The noun form of lethargic is lethargy. ● Ben can sit on the balcony for hours doing almost nothing, but his seeming lethargy is actually an intense concentration that most people don't reach because of all of their activity.
LIBERTINE (LIB ur teen) n someone unrestrained by morality or convention or leading a dissolute life ● We discovered that she was quite the libertine when it was revealed that she was having affairs on three different continents at the same time. ● Casanova has become the archetypal libertine in popular culture, the very embodiment of a single-minded pursuit of pleasure. Libertine can also be an adjective, as in his libertine disregard for the moral conventions of the day.
LIMN (lim) v to draw, outline in detail ● The painter limned the old man's face in such exquisite and expressive lines that it almost looked as if he might open his mouth and speak. ● The surveyors limned the valley in order to provide an exact topographical map for the construction crew to follow.
LIMPID (LIM pud) adj transparent, serene, clear and simple in style, untroubled ● The once-limpid pond had become a nasty soup of algae, beer cans, and a random tennis shoe or two. ● The article's limpid style was a welcome break from the dense and convoluted theoretical stuff I'd been reading for days; in other words, its limpidity was a relief.
LIST (list) v to tilt or lean to one side ● The ship listed to one side after running aground on a rock and filling partially with water. ● After a little too much celebrating, he was listing badly to one side and threatening to topple over as he walked up the front steps.
LOQUACIOUS (loh KWAY shus) adj extremely talkative ● I knew something had to be wrong when my usually loquacious friend didn't say a word for two whole minutes. ● His loquacity was legendary; in fact, he held the county record for uninterrupted talking at three days, ten hours and fourteen minutes.
LUCID (LOO sud) adj intelligible, sound, clear ● The lucid water in the tidepool allowed us to see the bottom clearly. ● Despite the lucidity of Lucia's explanation, which allowed me to understand the concept for the first time, I remained skeptical about the method's practicality.
LUMBER (LUM bur) v to move heavily and clumsily or with a rumbling sound ● The truck lumbered about like a drunken dinosaur. ● His usually lumbering gait gave no hint to his remarkable grace as a skater.
LUMINOUS (L00 muh nus) adj characterized by brightness and the emission of light, enlightened, clear ● The luminous stars and full moon made it as bright as if it were the middle of the day. ● It was amazing that he could write such luminous prose when his speech was so confusing and thoughtless. Many words having to do with light have the same root, such as illuminate and even luster. Just remember Lumiere, the candle from the animated Beauty and the Beast, and you have your word association!
MAGNANIMITY (mag nuh NIM i tee) n the quality of being generously noble in mind and heart, especially in forgiving ● Her magnanimity in forgiving all those who had opposed her ensured that she would be well liked even by her former enemies. ● He was magnanimous to a fault; he would give his last penny to anyone who asked for it.
MALEVOLENT (muh LE voh lent) ad] having or showing often vicious ill will, spite, or hatred ● The malevolent villain was so mean that she didn't even like puppies or flowers; now that's mean! ● It's a good thing that his malevolence was only matched by his inability to plan things; a lot more of his evil plots would have worked out if he hadn't gotten the timing wrong. Have you ever noticed how many words beginning with mal- mean bad things? Malevolent, malignant, malfunction... the list goes on. Words beginning with ben-, on the other hand, tend to have positive meanings. Refer to the entry for benign for some examples.
MALINGER (muh LING ur) v to feign illness so as to avoid work ● Her boss suspected her of malingering until she brought a note from her doctor. ● If I were you, I'd take "expert malingerer" off my resume.
MALLEABLE (MAL ee uh bul) ad] capable of being shaped or formed, easily influenced ● I wouldn't put too much importance on his agreement with your argument; he's so malleable that he's likely to agree with the next person he meets as well. ● Gold's malleability makes it a useful metal for jewelry, since it is so easy to shape.
MARTIAL (MAR shul) ad] associated with war and the armed forces ● When civil war broke out, the military imposed martial law for the duration of the conflict. ● Sparta was known for its martial culture, in which almost every aspect of life was tied into preparing for battle.
MARTINET (marti NET) n a rigid disciplinarian ● Sister Paul Marie is a sweet and generous person, but she is a martinet when it comes to teaching grammar, and few people passed her class on the first try. The adjective form of martinet is martinetish. ● My martinetish study hall teacher didn't make my sixth period very relaxing, but boy did I get my homework done! The word martinet is named for Jean Martinet, a seventeenth-century French drillmaster who insisted on absolute adherence to the rules.
MAUNDER (MAHN dur) v to talk or move aimlessly, mutter ● After we maundered about for over three hours I started to suspect that our guide didn't have the slightest idea where he was going. ● His endless maundering on about nothing started to get on my nerves until I wanted to shout, "Get to the point!"
MAVERICK (MAV rik) n an independent individual who does not go along with a group or party ● Always the maverick, Lola insisted on going right whenever everyone else went left. Maverick can also be an adjective. ● The maverick politician refused to seek safety in numbers by following the consensus; instead, she stuck to her principles regardless of the consequences to her popularity. Technically, a maverick is an unbranded animal such as a cow.
MELANCHOLY (MEL un kahl ee) adj tending toward sadness ● Hamlet is the epitome of a melancholy character: he dresses in black, talks to skulls, and rambles on at length about whether to kill himself. According to Aristotle, too much liver bile caused melancholy personalities. This book contains vocabulary words based on three other personality types that he identified based on bodily fluids.. .can you find the rest?
MELLIFLUOUS (mel I floo us) adj sweetly flowing, usually used to describe words or sounds ● The mellifluous sound of her voice lulled me to sleep, though this wasn't what she had in mind since she was trying to chastise me. ● The mellifluous tones of the quartet's performance made the audience smile.
MENDACITY (men DAS uh tee) n the condition of being untruthful, dishonesty ● Pinocchio was never able to hide his mendacity; whenever he lied his nose grew longer. Mendacious means false, untruthful. ● I have never met a more mendacious child; imagine him telling me that the teapot on my head is silly, when everyone knows it is the height of fashion!
MENDICANT (MEN dih kunt) n a beggar, supplicant ● The tourist was horrified to see the number of mendicants begging on the streets, not realizing that there were millions of homeless people reduced to mendicancy on the streets of his own country as well. ● Mendicant orders are religious organizations, such as the Franciscans, that have renounced all material wealth and survive by begging.
MERCURIAL (mur KYOOR ee ul) adj characterized by rapid and unpredictable change in mood ● The mercurial weather went from sunshine to hail and back in less than an hour. ● Mercutio from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is a perfect example of a mercurial personality; his moods flit from one extreme to the other in the short time he is on stage. Things that change rapidly or move quickly are often named after the Greek god Mercury. The metal used in thermometers and the closest planet to the sun are prime examples.
MERETRICIOUS (mer uh TRI shus) ad] tawdry, pretentious, attractive but false, showy, having to do with prostitution ● His meretricious argument had all the false allure of a low-rent Vegas nightclub: showy on the outside, but seedy and desperate on the inside.
METICULOUS (muh TIK yoo lus) adj characterized by extreme care and precision, attentive to detail ● Her desk was so meticulous that every pen was lined up exactly the same distance apart. ● His meticulous planning of every aspect of the conference paid off when the whole week went exactly as it was supposed to.
METTLESOME (MET ul sum) adj courageous, high-spirited ● The mettlesome doctor risked his own life to try to save the wounded soldiers on both sides. ● She was a mettlesome child, always proud and unruly. Be careful. Not only does this word have the two subtly different meanings of "courageous" and "high-spirited," but also it is also very easy to confuse it with other, similar words. Watch out for meddlesome, meaning inclined to interfere, and nettlesome, meaning prickly or difficult. Remembering that mettle means courage and stamina will help.
MILITATE (MIL i tayt) v to have weight or bearing on, to argue (against) ● The president's advisors warned him that the volatility of the situation militated against any rash action. ● The presence of polite company militates against my telling you exactly what I think of your underhanded scheming, but as soon as we're alone you'd better watch out. Occasionally militate is used to mean arguing for, though it usually used to mean arguing against. ● His phenomenal record militates in favor of his consideration for the job.
MILK (milk) v to exploit, to squeeze every last ounce of ● I milked my sprained ankle for as much sympathy as I could; pretty soon I had people cooking me dinner and cleaning my house. ● My big plans for milking my parents' absence for all the fun I could get out of it were thwarted when they returned home before the party even started.
MINATORY (MIN uh tor ee) adj menacing, threatening ● Disregarding the minatory signs, we opened the door and discovered that the ferocious dog that the sign had warned us about was a dachshund—a fairly assertive dachshund, but only a 20-pound dog nonetheless. According to an ancient Greek myth, the Minotaur was a creature that guarded the Labyrinth, eating all who dared come inside. Athenian youths were sacrificed to the Minotaur before Theseus killed it, leaving the word minatory in its place.
MINCE (mints) v pronounce or speak affectedly or too carefully, euphemize, take tiny steps, tiptoe ● Don't mince words with me; just come right out and tell me exactly what you think. ● The five-inch heels and straitjacket she wore for Halloween forced her to take little mincing steps to keep from falling over.
MISANTHROPE (MIS un throhp) n one who hates humankind ● Kate was surprised to discover that she had a reputation as a misanthrope, because really she was just very shy. Misanthropic is an adjective that means "hating humankind." ● Traffic jams tend to bring out the misanthropic worst in people, since everyone just starts hating everyone else. For an antonym, see philanthropic.
MISOGYNIST (mis AH jin 1st) n one who hates women ● The professor had a reputation for being a misogynist, which explained why not only none of the female grad students, but also most of the male students didn't want to work with him, despite his supposed brilliance, ● The song's misogynist lyrics sparked massive protests by feminists. Misogynist and misogynistic are both regarded as acceptable forms for the adjective.
MITIGATE (MIT uh gayt) v to make or become less severe or intense, moderate ● Discovering that I had the date wrong mitigated some of the pain of having no one show up to my birthday party. ● Turning on the heater mitigated the extreme cold in the living room; why didn't we think of that earlier? A mitigating circumstance doesn't change whether a person is guilty or not, but it may lessen the severity of the punishment (it mitigates the severity). Unmitigated means absolute or unrelieved. ● My attempt to tango was an unmitigated disaster.
MOLLIFY (MAH luh fy) v to calm or soothe, reduce in emotional intensity ● After stepping on her tail, I tried to mollify the cat by scratching her head and giving her some milk. ● He seemed somewhat mollified by my promise to buy him two scoops of ice cream to replace the one that fell on the ground; at least he stopped crying long enough to agree. Emollient is a related word that can either be an adjective or a noun, and you may well recognize it from advertisements for body lotion; see the entry under emollient for more details.
MONOTONY (muh NAHT un ee) n tedious lack of variety or change ● One would think that life on a desert island would be filled with monotony, but in fact, foraging and hunting for food makes one's days quite exciting. This word comes from monotone, which means one sound. If you think about someone's voice droning on with no change in the pitch, you'll get a pretty good idea of the meaning of monotony. The adjective form of this word is monotonous.
MOROSE (muh ROHS) adj sad, sullen, melancholy ● I knew from the morose expression on his face that it would be a bad idea to ask Kent how he did in the competition. ● Although it is easy to be morose during the long, cold, wet, gloomy winter in Seattle, it is much more difficult to be sad during the summer when it is sunny and everyone else is happy.
MULTIFACETED (mul ty FAS it id) adj having many aspects ● It seemed at first to be an open-and-shut robbery case, but soon detectives uncovered so many twists and turns that it seems as multifaceted as a dodecahedron. Literally, multifaceted means having many facets or faces, like a diamond. Figuratively, it can mean versatile.
MULTIFARIOUS (mul tuh FER ee us) adj varied, motley, greatly diversified ● The objects of his multifarious crushes ranged from Katherine Hepburn to the cashier at the grocery store. ● I love to sit and watch the multifarious activity at any train station—the variety of people and places they are going is endlessly fascinating.
MUNDANE (mun DAYN) adj of the world, typical of or concerned with the ordinary ● Todd was always complaining that he shouldn't have to deal with all the mundane details of life, because he was going to be a famous rock star very soon. ● Some people may prefer the lofty philosophical questions about angels dancing on the heads of pins, but I'm more concerned with the mundane questions, like where are we going to eat lunch?
