Pam Webb

a writer's journey as a reader

Archive for the tag “vocabulary”

Word Nerd: January


Some say (including the hubs) “nerd” is derogatory. I’m of the opinion a nerd is less of an insult and more of an endearment, or at least an acknowledgement of pursuing a passion with zeal, that others might not embrace. For instance, the movie The Nutty Professor, had the singular inventor trying to prove his “flubber” invention. Deemed eccentric, the professor for all his nerdy qualities became a hero. All those computer geniuses (now CEOs and billionaires) were no doubt shuffled into the nerd nomenclature in their tinkering phase. I see “nerd” as an alternate spelling of “clever,” besides the assonance of “Word Nerd” is cool sounding.

Onward to this month’s batch of words—although if you want to jump in with your thoughts about nerds, I am much interested.

1. bight: a bend in the river or the shore of the sea.

2. limb: to portray with words; describe.

3. comity: mutual courtesy; civility

4. sobriquet: nickname

5. epizeuxis: a literary or rhetorical device that appeals to or invokes the reader’s or listener’s emotions through the repetition of words in quick succession. An example:

“Jane, Jane, Jane—you are my favorite epizeuxis.”

6. inanition: lack of vigor, lethargy

7. juberous: uncertain; undecided;dubious

8. aroint: begone as in “Aroint thy, scalawag!”

9. legerity: physical or mental quickness; agility

10. doddle: something easily done. Fixing the flat tire wasn’t a problem at all—it was a doddle.

11. blatherskite: someone given to empty talk.

12. spang: directly; exactly

13. butyraceous: containing or resembling butter.

14. cachinnate: to laugh loudly or immoderately.

15. illation: an inference; a conclusion

16. totis viribus: with all one’s might

17. ambivert: a person between an extrovert and an introvert*

18. caduceus: dropping off early as in The leaves were noticed to have a caduceus departure this autumn