NADIR (NAY deer) n low point, perigee ● Being presented with the "Nice Try" award for finishing in last place was definitely the nadir of my professional pinochle career. ● Liver-flavored tapioca with pickled pretzels truly marked the nadir of Darryl's cooking experiments. For an antonym, go to the entry for apogee.
NASCENT (NAY sunt) adj coming into being; in early developmental stages ● I could always tell when Richard had a nascent plan developing, because he got this faraway devious look in his eyes. ● The nascent truce between the warring groups was tenuous, and would need intensive diplomatic cooperation in order to grow into a stronger and lasting relationship.
NATTY (NA tee) adj trimly neat and tidy, dapper ● My grandmother is always complaining that there are no more natty dressers; she just doesn't think that baggy jeans and sneakers can compete with the zoot suits of her adolescence.
NEBULOUS (NEB yoo lus) adj vague, cloudy, lacking clearly defined form ● Unfortunately, we were so excited about the prospect of discovering buried treasure that we hadn't noticed how nebulous Hannah's plan was for finding it. ● All we could see of the dust storm as it approached was a nebulous gray mass. Nebulous can also mean relating to a nebula, which has several meanings dealing with cloudiness and diffuse particles, but is generally known as a body of interstellar dust or gas.
NEOLOGISM (nee AH luh ji zim) n a new word, expression, or usage; the creation or use of new words or senses ● "Eco-chic," "urbanwear," and "technophile" are examples of recent neologisms, just as "TV," "bobby socker," and "UFO" once were. ● My least favorite neologisms are nouns that have been made into verbs, as in "our team has been tasked with...."
NEOPHYTE (NEE uh fyt) n a recent convert; a beginner; novice ● Although only a neophyte, Casey was already demonstrating amazing skill at chess. ● As a neophyte at archery, I was just happy I didn't put out anyone's eye my first few times. Tyro is one synonym for neophyte.
NEXUS (NEK sus) n a connection, tie, or link; center or focus ● Although many people have studied the nexus between rehabilitation programs for prisoners and rates of recidivism, no one has been able to draw any universally accepted conclusions about the relationship. ● The group members' objective is to strengthen the nexus between theory and practice by implementing programs based on their ideas about community service.
NICE (nys) adj exacting, extremely or even excessively precise; done with delicacy or skill ● The distinction he drew between the two findings was so nice that most of his listeners weren't even sure it was there. He had so nice a sense for chocolate that he could identify the source of the cocoa bean used to make each variety.
NOISOME (NOY sum) adj offensive, especially to one's sense of smell, fetid ● I don't know how anyone with a nose can live in an apartment that noisome. ● The noisome miasma rising from the swamp was the result of a chemical spill.
NONPLUSSED (nahn PLUST) adj baffled, in a quandary, at a loss for what to say, do or think ● Ernest was a little nonplussed when Gertrude told him that she loved him but she wasn't in love with him, which is admittedly pretty confusing. ● I was nonplussed as to how a dog, a hamster and a turtle could have made such a mess, but once I figured out that they had invited the whole neighborhood menagerie over, it made a lot more sense.
NOSTRUM (NAH strum) n cure-all, placebo, questionable remedy ● Any nostrum that claims to cure both a hangover and bunions is either a miracle or a fraud. ● Spare me your nostrums promising the answers to all of life's difficult questions; if it were that easy someone would have found them long ago.
NOXIOUS (NARK shus) adj harmful; injurious ● His speeches advocating intolerance are noxious; they spread harm to everyone who hears them. ● That particularly noxious shade of pink is making my eyes hurt. ● The school had to be evacuated when the noxious gas leak was discovered.
OBDURATE (AHB dur ut) ad] unyielding, hardhearted, inflexible ● The villain's obdurate heart was unmoved by the plight of the villagers; he refused to show any compassion at all. ● Completely unwilling to acknowledge that we might be lost, Anthony was obdurate in his insistence that we were going the right way.
OBEISANCE (oh BEE sunts) n gesture that expresses deference, such as a bow or curtsy ● In the court of a king or queen, no one would think of dancing without first offering some sort of obeisance to the monarch; obviously, rules on other dance floors are more relaxed. Obeisance shares a root with obey, and it is, in fact, a gesture that shows "obey-ance" to the recipient. An obeisance could also be called an obeisant gesture.
OBFUSCATE (AHB fus cayt) v to deliberately obscure, to make confusing ● He tried to obfuscate the issue behind a lot of big words and numbers, but it was obvious that the company was in serious financial straits. ● Magic tricks are based on the art of obfuscation; making an audience believe that it sees something other than what is actually occurring. An obfuscation is something that causes confusion. ● Emiko was a genius at removing obfuscations and drilling right into the truth of any issue.
OBSEQUIOUS (ub SEE kwee us) ad] exhibiting a fawning attentiveness; subservient ● His obsequious fawning over Brandy made him seem more like her pet than her peer. ● I suspected that he was only trying to get something from me, and that his obsequiousness was not a measure of his adulation, but only of his desire for reward.
OBSTINATE (AHB stin ut) adj stubborn; hardheaded; uncompromising • Stop being so obstinate and just admit that I'm right! ● He couldn't get the obstinate oxen to move, no matter how much he coaxed.
OBSTREPEROUS (ahb STREP uh rus) adj noisy, loudly stubborn, boisterous • Their obstreperous clamor to see their idol didn't quiet down even after he came on stage. ● The entire zoo was kept up all night by the obstreperous herd of cranky elephants.
OBTAIN (ub TAYN) v to be established, accepted, or customary, prevail • The customary niceties of polite conversation do not obtain in the middle of a tornado. ● The proper conditions for the summit will only obtain if all parties agree to certain terms.
OBTUSE (ahb TOOS) adj lacking sharpness of intellect, not clear or precise in thought or expression ● Her approach was so obtuse that it took me twenty minutes to figure out that she was asking me out. ● The secret agent was so obtuse he couldn't remember how to figure out the secret code even after he's studied it for days. In geometry, an obtuse angle is one that is more than 90 degrees and less than 180 degrees, so it's a pretty dull angle. Perhaps it's not surprising, then, that the definitions of obtuse used here also mean dull. For an opposite, see acumen.
OBVIATE (AHB vee ayt) v to anticipate and make unnecessary ● Finding my keys in my pocket obviated the need for the private investigators I just hired to locate them. ● The successful outcome of the most recent experiments obviated the need for any additional testing.
OCCLUDE (uh KL00D) v to obstruct or block ● The big bus that parked right in front of us occluded our view. ● The path had become occluded by years of underbrush growing over the trail.
OCCULT (uh KULT) adj hidden, concealed, beyond comprehension We generally think of the occult as having to do with the supernatural. However, it can also mean anything hidden or beyond comprehension. ● The occult mysteries of humankind's purpose on earth have yet to be fully solved despite the best efforts of scientists, philosophers and theologians. Occult can also be a verb, meaning to hide. ● The beam of light from the ranger's station was occulted every time we walked behind a tree.
ODIOUS (OH dee us) adj hateful; arousing strong feelings of dislike • As a vegetarian, there are few things more odious to Mari than the smell of beef cooking. ● The enmity is so strong between the two competitors that even the thought of being in each other's presence is odious to either of them.
OFFICIOUS (uh FISH us) adj meddlesome, pushy in offering one's services where they are unwanted ● The officious busybody was constantly popping up to offer help when everyone just wished he would go away. ● Our well-intended but officious host kept refilling our plates and glasses before we had a chance to take more than a bite or two.
ONEROUS (AH nuh rus) adj troubling, burdensome ● We were not looking forward to the onerous task of cleaning up after the dance, but it turned out not to be too bad once we brought in the bulldozer. ● Every spring I dread the onerous task of filing my income tax return.
OPAQUE (oh PAYK) adj impermeable by light; dense in mind Literally, something opaque allows no light through it. Figuratively, opaque is similar in meaning to obtuse. ● The windows were so dirty that they were almost opaque. ● I explained the concept to her the same way I do to everyone; she must just be too opaque to understand. The word comes from a Latin word meaning darkened. OPPROBRIUM (uh PROH bree um) n disgrace, contempt, scorn ● The students couldn't bear to face their teacher's opprobrium after they all failed the midterm exam. ● Many terms of opprobrium have been reclaimed by their intended targets as a way of fighting back against bigotry.
OSCILLATION (ah suh LAY shun) n the act or state of swinging back and forth with a steady, uninterrupted rhythm ● The oscillation of the electric fan back and forth was the only sound in the diner mid-afternoon. The verb oscillate can both mean to literally move back and forth and to move back and forth between two ideas or positions. ● As he plucked one petal after another from the flower he oscillated between hope and despair, thinking alternately "she loves me, she loves me not."
OSSIFIED (AH suh FYD) adj changed into bone; made rigidly conventional and unreceptive to change ● The department had so ossified over time that no new ideas were ever introduced; its ossification was so advanced that it had become nothing more than a rigid bureaucracy.
OSTENSIBLE (ah STEN suh bul) adj seeming, appearing as such, professed ● Even though his ostensible reason for coming to all the games was his love of the sport, we knew his crush on the team captain was his real reason. ● Even when they are ostensibly written for children, many cartoons are actually more entertaining for adults.
OSTENTATIOUS (ah sten TAY shus) adj characterized by or given to pretentiousness ● The ostentatious display of his diplomas on the front door of his office backfired whenever anyone noticed that the names of all the schools were spelled incorrectly. ● His house was a shrine to ostentation; it had fourteen bathrooms with gold bathtubs.
OVERWEENING (oh vur WEEN ing) ad] presumptuously arrogant, overbearing, immoderate ● His overweening arrogance made everyone want to smack him, which was the only way he got to be the center of attention that he imagined he should be. ● Your overweening presumption in asking for my help is stunning, given how many times you have mocked me before.
PAEAN (PEE un) n a song or expression of praise and thanksgiving ● The celebratory bonfire was a paean to victory. ● The young musician composed a paean to his beloved teacher in thanks for her guidance.
PALLIATE (PAL ee ayt) v to make something appear less serious, gloss over, mitigate ● His attempts to palliate the significance of his plagiarism only made it worse; he would have been better off just owning up to it rather than trying to diminish its importance. ● Nothing could palliate the boredom he felt, not even the prospect of a rousing game of pingpong. If ping-pong had cured his boredom, it would have been an effective palliative.
PANDEMIC (pan DEM ik) adj widespread; occurring over a large area or affecting an unusually large percentage of the population ● HIV and AIDS have become pandemic throughout much of the world and are likely to be the biggest health crisis of the century. Pandemic can also be used as a noun. ● The Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-1919 killed at least twenty-five million people worldwide within six months. For a related word with a very different meaning, see endemic.
PANEGYRIC (pan uh JYRE ik) n formal expression of praise ● Thomas spent months preparing a panegyric to his grandfather for his ninetieth birthday. ● The panegyric Pliny the Younger delivered before the Roman Senate in honor of Trajan is the only speech of his extant today.
PARADIGM (PAR uh dym) n something that serves as a model, example, or pattern; the framework of assumptions and understandings shared by a group or discipline that shapes its worldview ● She is a paradigm of studiousness; she spends all of her time studying in the library. ● The move away from the traditional, detached scholarly voice of the critic toward a more engaged, first person narrative represented a major paradigm shift. When some academics started talking about how they felt about things rather than being just disembodied voices, it caused a big change in how people thought about academic writing.
PARADOX (PAR uh dox) n a contradiction; a seemingly self-contradictory statement that seems true nonetheless ● The most widely used example of a paradox is the statement, "Less is more." Paradoxical is the adjective form. ● Though it seems paradoxical, it is actually less tiring to walk than to stand. Originally, a paradox was a statement that conflicted with expectation or accepted opinions.
PARAGON (PAR uh gahn) n something regarded as a model of excellence or perfection in some way ● The businessman relied on his reputation as a paragon of honesty to become one of the town's most beloved politicians. ● The model was considered such a paragon of the perfect female form that the sculptor used her figure for his model of Aphrodite. The original meaning of paragon was a touchstone, or something used to distinguish good from bad. Now it tends to mean a standard by which a certain characteristic is judged.
PARIAH (puh RY uh) n an outcast, a rejected and despised person ● The plot of many teen movies revolves around the miraculous transformation of the school nerd from social pariah to the most popular boy or girl in school. ● Eating a pound of garlic before bed is likely to make one a pariah the next day.
PARODY (PAR uh dee) n a humorous imitation intended for ridicule or comic effect, especially in literature and art, also something so bad as to be potentially mistaken for an intentional mockery ● The game last night was a parody of the game of football; no team could have really played that poorly, so they must have been trying to lose as badly as possible. ● The students' parody of the teachers in the talent show skit may have hit a little too close to home; none of the teachers being parodied seemed very amused, but everyone else thought it was hysterical.
PARRY (PAR ee) v to block, evade or ward off, as a blow ● Press secretaries are skilled at parrying reporters' questions; they can make it seem as if they are answering the question without actually providing any information. ● Chuck was able to parry all his opponent's blows, except the last one, which caught him right on the chin.
PARSIMONIOUS (pahr si MOHN ee us) ad] cheap, miserly ● He was so parsimonious that he wouldn't even share the free coupons that came in the mail.
PARTISAN (PAHR tuh zun) ad] one-sided, committed to a party, biased or prejudiced ● Since partisan support for the bill was unlikely to be enough to guarantee its passage, lobbyists were under pressure to persuade members of other parties to vote for it. ● Partisan conflict split the club in two as each faction rallied behind its choice for president. Partisan can also be a noun, meaning supporter, adherent. ● Partisans of the winning team spilled out of the stadium in loud celebration. A related word that we hear frequently is bipartisan, which means both parties. A very popular bill is likely to have bipartisan support.
PAUCITY (PAH suh tee) adj scarcity, a lacking of ● Carl was very self-conscious about the paucity of hair on his head, so he always wore a hat to cover his large bald spot. ● Because he hadn't done laundry in four months, Paul was confronted with a serious paucity of clean socks. ● Citing a paucity of admissible evidence, the judge dismissed the case.
PECCADILLO (pek uh OIL oh) n a slight offense, literally, a minor sin ● Peter's pilfering was hardly a peccadillo; he was wanted for grand larceny in thirteen states. ● Using the wrong fork was merely a peccadillo, but dumping the tureen of soup over the host's head was a major gaffe.
PEDAGOGY (PED uh goh lee) n the art or profession of training, teaching, or instructing ● All his training in pedagogy in school hadn't completely prepared Carlos for dealing with thirty manic third graders. ● The Princeton Review trains teachers in a pedagogical style based on the Socratic method, in which the teacher asks students questions in order to lead them to a better understanding of the material.
PEDANTIC (pi DAN tik) adj ostentatious display of learning, excessive attention to minutiae and formal rules, unimaginative ● The bureaucrat's pedantic obsession with rules and regulations ensured that nothing was ever accomplished. ● The author's pedantic writing style managed to make a fascinating topic completely boring by including endless fussy details. One who has a pedantic style is called a pedant. ● Ever the pedant, the professor was more concerned with demonstrating how much he knew than in teaching his students.
PEDESTRIAN (puh DES tree un) adj commonplace, trite, unremarkable ● The movie's plot was pedestrian, despite the director's brave decision to cast a badger in the role of the hero. ● His dissertation was pedestrian at best: thorough but completely unremarkable and not very interesting at all.
PENCHANT (PEN chunt) n strong inclination, a liking ● I have accepted my cat's penchant for climbing on things, so I don't even worry about the state of disrepair of my couch and drapes. ● My penchant for fine wines and expensive cars rather exceeds my ability to pay for them.
PENURIOUS (pen POOR ee us) ad] penny-pinching; excessively thrifty; ungenerous ● My penurious boss makes us bring toilet paper from home in order to save the company money. ● Mr. Scrooge was so penurious that three separate ghostly visitations were required to get him to be even a little bit kind or generous. Penury is extreme poverty, destitution or lack of resources. ● Albert's state of penury was sufficiently far advanced that he was forced to recycle his coffee grounds each morning. ● The cheerleader was suffering penury of spirit; she didn't even care enough to lift her pompoms during the cheers.
PEREMPTORY (puh REMP tor ee) adj admitting of no contradiction, putting an end to further debate, haughty, imperious ● Her peremptory tone made it clear that there would be no further discussion of the matter. ● The king dismissed the petitioner with a peremptory wave of his hand, not even bothering to say anything more.
PERENNIAL (puh REN ee ul) adj recurrent through the year or many years, happening repeatedly ● Death of a Salesman was a perennial favorite of the community theater; they performed it every season. ● The students' perennial complaint was that they had too much homework; the faculty's perennial response was that they should be happy they didn't have more. ● Perennials are plants that live for more than one year.
PERFIDY (PUR fuh dee) n intentional breach of faith, treachery • I couldn't believe my campaign manager's perfidy in voting for my opponent. ● Kevin was outraged by his brother's perfidy when he claimed that it had been Kevin's idea to shave the cat.
PERFUNCTORY (pur FUNK tor ee) ad] cursory, done without care or interest ● Hilda's perfunctory approach to cleaning left dust bunnies the size of small horses in the corners and under the bed. ● His perfunctory response to my question confirmed that he hadn't been paying attention to what I said.
PERIPATETIC (per i puh TET ik) ad] itinerant, traveling, nomadic ● Charlene was unwilling to give up the peripatetic life of a sailor for the security of a house with a white picket fence, so she rented an apartment in every port. ● As a peripatetic salesman, Frank spent most of his time in his car. Errant and itinerant are two synonyms for peripatetic.
PERNICIOUS (pur NI shus) adj extremely harmful, potentially causing death ● The pernicious venom of the Black Mamba snake will always kill its victim unless an antidote is administered quickly. ● The effect of her pernicious sarcasm could be felt at ten paces. Pernicious is similar in meaning to inimical.
PERSONABLE (PUR sun uh bul) adj pleasing in appearance, attractive ● I found him quite personable, as all those other people flirting with him apparently did as well. ● She was quite personable until she revealed that she was a vampire in need of a nightly feeding.
PERSPICACIOUS (pur spuh KAY shus) adj acutely perceptive, having keen discernment ● How very perspicacious of you to notice that I dyed my hair blue. ● It was quite surprising that his teachers described Kyle as a perspicacious student, since he slept through most of their classes; he must have demonstrated great insight in the papers he wrote. Someone who is perspicacious probably has great acumen.
PERUSE (pur OOZ) v to examine with great care ● Since I didn't have time to peruse the entire report with the thoroughness it deserved, I had to settle for reading an abridged version for now. ● She perused the shelves for the book, checking each title one by one. Be careful, many people misuse this word, believing that it means to glance over quickly.
PERVADE (pur VAYD) v to permeate throughout ● I was pervaded with fear when the stairs creaked in the middle of the night; even the hair on the back of my neck stood up. Pervasive means having the tendency to permeate or spread throughout. ● The pervasive smell of bread baking filled every room in the house and made my stomach rumble.
PETROUS (PET rus) adj like a rock, hard, stony ● I wasn't surprised that my petrous cake wasn't a big hit, but it did make an excellent doorstop, if I do say so myself. Petrous technically refers to the hard temporal bone that protects the inner ear. Petrify means to make hard or rocklike, or to paralyze with fear. ● The pores of the wood had been replaced by minerals from the bog in which it was buried, leaving the wood petrified. ● We were petrified by the dark shape moving toward us; we couldn't even run away because we were frozen with fear.
PETULANT (PET yoo lunt) adj impatient, irritable ● It's always easy to tell when Brad is feeling petulant because his bottom lip starts to protrude. ● Terrible Tina's babysitters were so afraid of her temper tantrums that they gave her whatever she wanted at the first sign of petulance.
PHILANTHROPIC (fil un THRAHP ik) adj humanitarian; benevolent ● The mogul eventually turned his attention from making money to more philanthropic pursuits, but he will primarily be remembered for his innovations in business. Philanthropic comes from Greek roots meaning "man-loving"—man meaning humankind. The act of doing humanitarian works is called philanthropy. Remember misanthrope? A philanthropist is the exact opposite.
PHILISTINE (FIL uh styn) n a crass individual guided by material rather than intellectual or artistic values ● The author claimed that his many critics were just philistines, who obviously lacked any taste since they didn't appreciate his writing.
PHLEGMATIC (fleg MA tik) adj calm, sluggish, unemotional, stoic • Karen was so phlegmatic she didn't even react when Rita stepped on her foot repeatedly. ● His phlegmatic response to the question revealed nothing of what he was feeling, if he was feeling anything at all. According to Aristotle, phlegmatic personalities were caused by too much phlegm. This book contains vocabulary words based on three other personality types that he identified based on bodily fluids.. .can you find the rest?
PICARESQUE (pik uh RESK) adj involving clever rogues or adventurers ● Huck Finn is sometimes described as a picaresque hero, since the novel follows his roguish adventures. Be careful not to confuse this with picturesque, which means picture-like, charming, or quaint.
PIED (pyd) adj multi-colored, usually in blotches ● The pied goat was easily distinguishable in the herd of solid white and brown coats. ● The jester wore a pied coat of many bright colors.
PILLORY (PIL uh ree) v to punish, hold up to public scorn ● The politician was pilloried in the press for his inability to spell potato. A pillory was a device for punishing people through public humiliation; it consisted of a wooden frame into which someone's neck and hands could be locked, and was usually set up in a town square or other public place. It was very similar in design and purpose to the stocks.
PINE (pyn) v to yearn intensely, to languish, to lose vigor ● Johnnie pined away for his girlfriend the entire time she was away at camp; he didn't eat or sleep and just stared at her picture all day. ● I pined for sunshine all winter until I couldn't stand it any more and had to go buy a sun lamp.
PIOUS (PY us) adj extremely reverent or devout ● Cleo was so pious that she went to church at least once a day. Pious can also have the sense of false or hypocritical devotion. ● The evangelist's pious preaching was a thin cover for the millions of dollars he was embezzling from the church. The word piety means the state of being pious.
PIQUANT (PEE kunt) ad] agreeably pungent, spicy, stimulating ● The piquant gumbo was a welcome change after days of bland hospital food. ● The piquancy of her face with its high cheekbones and arresting eyes made the portrait memorable.
PIQUE (peek) n resentment, feeling of irritation due to hurt pride ● In a fit of pique, Chelsea threw her boyfriend's bowling ball out the fourth-story window onto his car. To pique can also be a verb, meaning to annoy or irritate, or to provoke or arouse, as in "you've piqued my curiosity."
PIRATE (PY rut) v to use or reproduce illegally ● Pirated copies of the movie were circulated even before its release in theaters. ● U.S. companies are concerned about the widespread pirating of software in countries with less strict copyright protection.
PITH (pith) n the essential or central part ● The pith of his argument seemed to be that he should get a bigger allowance, though it took him an hour to get to the point. ● It's a little strange that the pith of an orange is the white spongy stuff under the rind, instead of the part at the center of the orange, but that's the way it goes. Pithy means precise and brief. ● The pithy synopsis of the novel distilled all 1,500 pages into two very concise paragraphs.
PLACATE (PLAY cayt) v to appease, to calm by making concessions ● Jesse tried to placate the irritable crocodile by feeding it several steaks, but after swallowing these whole, it still seemed to want Jesse for dessert. ● Although my boyfriend seemed somewhat placated after I sent him flowers every day for a week, I suspected he was still a little cranky that I had forgotten our anniversary. Mollify can be a synonym for placate.
PLAINTIVE (PLAYN tiv) ad] mournful, melancholy, sorrowful ● The plaintive strains of the bagpipe made everyone feel as mournful as it sounded. ● The dogs' plaintive howls effectively expressed their sadness at having been left outside in the rain.
PLANGENT (PLAN junt) ad] pounding, thundering, resounding ● The plangent bells could be heard all over town as they chimed the hour. ● We were awakened from our nap by the plangent honking of a flock of migrating geese.
PLASTIC (PLA stik) ad] moldable, pliable, not rigid ● The supervillain's secret brain control ray rendered its victim's mind plastic and easily bendable to his evil plans. ● This foam is highly plastic and can be molded to almost any shape.
PLATITUDE (PLAT i tood) n a superficial or trite remark, especially one offered as meaningful ● Since Laura loved to say things that seemed profound initially but turned out to be banal once considered, she was a perfect candidate for writing the platitudes that go in greeting cards. ● Most people can only offer platitudes when faced with someone else's loss; we're just not very good at knowing how to say something meaningful when confronted with grief.
PLETHORA (PLE thor uh) n an overabundance, a surplus ● Charles always had a plethora of excuses for being late, and they were as imaginative as they were plentiful. ● Since there was still a plethora of qualified candidates at the end of the second round of interviews, Michael decided he needed to conduct a third round. ● There was a plethora of chimpanzees in our living room, but then even one is usually too many.
PLUCK (pluk) n courage, spunk, fortitude ● The audience was impressed by the gymnast's pluck in continuing her routine even after she fell off the balance beam. ● The prospect of glory and a hot cup of soup gave the soldiers the pluck they needed to keep fighting.
PLUMB (plum) v to measure the depth (as with a plumb line), to examine critically ● It was the exploratory ship's task to plumb the depth of a section of the Pacific Ocean. ● Having plumbed the viability of the plan, we decided it was too risky to undertake at night. Plumb as an adjective means exactly vertical. Informally it can also mean directly (as in, "fell plumb on his butt") or completely (as in, "plumb tuckered out").
PLUMMET (PLUM et) v to plunge or drop straight down ● One by one the ostriches plummeted to the ground when they remembered that they couldn't fly. ● The company's stock plummeted when it failed to get the patent for making money out of thin air.
POIGNANT (POIN yunt) ad] distressing, pertinent, touching, stimulating, emotional ● The poignant final scene between the main character and his pet penguin that was mortally wounded trying to save his owner moved the audience to tears. ● He felt poignant anxiety at the thought of what his life would be like now that he no longer had a job.
POLEMICAL (ph LEM i kul) ad] controversial, argumentative ● Her polemical attack on the president's foreign policy was carefully designed to force him into a public debate on the subject. Polemics are the art or practice of controversy and argumentation. ● Spare me the polemics; we need to reach a consensus in the next ten minutes in order to complete this project in time.
PRAGMATIC (prag MAT ik) ad] practical rather than idealistic ● I approve of your pragmatic decision to wear running shoes to exercise instead of the go-go boots you were considering. ● I was the pragmatist and my business partner was the idealist; she figured out how something should be and I tried to work out whether it was possible. A pragmatist is one who is practical.
PRATE (prayt) v chatter, babble ● The toddler prated on happily to himself though no one else had any idea what he was saying. Prate is a synonym of prattle.
PRATTLE (PRAT ul) v to babble meaninglessly; to talk in an empty and idle manner ● Katrina started to fall asleep as her girlfriend prattled on about every little thing that had happened in the previous twenty four hours. Prattle can also be a noun. ● His interminable prattle made me crazy and I just wished he would be quiet for a few minutes.
PRECARIOUS (pri KAYR ee us) adj uncertain, risky, dangerous ● The general's hold on power was precarious; at any time another coup could overthrow his young regime. ● The house was perched precariously on the edge of the cliff, vulnerable to any mudslide.
PRECEPT (PREE sept) n rule establishing standards of conduct, a doctrine that is taught ● One of the precepts of our criminal justice system is that one is assumed innocent until proven guilty. ● You will violate the precepts of fair play if you peek at my cards.
PRECIPITATE (pree SIP uh tut) adj acting with excessive haste or impulse ● The captain was forced to take precipitate action when the storm arrived earlier than he had expected. As a verb, precipitate means to cause or happen before anticipated or required. ● Be careful, any sudden movement could precipitate an avalanche. ● The sale of one of its divisions to its major competitor precipitated the company's collapse.
PRECURSOR (PRE kur sur) n something that precedes and indicates or announces another ● Overindulgence is often the precursor to a nasty hangover the next morning. ● The volleyball team's winning season was a precursor to their national championship.
PREDILECTION (pre duh LEI( shun) n a disposition in favor of something, preference ● Once President Reagan's predilection for jellybeans became known, people sent him tons of them. ● Harold's predilection for dating older women meant he didn't need to worry as much about getting his driver's license.
PREEMPT (pree EMPT) v to replace, to supersede, to appropriate • My friends preempted my birthday plans by throwing me a surprise party. Preemption is prior appropriation of or claim to something, and preemptive means characterized by preemption. ● The smaller country launched a preemptive strike against its larger neighbor, hoping to diminish its offensive power.
PREEN (preen) v to dress up, primp, groom oneself with elaborate care; in animals, to clean fur or feathers ● She was so busy preening and posing for the cameras that she didn't pay enough attention to where the edge of the pool was. ● Humans preen in front of their chosen mates in much the way some birds do, but birds also preen their feathers to stay warm and watertight.
PRESCIENCE (PRE see unts) n knowing of events prior to their occurring ● I wish I had had the prescience to know it was going to rain today, I would have brought a raincoat. ● Cassandra's unique curse was that she was given the gift of prescience but doomed to have no one ever believe her.
PRESUMPTUOUS (pre ZUMP shoo us) adj overstepping bounds, as of propriety or courtesy; taking liberties ● I thought it was a little presumptuous of Lewis to bring his pajamas and toothbrush with him on our first date. ● Carol couldn't believe her neighbor's presumption in borrowing her lawnmower without asking.
PREVARICATE (pri VAR uh kayt) v to deliberately avoid the truth, mislead ● The detective began to think the suspect was prevaricating about having stayed in all last night when he found mud and grass on her shoes. ● The aging film star had made a life-long habit of prevaricating about his age; he had been thirty five for more than forty years.
PRISTINE (pri STEEN) adj pure, uncorrupted, clean ● Never having been explored by humans, the remote wilderness remained a pristine natural expanse. ● I feared my pristine shirt wouldn't make it through an entire meal of barbecued ribs.
PRIZE (pryz) v to pry, press or force with a lever ● His parents had to prize the trophy from his sleeping fingers, since he insisted on taking it to bed with him. ● Although I tried to prize the information out of him, Arthur refused to reveal his biscuit recipe.
PROBITY (PROHB i tee) adj adherence to highest principles, uprightness ● Because the chieftain was known for his probity and the soundness of his judgment, people came from miles around to ask him to hear their disputes.
PROCLIVITY (proh CLIV uh tee) n a natural predisposition or inclination ● His proclivity for napping through movies made his desire to be a movie reviewer a little strange.
PRODIGAL (PRAH duh gull adj recklessly wasteful, extravagant, profuse, lavish ● He was completely prodigal in his planning for the party; he hired a 50-piece orchestra and bought 100 cases of champagne for a guest list of ten. ● Linda was prodigal with her singing abilities, performing only in karaoke bars.
PRODIGIOUS (pro DI jus) adj abundant in size, force, or extent; extraordinary ● The prodigious weight of my backpack made me fall over backwards. ● The public finally recognized his prodigious talent on the kazoo when his album of old kazoo standards topped the charts.
PROFLIGATE (PRAH fli get) adj excessively wasteful; recklessly extravagant ● The profligate ruler emptied the country's treasury to build his many mansions.
PROFUSE (proh FYOOS) adj given or coming forth abundantly, extravagant ● Her profuse gratitude for my having saved her cat became a little excessive with the fourth sweater she knitted for me. Profusion means abundance or extravagance. ● The profusion of flowers decorating every surface in the room filled the room with color.
PROLIFIC (proh LIF ik) adj producing large volumes or amounts, productive ● She was a prolific writer, churning out 100 pages a week. ● Opossums are extremely prolific, giving birth to up to fourteen babies in each litter. Proliferate is a related word meaning to grow or increase swiftly and abundantly. ● The termites proliferated in the basement until the whole house started to crumble. Proliferation is the act of increasing quickly. ● The proliferation of weeds in the yard suggested it might be time to consider some gardening.
PROLIX (proh LIKS) adj long-winded, verbose ● The prolix politician was a natural at filibustering; he could talk for hours without stopping. ● His prolixity was famous; he could talk for ten minutes before needing to take a breath and for hours before finishing a sentence. See verbose for a synonym of prolix.
PROPENSITY (pruh PEN suh tee) n a natural inclination or tendency, penchant ● His well-known propensity for telling tall tales made it unlikely anyone would believe he had really had a conversation with the Abominable Snowman. ● Andy tied strings around his fingers to combat his propensity for forgetfulness, but then he just forgot what the strings were for.
PROPINQUITY (pruh PIN kwuh tee) adj nearness in time or place, affinity of nature, kinship ● The geographic propinquity of the two towns led to a close connection between the two populations. ● His propinquity to the object of his affections made him blush.
PROPITIATE (proh PI shi ayt) v to appease or pacify ● They tried to propitiate the storm gods by dancing in the rain and pouring wine on the ground as an offering. Something propitiatory is meant to propitiate. ● The prime minister sent the emperor a propitiatory gift in order to appease his anger over the diplomatic blunder.
PROPITIOUS (proh PI shus) adj auspicious, favorable ● They took the clearing of the sky as a propitious omen that the storm was passing.
PROPRIETY (pruh PRY uh tee) n appropriateness; conformity with standards of acceptable behavior ● Unfortunately, Jean's dinner conversation shocked his new in-laws, whose ideas of propriety were significantly more conservative than his. Be careful; this word is easy to confuse with proprietary, which means associated with ownership.
PROSAIC (proh ZAY ik) adj dull, unimaginative ● His prosaic sensibilities were obvious when, in a letter to his wife, he described a rainbow as an optical phenomenon caused by the refraction of light through water. ● I was surprised that he should offer so prosaic an account of his travels in Spain; it was out of character given his usually poetic descriptions.
PROSCRIBE (proh SKRYB) v to outlaw or prohibit ● Attempts to proscribe swimming in the old quarry were unsuccessful; people continued to do it despite the new rules. Proscription is the act of outlawing something. It can also mean to outlaw or banish people, or pass sentence of death. Prescription and proscription often get mixed up; the former describes what you should do and the latter describes what you are not allowed to do.
PROVIDENT (PRAH vi Bunt) adj frugal, looking to the future ● His provident financial planning allowed him to buy a small tropical island when he retired. Providential looks similar but means happening as if from divine intervention. ● His providential recovery from the accident was nothing short of miraculous.
PUERILE (PYOOR ul) adj childish, immature ● His puerile humor prominently featured fart jokes. ● Annette's puerile response to losing the competition was exactly like that of a small child; she lay down on the ground and started kicking her hands and feet.
PUGNACIOUS (pug NAY shus) adj contentious, quarrelsome, given to fighting, belligerent ● That pug is extremely pugnacious, biting people's ankles for no reason at all. ● The civil rights attorney was known for her pugnacious readiness to fight any injustice. Bellicose and querulous are synonyms for pugnacious.
PUNCTILIOUS (punkTlLeeus) adj precise, paying attention to trivialities, especially in regard to etiquette ● Although his punctilious obsession with etiquette is usually very annoying, it is always handy when royalty comes to dine. ● It was sometimes useful to have an assistant who punctiliously recorded where I was and what I did every second of every day; if nothing else, it made it easy to confirm an alibi should one be necessary.
PUNDIT (PUN dit) n an authority on a subject, one who gives opinions ● Rob never had any opinions of his own; he just quoted what the pundits had said. ● The pundits disagreed about what the recently released statistics meant for the prospect of economic recovery.
PUNGENT (PUN junt) adj characterized by a strong, sharp smell or taste, penetrating, to the point ● The pungent aroma of cinnamon and cloves filled the little tea shop. ● His pungent criticism of my paper made me see flaws I hadn't noticed before.
PUSILLANIMOUS (pyoo sil AN uh mus) adj cowardly, craven ● His pusillanimous refusal to agree to the duel turned out to be wise, if cowardly; his challenger was later revealed to be an Olympic biathlete, and therefore a very good shot. ● The Cowardly Lion thought he was pusillanimous, but according to the story he was actually brave all along and just hadn't known it.
PUTREFY (PYOO truh fy) v to rot, decay and give off a foul odor, become gangrenous ● The apples that had fallen on the ground putrefied in the warm sun. ● The doctors were forced to amputate the leg in order to prevent putrefaction.
QUAFF (kwahf) v to drink deeply ● Brett was planning to meet his friends at the pub after work to quaff a few pints before heading home. ● The medicine tasted so foul that I had to hold my nose and quaff it all in one gulp.
QUAIL (kwayl) v to shrink back in fear, lose courage ● The puppy quailed at the angry tone in Alicia's voice and put his tail between his legs. ● I quailed at the thought of jumping out of a plane as soon as I looked down, which was probably a little late to be having second thoughts.
QUALIFY (KWAH Ii fy) v to limit ● Although she was careful to qualify any claims she made about the implications of her discovery, it was clear her research signaled a major breakthrough in the search for a cure. ● He qualified the harshness of his criticism by smiling warmly at the students as he delivered it.
QUALMS (kwahm) n misgivings, reservations, causes for hesitancy ● Mai had qualms about accepting a job so far away from her family, but decided in the end that it was the right option for her. ● Pete had no qualms about singing in public, which was a little surprising since he couldn't carry a tune.
QUERIES (KWE rees) n questions, inquiries, reservations ● Liza's queries to the Library of Congress for information concerning the old manuscript did not produce the results she had hoped for. ● Although I had some initial queries about his sincerity, I decided to trust his proclamations of undying love.
QUERULOUS (KWER yuh lus) adj prone to complaining or grumbling, quarrelsome ● Her querulous demand to know every five minutes whether we were there yet started to get on my nerves. ● Mitch tended to become querulous when he hadn't had his afternoon nap.
QUIESCENCE (kwy ES unts) n stillness, motionlessness, quality of being at rest ● The volcano's quiescence was only temporary; it could erupt at any time. Quiescent means inactive, latent, causing no trouble, being at rest. ● Malaria can remain quiescent for years at a time, only to recur at some later point. ● According to Newton, quiescent objects tend to remain at rest unless acted upon by an outside force.
QUOTIDIAN (kwoh TID ee un) ad] occurring or recurring daily, commonplace ● The quotidian drag of cornflakes for breakfast, a meaningless job, a TV dinner and the same old shows before going to bed at the same time every night was starting to get Jasper down, so he switched to waffles for breakfast to shake things up a bit. ● Whenever possible, Anita tried to sleep through her quotidian train commute home.
RAIL (rayl) v to complain about bitterly ● He railed against the injustice of having not won the lottery yet again. ● After railing at the bank teller, she demanded to speak to his manager and then expressed her displeasure to him as well.
RAMIFY (RAM uh fy) v to be divided or subdivided, branch out ● Instead of being resolved, the dispute merely ramified as more and more people got involved. ● The subject of his book ramified in new directions as he began to research all the different branches of the history. Ramifications are the developments or consequences growing out of something. ● The ramifications of the judge's ruling would take years to be fully understood.
RANCOROUS (RAN kuh rus) adj characterized by bitter, long-lasting resentment ● The rancorous feud between the two sides of the family had been going on for years and had grown completely out of proportion to the missing casserole dish that had started the feud. Rancor is the bitter, long-lasting resentment itself. ● His rancor at having been passed over for promotion was evident in the nasty letters he continued to write to the board of directors for years afterwards.
RAPACIOUS (ruh PAY shus) adj voracious, greedy, plundering, subsisting on prey ● The rapacious moths ate huge holes in every single one of my socks. ● The Vikings are popularly imagined as rapacious warriors, who swept in from the sea and plundered everything in sight. Although this has its truth, it is still a one-dimensional view of their culture. Rapacity is avarice, or the practice of extorting or exacting by injustice. ● The junta's rapacity in despoiling the country of anything of value was only matched by its cruelty to the populace.
RAREFY (RAYR uh fy) v to make or become thin, less dense, refine • Gases condense when they are cooled and rarefy when they are heated. ● His sole goal in life was to gain admission to the rarefied air of the literary society. ● The air at high elevation is sufficiently rarefied that it can be difficult for people with respiratory illnesses to breath.
REBUS (REE bus) n riddle, a representation of words by pictures or symbols that sound like the words ● Pictures of bees, eyes, and ewes are commonly used in a rebus to symbolize the words "be," "I," and "you" respectively. In a rebus, words are represented by things, so it makes sense that rebus comes from a Latin word meaning by things. What is now generally an innocent game comes from a tradition of satires written in the Middle Ages, in which people and current events were represented by pictures for the writers' protection.
RECALCITRANT (ri KAL suh trunt) adj obstinately defiant of authority or guidance, difficult to manage ● Joe was so recalcitrant he refused to do anything he was instructed to do, even something he liked to do, simply because someone told him to do it. ● The bank sent someone to repossess the recalcitrant debtor's car and furniture after he refused to make payments for five months.
RECANT (ri KANT) v to retract, especially a previously held belief ● After swallowing the first two, Trina recanted her earlier boast that she could swallow twenty dead worms. ● Galileo was forced to recant his claim that Earth moved around the sun.
RECAPITULATE (re kuh PITCH oo layt) v to summarize, to repeat concisely ● Judy rushed home from work but was still too late to miss the televised debate; she had to settle for the recapitulated versions on national news. Recapitulate is the origin of the shortened form that is more in use today: recap.
RECONDITE (rek AHN dyte) adj hidden, concealed, difficult to understand, obscure ● Searching for information about the town's recondite origins was a lot like doing detective work. ● While it makes perfect sense to physicists, quantum mechanics has always been recondite knowledge to me.
RECONNOITER (ree kuh NOY tur) v to engage in reconnaissance, make a preliminary inspection of ● We sent Bob to reconnoiter the party when we first arrived, in order to see who was in the other rooms. ● Our attempts to reconnoiter the area for a good camping site were cut short when it grew dark, so we ended up sleeping in the car.
RECUMBENT (ri KUM bunt) adj leaning, resting, prone ● I was so comfortable recumbent on the picnic blanket that I didn't even stand up when it started raining. ● Wealthy Romans were fond of dining recumbent on couches set around a table.
REDOLENT (RED oh lunt) adj fragrant, suggestive or evocative ● The dorm rooms were redolent with a fragrance of stale beer and cold pizza that brought me back to my college days. ● The city in spring, redolent of cherry blossoms, hardly seemed like the same place that had been so gray and uninviting just two months earlier.
REDOUBTABLE (ri DOWT uh bull adj awe-inspiring, worthy of honor ● He came from a redoubtable family, just one of many of its members to have served in the highest positions in the country. ● There are many folk songs and stories about the legend of the redoubtable John Henry, who beat the steam drill in a tunneling contest in 1872.
REFULGENT (ri FUL junt) adj radiant, shiny, brilliant ● The refulgent gleam of the motorcycle's chrome was his pride and joy. ● Her refulgent smile seemed to light up the evening, though that might just have been the light shining off her braces.
REFUTE (ri FYOOT) v to disprove, successfully argue against ● The doctor marshaled an army of statistics to refute the critics' claim that his techniques were unsound. ● While no one has successfully refuted the existence of a god by scientific means, no one has proven a god's existence either.
REGALE (ri GAYL) v to delight or entertain, feast ● Joshua regaled his listeners with tales of his world travels while he was the owner of a famous flea circus. ● The visiting dignitaries were regaled with a lavish meal and an elaborate dance and musical performance.
RELEGATE (RE luh gayt) v to forcibly assign, especially to a lower place or position ● As the youngest member of the troupe, I was relegated to the back end of the dancing donkey costume. ● He always relegated paying bills to the bottom of his "to do" list, since he hated to be reminded of how little money was in his checking account.
REMONSTRATE (ri MAHN strayt) v to protest, object ● When I was a kid, I frequently remonstrated with my mom when she made me take my little brother with me to the park. ● My mother remonstrated against the city's plan to tear down the park to build a parking lot. Remonstrations are objections as are remonstrances, though the latter is usually more formal. ● Despite her advisor's remonstrations, Linda has decided to take eighteen units of underwater basket weaving next semester, and nothing else.
RENEGE (ri NIG) v to fail to honor a commitment, go back on a promise ● I can't believe you reneged on your promise to paint the house for the third weekend in a row. ● The government reneged on its commitment to provide asylum for the refugees, turning them back at the border instead.
RENT (rent) v torn, split apart, pierced as by a sound ● The doll was rent limb from limb as the boys fought over it; each combatant was left holding an arm or a leg. Rend is the present tense. Rent can also be a noun, meaning a tear or breach. ● He was determined to rend restitution from the company that had destroyed his health, even if it took years of fighting. ● The starship and its valiant crew were hurled through a medium-sized rent in the space-time continuum.
REPINE (ri PYNE) v to feel or express dejection or discontent, long for ● The old man repined for his lost youth, when everything seemed so much more exciting than it was now. ● I got sick of all her repining for her former beau; she was the one who dumped him, after all.
REPUDIATE (re PY00 dee ayt) v to refuse to have anything to do with, disown ● The psychic repudiated his earlier claims when it became clear his client had not in fact won the lottery the day before. ● David threatened to repudiate his daughter if she got any more tattoos or had any more body parts pierced, but she knew he was just bluffing.
RESCIND (ri SIND) v to invalidate, repeal, retract ● The headmaster rescinded his recent dress code decree when he realized he just couldn't take looking at that many penny loafers every day. ● After the so-called "Espresso Riots," the mayor rescinded the tax on lattes.
RESOLUTE (RE zoh loot) adj adamant, steadfast, determined ● I remained resolute in my decision to give up eating meat, even though I repeatedly awakened in the middle of the night from dreams of bacon cheeseburgers. Irresolute is the opposite of resolute. ● He was irresolute about his plans for the summer, wavering between getting a job and learning to be a beach bum.
RETICENT (RET uh sunt) adj quiet, reserved, reluctant to express thoughts and feelings ● She was reticent about the party, but we suspected she had had more fun than she was letting on. ● The department head was reticent about his plans for filling the new position, giving no clues as to whom he planned to promote.
REVERENT (RE vur unt) adj marked by, feeling, or expressing a feeling of profound awe and respect ● As much as she appreciated the compliment, the teacher was a little freaked out by her students' reverent attitude toward her, especially when they started wearing robes and calling her their high priestess. ● A moment of reverent silence accompanied the unveiling of the magnificent sculpture. Reverence is a strong feeling of awe or respect, and irreverence is the lack thereof.
RHETORIC (RET or ik) n the art or study of effective use of language for communication and persuasion ● His study of rhetoric made him a powerful public speaker, able to shape his audience's emotions with his words. Rhetoric can also have a negative connotation, meaning pretentious or insincere language. ● I knew his offer of friendship was mere rhetoric, since I'd already been told what he had said behind my back. Rhetorical means used for persuasive effect, and a rhetorical question is one that is used to create an effect and not to get a real answer.
RISIBLE (RYZ uh bul) adj hilarious, provoking laughter ● The mating horses created a risible sight for Rita, who had never been to a farm before. Though it is a less common usage, risible can also be used to describe people who are inclined to be amused. ● Rita herself, though, is a fairly risible individual; the song "I Love to Laugh" could have been written just for her.
RUBRIC (ROO brik) n authoritative rule, heading, title, or category ● The rubric used to score the writing samples emphasizes structure over content. ● The phenomenon is often examined under the rubric of psychology rather than physiology. Another more obscure version of rubric is as an adjective meaning reddish or written in red, and the meanings are actually related. Instructions in church books used to be written in red, so both the color and what it is used for was named for the ruby.
RUE (roo) v regret, feel remorse ● I rued the day I ever agreed to sublet my apartment to him; now I've got a flooded kitchen and he hasn't even paid the rent. Rueful means expressing sorrow. ● Her rueful apology told me she was really sorry that she had run over my rose bed.
SAGACIOUS (suh GAY shus) adj having sound judgment, perceptive, wise ● The decision to invest in Brussels sprouts turned out to be a sagacious one, since shortly thereafter it was discovered that they contain a powerful aphrodisiac. Sagacious means like a sage, who is a person recognized as having great wisdom. Sage can also be an adjective, meaning wise. ● His sage advice to grow a beard changed my whole life for the better, since I no longer looked as if I were fourteen.
SALACIOUS (suh LAY shus) adj appealing to or causing sexual desire, bawdy ● Magazines containing salacious material are kept behind the counter in the bookstore, so you'll have to ask the clerk if you want to see them. ● Tabloids rely in large part on the public's salacious curiosity in order to stay in business, and our titillation seems to overcome our outrage often enough for it to work.
SALIENT (SAYL yunt) adj prominent, protruding, conspicuous, highly relevant ● The salient fact that I had failed to notice at first was that my ride had left me stranded at the club with no way to get home. ● The salient root sticking several inches out of the ground caught my foot and caused me to fall unceremoniously on my butt.
SALUBRIOUS (suh L00B ree us) adj promoting health or well-being ● Carrots are salubrious for your eyes, since they contain a lot of vitamin A. ● His was not the most salubrious of lifestyles, since he lived on donuts and two hours of sleep a night.
SALUTARY (SAL yoo ter ee) adj remedial, wholesome, causing improvement ● Paul was dismayed to hear the teacher say that she thought summer school would be salutary for his math skills. ● The physical therapy she had undergone was having a salutary effect on her knees; she could almost walk without discomfort now.
SANCTIMONY (SAYNKT i moh nee) n self-righteousness, pretended piety ● His sanctimony was laughable, since he was the most self-absorbed, ruthless jerk I'd ever met. Sanctimonious means hypocritically pretending to be pious or being excessively pious. ● Spare me your sanctimonious blather; you're no better than I am.
SANCTION (SAYNK shun) n authoritative permission or approval; a penalty intended to enforce compliance This one can be confusing, since it has two, nearly opposite, meanings: approval and penalty. ● Without the sanction of the planning commission, we cannot proceed with the renovation. ● Since he received the publisher's sanction to reproduce part of the book in his installation, he was able to proceed with the planned opening of the exhibit. ● Sanctions were one of the tools used by the international community to pressure South Africa into ending its practice of apartheid. ● After receiving the official sanction of the ethics committee, the lawyer was disbarred. Sanction can also be used as a verb. Up until the last few decades it only meant to encourage or approve, but it has recently come to mean to punish as well.
SANGUINE (SAYN gwun) adj cheerful, confident, optimistic ● His sanguine attitude was baffling to me, since it seemed clear that he was going to lose the race. ● She was so sanguine of success that she booked the honeymoon suite before she had even proposed. According to Aristotle, sanguine personalities were caused by too much blood. This book contains vocabulary words based on three other personality types that he identified based on bodily fluids...can you find the rest?
SAP (sap) v to enervate or weaken the vitality of ● Her energy was sapped by the wasting fever; every day she felt a little weaker. As a noun used informally, a sap is a gullible person, a fool. ● I can't believe I was such a sap that I believed she would call even though I saw her throw my phone number out the window. A sap can also be a blackjack (a short, leather-covered club) or to hit somebody with such a weapon.
SATIATE (SAY shee ayt) v to overindulge, satisfy to excess ● He had a perpetual craving for chocolate that no amount could satiate, not even pounds of the stuff. ● After the eight-course meal, I was satiated; in fact, I was pretty sure I wouldn't eat again for days. Sate is a synonym of satiate.
SATIRE (SAT yr) n a literary work that ridicules or criticizes human vice through humor or derision ● Swift's Gulliver's Travels is a famous satire in which the protagonist meets strange peoples in his travels, each representing a different aspect of humanity. ● His attempts to satirize his boss in the company newsletter were not appreciated. His boss did not like satirical work when she was its object.
SATURNINE (SAT ur nyn) adj gloomy, dark, sullen, morose ● Pedro's saturnine countenance made me think he was either very unhappy or suffering from a bad case of indigestion. ● The saturnine principal scared the students with his dark glares, but really he was a pretty nice guy underneath the brooding exterior. Saturnine is similar in definition to melancholy. Like mercurial, it draws its name from astrology and the gods associated with certain planets.
SCURVY (SKUR vee) adj contemptible, despicable ● He felt a little guilty about the scurvy trick he had pulled on his friend to get her to loan him a hundred dollars by saying he needed it to visit his dying mother. "Avast, ye scurvy dog" is a common comment to hear one pirate say to another. Scurvy is a vitamin C deficiency that was a familiar part of a sailor's life before the days of refrigeration, canning and supplements, so it makes sense that pirates would incorporate this into their vocabulary as an insult.
SEDULOUS (SED yoo lus) adj diligent, persistent, hard-working ● His sedulous efforts to organize the conference were rewarded when the entire event went off perfectly. ● After years of hard work, he found the missing piece to the puzzle he had so sedulously sought, which allowed him to solve the mystery of the pilot's disappearance.
SEINE (sayn) n a large net hung out and dragged in to catch fish ● The fishermen were extremely surprised when they caught a mermaid in their seine. Seine also means to fish using a seine, and the Seine is a river in the middle of Paris in which people might seine... or something like that.
SERE (seer) adj withered, arid ● Some people have looked at pictures of the sere surface of Mars and imagined the possibility of terraforming that might change the and landscape into something habitable by humans. ● Even the sere vegetation at the edge of the desert sent forth new shoots when the brief rains came.
SEMINAL (SEM uh nul) adj like a seed, constituting a source, originative ● He wrote the seminal text on robotics; people still study it sixty years later. ● The seminal idea that had taken root in his mind years earlier grew into the plans for the invention that was to make him a millionaire.
SHARD (shard) n a piece of broken pottery or glass, any small piece or part ● The archaeologist was able to find enough shards of pottery at the site that she could piece them together to form the contours of the original bowl. ● He tried to collect the shards of his dignity after his pants fell down in the middle of his speech.
SIMPER (SIM pur) v to smirk, to say something with a silly, coy smile • Her simpering praise for the famous actress made me want to throw up. ● He simpered some feeble attempt at an apology that no one believed. As a noun, simper is the silly smile itself.
SINECURE (SY ni kyoor) n position requiring little or no work and usually providing an income ● The evil overlord's sidekick figured he deserved a sinecure after years of faithful and often gory service. ● The job was hardly a sinecure; not only was there a ton of work, but there was also no job security. This word was first applied to priests without churches (or without parish duties of curing souls), who were said to have beneficium sine cura.
SINGULAR (SING yoo lur) adj exceptional, unusual, odd ● The singular events of the past week had me thinking I'd lost my mind; first my pet turtle presents me with a list of demands, and then it starts raining humans instead of cats and dogs. ● He was singularly ill suited to ballet since he had two left feet.
SINUOUS (SIN yoo us) adj winding, curving, moving lithely, devious ● We were mesmerized by the sinuous weaving of the cobra as the snake charmer sang to it. ● The sinuous pattern on the vase was like a river winding back and forth. ● It became increasingly difficult to follow the argument as her sinuous logic wound around and around itself.
SLAKE (slayk) v to satisfy, quench, lessen the intensity of ● I was looking forward to getting back to the porch and having a julep to slake my thirst. ● His anger slaked somewhat when he realized he had simply parked his car in the wrong spot, and that no one had stolen it.
SODDEN (SAHD un) adj soaked or drenched, unimaginative, dull ● I managed to get my pants all wet by sitting on the sodden ground. ● Sodden with drink and sleep, he could barely form a sentence.
SOLDER (SAH dur) v to weld, fuse or join, as with a soldering gun • By soldering the broken pieces together, I was able to repair the light fixture. ● The charismatic general managed to solder all the factions together into one cohesive army.
SOLICITOUS (suh LI sit us) adj concerned and attentive, eager ● It was nice of her to be so solicitous of my comfort as to offer me the couch, but I was fine sleeping on the floor. Her solicitous boyfriend hovered at her elbow all evening, trying to anticipate her every wish, which she started to find somewhat annoying after about five minutes.
SOLVENT (SAHL vunt) adj able to meet financial obligations ● I was solvent for the first time in years, and to celebrate my solvency I went gambling and lost all my money, at which point I had once again become insolvent and had to borrow rent money from my parents again.
SOPHISTRY (SAH fis tree) n fallacious reasoning; plausible but faulty logic ● I'm such a sucker for sophistry; I can never see through the convincing surface to the false logic underneath. ● The environmentalists claimed that the distinction between "strategic harvesting" and "clear cutting" was merely a political sophistry designed to hide the lumber industry's plans. The Greek root so ph- gave rise to many English words about knowledge—either the love of it, the possession of it, or the lack of it. Philosophy is a love or pursuit of knowledge, and someone with great knowledge of the world might be called sophisticated. Sophistry is somewhat on the opposite path.. .as is sophomoric.
SOPHOMORIC (sahf MOR ik) adj exhibiting immaturity, lack of judgment, pretentious ● You may call my humor sophomoric, but you laughed at all my jokes, so either I'm funny or you're as immature as I am. ● Her sophomoric posturing just made her seem pretentious and silly rather than worldly and wise as she had intended. Sophomoric literally means of or pertaining to a sophomore.
SOPORIFIC (sahp uh RIF ik) adj causing drowsiness, tending to induce sleep ● The economics professor's lectures were amazingly soporific; five minutes listening to him would cure any case of insomnia. Soporific can also be used as a noun. ● She hoped a glass of warm milk would be a sufficient soporific to get her daughter to go to sleep at long last.
SORDID (SOR did) ad] characterized by filth, grime, or squalor, foul ● The sordid tale of deceit and betrayal in the criminal underworld became an immediate bestseller. ● Without any sanitation at all, the sordid slums at the edge of town were likely to suffer another cholera epidemic.
SPARSE (spars) ad] thin, not dense, arranged at widely spaced intervals ● Her approval, though sparsely given, made me feel I had accomplished something important. ● The sparsely wooded hill looked naked in the winter, without the lush growth of the spring and summer to cover it.
SPECIOUS (SPEE shus) ad] seeming true, but actually false, misleadingly attractive ● The specious "get rich quick" promises of pyramid schemes have suckered countless people over the years. ● The teenager's specious argument for why she should be allowed to stay out past curfew failed to convince her parents.
SPENDTHRIFT (SPEND thrift) n one who spends money wastefully ● Olivia was an incorrigible spendthrift; she bought things she would never use and didn't even particularly like. Spendthrift can also be an adjective. ● Their spendthrift extravagance soon exhausted their small bank account.
SPLENETIC (spli NET ik) adj bad-tempered, irritable ● The patient became particularly splenetic whenever his spleen was bothering him, so the nurses stayed out of his room those days. ● Her boss became splenetic whenever anyone asked him about a raise; nothing seemed to irritate him more. Splenetic also means relating to the spleen, which was the seat of ill temper in classical knowledge.
SPORADIC (spor AD ik) adj occurring only occasionally, or in scattered instances ● The sporadic nature of the thunderstorms made them very difficult to predict. ● We hoped that the weird appearance of horns on Kurt's forehead would remain sporadic, which would help us pretend he wasn't really growing them.
SPURIOUS (SPYOOR ee us) adj lacking authenticity or validity, false, counterfeit ● His spurious claim that he had found the fountain of youth was soon proven to be the fraud everyone had suspected. ● It was years before anyone discovered that the painting attributed to the young Picasso was spurious, having been painted by a not very famous artist who made his living by painting those pictures you find in hotel rooms.
SQUALID (SKWAH lid) adj sordid, wretched and dirty as from neglect ● The squalid living conditions the migrant laborers were forced to endure were simply inhuman; no one should have to live like that. Squalor is a wretched or filthy condition. ● Why she was willing to live in squalor, no one could figure out, but she seemed happy enough with two months' worth of dishes in the sink and refuse lying all around.
SQUANDER (SKWAHN dur) v to waste by spending or using irresponsibly ● I would hate to see you squander your talents by making vacuum cleaner bags for the rest of your life instead of the art you really want to create. ● He squandered his fortune as quickly as he had made it, ending up exactly where he started.
STANCH (stawnch) v to stop the flow of a fluid ● The flow of blood from the cut was so slight that half a tissue was all that was needed to stanch it. ● All attempts to stanch the hemorrhaging of the company's coffers were futile; the money just kept pouring out as costs increased exponentially. Don't confuse this with staunch, an adjective, meaning firmly committed. To make it really confusing, sometimes stanch is spelled staunch, and vice versa, but you should be able to figure out the word's meaning from context.
STATIC (STAT ik) adj not moving, active or in motion; at rest ● The population of the town had been static for years; no one had moved in or out, been born or died in the whole place. ● She couldn't stay static for more than five minutes at a time before she started bouncing off the walls again.
STEEP (steep) v to saturate or completely soak ● Her plan was to spend three months in Paris and come back steeped in French culture, but all she ended up with was a fuchsia beret from the souvenir shop. ● The old castle is steeped in history; you can practically feel it oozing out of every corner as you walk around.
STENTORIAN (sten TOR ee un) adj extremely loud and powerful ● Her grandfather's stentorian voice could be heard from anywhere in the house, and when he issued a command, everyone moved immediately. ● Is it absolutely necessary to keep the stereo on at such a stentorian volume that people five blocks away can hear it?
STINT (stint) v to restrain, be sparing or frugal ● I hate to stint on dessert, so I always save room for at least two portions. ● Since I didn't want to stint on her birthday, I got her a cake and a present. Stinting, and its opposite, unstinting are the adjectives that mean restraining and bestowed liberally, respectively. ● Her unstinting support for my lemonade stand, both supplier of the product and most loyal customer, gave me my start as an entrepreneur. Stint as a noun means a length of time spent in a specific way, as in a stint in the military, in the White House, or as a roadie.
STOIC (STOH ik) adj indifferent to or unaffected by pleasure or pain, steadfast ● Lorelei's stoic indifference to the pain of her dislocated shoulder was disconcerting; it was impossible to tell anything was wrong from the expression on her face. Stoicism is the noun. ● Vulcans, such as Mr. Spock, practice stoicism, exercising extremely tight control over their emotions.
STOLID (STAH lid) ad] calm, impassive ● Ian's stolid nature and formidable physique make him perfect for a job as a Buckingham Palace guard. If you associate this word with solid, you have a built-in memory aid; stolid people show little animation or emotion.
STRIATED (STRY ayt id) adj striped, grooved, or banded ● Our attempt to make a cake with striated frosting to look like a beach ball wasn't very successful; all the bands of color ran together until it was just one big blob. ● It was initially a bit strange to drive over the grooves on the roads where the asphalt had been striated to provide better traction when it rained. Striations are the bands themselves.
STRUT (strut) n a structural support used to brace a framework ● When one of the struts supporting the wing of the old seaplane broke, we thought we were going to be swimming home. ● When the struts on our car started to wear, we could feel every tiny bump on the road. Strut can also be used as a verb to mean brace or support.
STUPEFY (STOO puh fy) v to stun, baffle, or amaze ● Stupefied by the blow to his head, Scott just kept bumping into more and more things, getting more and more dazed. ● We were stupefied by the sight of a hippopotamus dancing with a kangaroo.
STYMIE (STY mee) v to block, thwart ● Rodney planned to stymie Jake's chances of winning the cooking contest by switching the salt and sugar when he wasn't looking. ● His plans to become a professional race car driver were stymied when he failed his driving test for the third time.
SUBPOENA (suh PEE nuh) n a court order requiring appearance and/or testimony ● You could have knocked me over with a feather when my next-door neighbor, the sweet little old grandmother, was served with a subpoena to appear in a federal racketeering case. Subpoena can also be used as a verb. ● The prosecutor subpoenaed the kingpin's hairdresser to testify before the grand jury.
SUBTLE (SUH tul) adj not obvious, elusive, difficult to discern, crafty or sly ● The subtle flavors of the sauce were difficult to detect individually, but together they created a unique and delicious dish. ● We had to admire the subtlety of her scheme; she had managed to steal half the gold in the treasury before anyone even knew it was missing.
SUCCINCT (suk SINKT) adj brief, concise ● Although he had vowed to keep his introduction succinct, he still ended up speaking for a longer time that all of the main speakers combined. ● This sentence is succinct.
SUCCOR (SUH kur) n assistance, relief in time of distress ● The brief rain did not provide much succor to the farmers who were losing their crops to drought. ● The town's inhabitants sought succor in the emergency shelters during and after the hurricane.
SUNDRY (SUN dree) adj various, miscellaneous, separate ● Of the sundry items for sale, the young boy was most interested in the elaborate water pistol. ● My backpack is filled to overflowing with sundry items, but somehow I can never find what I need. If you've heard the phrase torn asunder, you are familiar with the etymology of this word. Sundry originally meant separate or distinct, but now also means various.
SUPERCILIOUS (soo pur SIL ee us) adj disdainful, arrogant, haughty, characterized by haughty scorn ● The snotty salesperson looked at the clothes I was wearing with a supercilious expression and apparently decided I wasn't worth her time, so she went back to filing her nails. ● I was extremely surprised when he told me he had initially taken my shyness for superciliousness; luckily he later changed his mind and realized I wasn't stuck-up after all.
SUPERFLUOUS (soo PUR floo us) adj exceeding what is sufficient or necessary ● The admonition only to eat one of the cupcakes was superfluous; no one would have wanted a second. ● Tim and Shane's new plan for saving money was to stop any superfluous spending, but they quickly realized that everything they spent money on was necessary.
SUPINE (SOO pyn) adj inactive, lying on one's back, apathetic, mentally or morally slack ● We spent hours supine on the floor looking up at the glow-in-the-dark stars we had pasted on the ceiling. ● Our supine acceptance of the corruption taking place all around us means we have few to blame for the consequences other than ourselves. Supine means lying face up and prone means lying face down.
SUPPLANT (sup PLANT) v to take the place of, supersede ● I was quickly supplanted in my girlfriend's affections by her new beau, and a month later she didn't even remember my name. ● Some people have argued that as e-mail supplants letter writing, whole new modes of thinking and communicating are being born.
SUPPLIANT (sup PLY unt) adj asking humbly, beseeching ● The suppliant expression on the boy's face would have melted anyone's will to refuse him want he wanted. ● Stubbornly, the band refused the suppliant crowd's plea for them to play their hit song; they were simply too sick of playing it night after night. As a noun, a suppliant is the same thing as a supplicant.
SUPPLICANT (SUP Ii kant) n beggar, one who prays or begs for something ● A long line of supplicants awaited the magistrate each Thursday, which is when he heard petitions for assistance from the very poor. A supplicant is supplicating when he or she begs for something. Supplication is related to application, or the act of bringing yourself close to something. In supplication, though, there is the element of folding the legs under, or kneeling, that gives the sup- prefix.
SURFEIT (SUR fut) v to feed or supply in excess ● The girls surfeited themselves with candy and cookies at the birthday party, and all came home with stomachaches. Surfeit is also a noun, meaning excess, overindulgence. ● A surfeit of cooks is said to spoil the broth.
SYCOPHANT (SIK uh funt) n someone who tries to flatter or please for personal gain, parasite ● The young basketball player has an entourage of sycophants, all hoping to gain his favor and receive expensive gifts when he becomes rich. ● She had been surrounded by sycophants her whole life, so she had never received any honest criticism of her behavior.
SYNTHESIS (SIN thuh sus) n the combination of parts to make a whole ● Snowboarding is a synthesis of skateboarding, surfing, and skiing. ● As much as he tried to find a synthesis of his desires to stay up late and wake up early, he was never able to do both.
TABLE (TAY bul) v to remove (as a parliamentary motion) from consideration ● Unsurprisingly, the council tabled the students' motion to reduce the school day by half for the fifth year in a row. ● Because the meeting had already gone two hours longer than scheduled, the remaining agenda items had to be tabled until the next month.
TACITURN (TA sit urn) ad] not talkative, silent ● Although Steve was taciturn in public and with people he didn't know, he was very talkative when he was with his friends. ● Their usually taciturn boss became downright loquacious whenever she had a couple of drinks. Taciturn shares a root with the Italian tacet, which in music, means to be quiet or rest. Tacit, similarly, means implied or not directly stated. ● We chose to understand his failure to say we couldn't go as tacit permission to do so.
TALISMAN (TAL iz mun) n something believed to have magic power or bestow good luck ● Dumbo's talisman was a red feather; he believed that his ability to fly stemmed from carrying it with him. ● Though I am generally not a superstitious person, I keep a rabbit's foot in my pocket as a talisman for good luck.
TAMP (tamp) v to plug, to drive in or down by a series of blows ● The old man had a very specific ritual for tamping the tobacco into his pipe, and he repeated it all day long even though he never actually lit the pipe. ● After placing the saplings in the holes and filling them in with soil, we tamped down the ground around each tree.
TAUTOLOGY (taw TAHL uh gee) n a repetition, a redundancy, a circular argument ● "There can be no such thing as obscenity in art because art is not obscene" is a tautology. ● His argument was tautological because he never introduced any support for his claim, he just kept repeating it over and over.
TAWDRY (TAW dree) ad] cheap, gaudy, showy, tacky, indecent ● Claire bought all sorts of tawdry jewelry to complete her Halloween costume when she dressed as an Old West saloon singer. ● The tabloid specialized in revealing the tawdry secrets of minor celebrities.
TENACITY (ten A sit ee) n the quality of adherence or persistence to something valued ● His tenacity in seeking public office was remarkable; he sought election fifteen different times and even though he never won, he never gave up. Tenacious means stubborn, refusing to give up or let go of something. ● She was tenacious in her refusal to sell her house to the developers, even when they alternately tried to bribe and threaten her.
TENDENTIOUS (ten DEN shus) ad] biased, showing marked tendencies ● It was difficult to determine what was objective fact and what when tendentious opinion, because all the research published thus far had been paid for by one side or the other. ● Although it was clearly a tendentious account, I found it very informative, though that may have been because I happened to agree with the author.
TENDER (TEN dur) v to offer formally ● We refused the terms of the truce the other side tendered, because they wanted us to surrender our water balloons first. ● Frances planned to tender her resignation first thing in the morning, though she secretly hoped her boss would talk her out of leaving.
TENUOUS (TEN yoo us) adj having little substance or strength, flimsy, weak ● Tyler's grasp on mathematics has always been somewhat tenuous; he understands addition fairly well, but subtraction poses some challenges. ● Although the plot of the movie was at best tenuous, the performances of the supporting cast were amazing enough to make the movie worth watching.
TERSE (turs) adj brief and concise in wording ● Keith's terse, one-word answers made it clear that he was upset, since he is usually very talkative when he is happy.
TIMOROUS (TIM or us) adj timid, fearful, diffident ● Mice are supposed to be timorous, but the one living behind the fridge seems very bold and completely unafraid of me. ● His timorous request to speak was drowned out by the loud arguing amongst the rest of the members of the panel, and he wasn't confident enough to shout over them.
TIRADE (TYE rayd) n a long and extremely critical speech, harsh denunciation ● The students were wary of asking any questions about contemporary literature, afraid that the professor would launch into one of his lengthy tirades against the decline of American literature over the last century. ● Alex didn't think he could stand one more tirade about the rising cost of toothpaste, so he excused himself from the conference on dental hygiene and went to eat lunch.
TOADY (TOH dee) n sycophant, flatterer, yes-man ● Lewis could always rely on his trusty toady to tell him what he wanted to hear, even if it didn't match up to reality in any way. To toady is to behave like a toady. ● The king trusted his gardener more than anyone else, because the gardener refused to toady to him; he could therefore believe that what she said was true, rather than something designed to curry favor.
TORPID (TOR pid) adj lethargic, sluggish, dormant ● We were torpid with exhaustion and could barely move after walking fifteen miles back to camp. Torpor is a state of inactivity or lethargy. ● The cat fell into torpor after his catnip-induced frenzy and went to sleep in a patch of sunlight in the living room.
TORQUE (tork) n a force that causes rotation ● Gary was having a difficult time generating enough torque to get the wheel to spin on its own. ● A torque wrench measures the amount of force being used to tighten a nut or bolt in order to ensure that it is tight enough not to come loose but not too tight.
TORRID (TOR id) adj scorching, ardent, passionate, hurried ● Chris was so engrossed in the torrid love affair unfolding in the novel that he didn't even notice that he had missed his bus stop. ● Everyone escaped the torrid heat of mid-afternoon by taking a siesta. Perhaps not surprisingly, torrid comes from a Latin word meaning burn. So, however, does torrent, maybe because a roaring torrent looks like its boiling or because a torrent of words can burn you.
TORTUOUS (TORT yoo us) adj winding, twisting, excessively complicated ● It was unsafe to drive faster than ten miles an hour on the tortuous road down the mountain because the turns were so sharp, so most people chose to walk or bicycle down instead. ● Brendan launched into an argument so tortuous in its reasoning that he hoped no one would be able to follow it and realize that Brendan had no idea what he was talking about. Be careful not to mix this one up with torturous, which means relating to or causing torture.
TOUT (towt) v to publicly praise or promote ● When the beautiful model went on television touting the health benefits of pickle juice, pickle sales quadrupled overnight. ● In the past, many ingredients were touted as beneficial that later turned out to be at best ineffective and at worst, toxic.
TRACTABLE (TRAK tuh bul) adj docile, obedient, easily led ● The magician was looking for a tractable young assistant who would be willing to follow directions such as "get in the box so I can saw you in half." ● The babysitter had thought the children were models of tractability, until she discovered they were just very good at hiding their disobedience. Intractable means unruly.
TRANSIENT (IRAN zee unt) adj fleeting, passing quickly, brief ● In June the summer always seemed so long, but by September it always seemed so transient. ● Leslie grabbed the transient opportunity to join the band on tour, knowing that she only had a brief window in which the offer would be open. Transience is the state of being transient. ● The suitcase that never got unpacked was just one sign of his perpetual transience.
TRAVESTY (TRAV est ee) n mockery, caricature, parody ● The defendant argued that the proceedings were a travesty of a trial since he did not have a lawyer representing him. As a verb, travesty means to imitate in such a way as to ridicule. ● The satire travestied the inner circle of the governor's administration.
TRENCHANT (TREN chunt) adj sharply perceptive, keen, penetrating, biting, clear cut ● His trenchant criticism of the report revealed the fundamentally flawed premise on which it was based. ● Eric could always be counted on to perform the trenchant analysis that would unearth what had gone wrong in the project thus far. ● Although she made very trenchant distinctions about what was right and wrong in other people's actions, she was less clear cut about her own behavior.
TRUCULENT (TRUK yoo lunt) ad] fierce, scathing, eager to fight ● Her truculent opposition to the building of a new chemical plant made her a minor celebrity in her hometown, where she was regarded as a fierce crusader for the rights of the townspeople. ● The truculent trucker had already been arrested five times this year for starting barroom brawls.
TUMID (TOO mud) adj swollen ● The river, tumid from the spring rains, overflowed its banks and flooded the surrounding fields. Tumescence is swelling. ● Elmer put ice on his face to try to reduce the tumescence of the black eye he got while fighting with the truculent trucker.
TURBID (TUR bud) adj muddy, having sediment stirred up, clouded to the point of being opaque, in a state of turmoil ● The coffee was so turbid from the grounds that seeped through the filter that it looked like mud. ● Grace's mind was so turbid with anxieties over how she was going to handle the next day that she couldn't sleep all night.
TURGID (TUR jid) adj swollen, bloated, pompous, excessively ornate ● Her turgid prose would have been difficult to take in any context, but it was particularly ill suited to a computer how-to book. ● The water balloons were so turgid that they would pop at the slightest pressure. Turgid is a synonym for tumid.
TURPITUDE (TUR puh toad) n depravity, baseness ● Because he had been caught stealing from the orphanage's fund, he was immediately dismissed on the grounds of moral turpitude. ● Claiming that shopping malls were marketplaces of turpitude, Ms. Snow declared that the morally correct thing to do was to shop exclusively by mail.
TYRO (TV roh) n novice, beginner in learning ● Although he was only a tyro at the game of chess, he was able to win most of his matches against more experienced players. ● It became clear that he was a tyro when he showed the whole table his cards. Neophyte is a synonym for tyro.
UBIQUITOUS (yoo BIK wuh tus) adj existing everywhere at the same time, constantly encountered, widespread ● Many animals that were once nearly ubiquitous in North America, such as the passenger pigeon, are now extinct. Ubiquity is the state of being everywhere at the same time. ● The ubiquity of the ad campaign ended up working against it; people got so sick of seeing it everywhere all the time that they vowed never to buy the product it advertised.
UMBRAGE (UM brij) n offense, resentment ● I decided not to take umbrage at his insults because I know he was just trying to get a response, and ignoring him would be the most satisfying revenge.
UNDULATE (UN dyoo layt) v to move in wavelike fashion, fluctuate ● The small snake undulated over the twigs in the yard, seeming to flow over them in a way that was unlike the movement of any other animal. Undulations are the motions something makes when it undulates. ● The audience was hypnotized by the belly dancer's undulations.
UNFEIGNED (un FAYND) adj genuine, not false or hypocritical ● Constance's surprise when everyone jumped out and said "happy birthday" seemed completely unfeigned, which was amazing since I thought at least three people had inadvertently told her about the surprise party. ● Her unfeigned warmth as she welcomed us into her home made me feel immediately at ease.
UNTENABLE (un TEN uh bul) adj indefensible, not viable, uninhabitable ● The president realized he was in an untenable position when even his own cabinet disagreed with him. ● Barry was unsure why his girlfriend was arguing that their long distance relationship was untenable when they'd been making it work for two years already.
UNTOWARD (un TOW urd) adj troublesome, unruly, unseemly, adverse ● I was always impressed that Shelly managed to remain upbeat under even the most untoward situations. ● There was a rumor going around that something untoward had occurred in the principal's office the night before.
UPBRAID (up BRAYD) v to scold, censure, rebuke, chastise ● Nathan was thoroughly upbraided for having gone over his boss's head with a proposal. An upbraiding is a severe scolding. ● When I showed up three hours late without the one thing that I was supposed to bring home for dinner, I suspected I was in for a serious upbraiding.
URBANE (ur BAYN) adj sophisticated, refined, elegant ● He was particularly proud of his urbane manners, since it was important to him that no one guesses he grew up in a log cabin. ● She was always claiming that her urbane tastes could only truly be satisfied back in Paris or Milan, but we suspected she'd never even been there.
USURY (Y00 zhuh ree) n charging an exorbitant or illegal rate of interest ● Hannah, whenever she got her credit card statements, railed against what she claimed was usury on the part of the banks to anyone who would listen. Quaint as it may seem now, usury used to mean charging interest for a loan, period, and it has been forbidden by law in many religions and cultures. Now that charging interest is a common business practice, its meaning has changed to that of charging an exorbitant rate.
VACILLATE (VA sil ayt) v to waver indecisively between one course of action or opinion and another, sway from one side to the other ● Harry kept vacillating between vanilla and chocolate ice cream for so long that the waiter finally just brought him a scoop of each. Vacillation is what happens when you vacillate. ● Karen's endless vacillation over every minor decision became so annoying to her friends that they just started making all of her decisions for her.
VARIEGATED (VAYR ee uh gayt ed) adj multicolored, characterized by a variety of patches of different color ● The variegated fields of wildflowers in the springtime seemed like they contained every color we'd ever seen. ● His variegated coat, with all its different patches of color, made him easy to spot in a crowd.
VAUNT (vahnt) v to brag or boast ● Fred has a tendency to vaunt his own achievements, even though his friends remind him that it is often more effective to wait for other people to point out when one has done a good job. ● The new model, much vaunted before its release by both the reviewers and the manufacturer, turned out to be a total dud.
VENAL (VEE nut) ad] capable of being bought or bribed, mercenary • The presence of the venal juror who accepted a bribe resulted in an acquittal. Venality is the use of position for personal gain. ● Rampant venality in city politics eroded everyone's trust in the system. Venal and venality share a root with vendors and vending machines—all refer to people (or machines) to whom we give money in exchange for goods and services. Venal, though, has a bad connotation—much worse than even a vending machine that eats your money and gives you nothing in return.
VENERATE (VEN uh rayt) v to revere ● The members of the boy band were venerated by their young fans, whose parents failed to understand the appeal at all. Veneration is respect or reverence. ● Food and incense were placed on the shrine to their ancestors as signs of veneration.
VERACITY (vuh RAS uh tee) n truthfulness, honesty ● I would never have doubted your veracity if you hadn't had your fingers crossed and been muttering under your breath. ● A lie detector is a device used to measure the veracity of someone's statements. Be careful not to confuse veracity with voracity, which means ravenous or very eager. The root ver deals with truth, and is shared by aver, verisimilitude, and veritable, as well as very!
VERISIMILITUDE (ver uh si MIL i tood) n appearing true or real ● The verisimilitude of the wax figures was uncanny; they looked as if they would start to move and speak at any minute. ● The playwright tried to achieve historical verisimilitude by writing dialogue in the dialect of the region and time in which the play was set.
VERITABLE (VER i tuh bul) ad] authentic, real, genuine ● Once thirty inches of snow had fallen and visibility had been reduced to nothing, we realized we were in the middle of a veritable blizzard. ● In this district, for a candidate to receive sixty percent of the vote is a veritable landslide.
VEXATION (veks AY shun) n annoyance, irritation ● Louise began to suspect that her frequent tardiness was a source of vexation to her boss when she saw him pacing around and looking at the clock every morning. Vexation is a multi-purpose word in that it can mean the act of causing irritation, the irritation itself or the state of being irritated. To vex is to annoy or puzzle. ● Shannon was vexed by her inability to buy the right lottery ticket and win a million dollars.
VIGILANT (VIJ uh lunt) ad] alertly watchful ● Jimmy was always particularly vigilant around the holidays, watching for any sign of what presents he might get. ● Trina is vigilant about Chris' diet, keeping careful track of how much cholesterol he consumes each day.
VILIFY (VIL uh fy) v to defame, characterize harshly ● The animal rights activist vilified the manufacturers of fur coats for cruelty to animals. ● Although the politicians were vilified in the press for their role in the scandal, they received no official sanction. When you vilify someone, you are engaged in vilification. ● Her campaign of vilification backfired because it made her look petty to be attacking her opponent in that way. Anyone who has heard of villain has a built-in association to vilify.
VIRULENT (VEER uh lunt) ad] extremely harmful or poisonous, bitterly hostile or antagonistic ● The strain of flu virus that year was particularly virulent and caused a national health crisis. Virulence is extreme harmfulness or bitterness. ● The virulence of her response surprised me; I had no idea she was still so angry about something that happened ten years ago.
VISCOUS (VIS kus) ad! thick, sticky ● The viscous cold medicine was designed to coat the throat, but its stickiness made it very unpleasant to swallow. ● Pitcher plants, among other carnivorous plants, catch their prey in viscous fluids in which the insects get stuck. Viscosity is the state of being viscous. ● The apple juice had reached a disturbing level of viscosity after sitting out for a few days.
VITIATE (VI shee ayt) v to reduce the value of, debase, spoil, make ineffective ● His failure to live up to his end of the deal vitiated the entire agreement as far as I was concerned. ● The usefulness of the experimental results was vitiated by the lack of a control group against which to measure them.
VITUPERATE (vy TOOP ur ayt) v to use harsh condemnatory language; abuse or censure severely ● Don't you vituperate me, missy, when you know you're every bit as much to blame. ● After they had spent most of the day vituperating each other in the harshest terms possible, it was a little strange to see them settle their differences so easily and walk off arm in arm to get lunch.
VOLATILE (VAHL uh tul) adj readily changing to a vapor; changeable, fickle, explosive ● It was a volatile situation, with both parties to the negotiations changing their positions frequently, and each threatening to walk out if the other side didn't agree to the terms. ● Liquids are called volatile if they evaporate, or change to a vapor, rapidly. Alcohol and kerosene are examples of volatile liquids.
VORACIOUS Ivor AY shus) adj having an insatiable appetite for an activity or pursuit, ravenous ● Michelle was a voracious reader; as a kid she read under the bed and under the covers at night with a flashlight. ● The voracious mosquitoes were so hungry for our blood that no amount of citronella would keep them away, so we had to go inside.
WAFT (wahft) n a light breeze, a puff ● I must not have been holding on to the kite string very tightly, because just a single, gentle waft of air was enough to send it floating away over the rooftops. Waft as a verb means to send floating through the air or over water. ● The ant wafted down the creek on a leaf raft.
WAVER (WAY vur) v to move to and fro, to sway; to be unsettled in opinion ● Ted wavered over whether or not to report the ten thousand dollars he found on the park bench to the police, but then he started thinking about who might come looking for it and decided to turn it in to the authorities. ● Enid never wavered in her conviction that her pet goose would lay golden eggs, despite its repeated failures to do so.
WELTER (WEL tur) v to writhe, to toss about, to be in turmoil ● The lake weltered in the storm, tossing the boat up on huge waves. Welter is also a noun, meaning a state of turmoil or chaotic jumble. ● He'd searched through the welter of papers on his desk for the contract but couldn't find it.
WEND (wend) v to go, proceed, walk ● We wended our way through the market, buying vegetables for dinner. ● As Fritz wended his long way home from work, he thought again about moving closer to town.
WHET (wet) n to sharpen or stimulate ● The appetizers were intended to whet our hunger, but they were so high in fat that they completely satiated any appetite I had. Whet is derived from a Germanic word meaning sharp. In literature, you may see whet used as a noun (meaning something that has the effect of whetting), but that meaning is not prevalent in common speech today.
WHIMSICAL (WIM zi kul) adj imaginative; unpredictable While you usually see this word used in a fanciful, playful way, it can have a bad connotation. ● When Iris was a child, she dreamt of living in a whimsical world not unlike that in the fantasy cartoons she saw on television. Whim and whimsy are related nouns. ● The entrepreneur ran her company like a dictatorship; everyone was subject to the whims of the boss.
ZEALOUS (ZEL us) adj fervent, ardent, impassioned ● The team's zealous fans stormed the field at the end of each game, even the ones the team lost. ● She started to suspect she had become a little overzealous when she realized she was stalking five different Elvis impersonators at the same time. To be zealous is to be filled with zeal. ● Have you gained a new zeal for learning vocabulary yet?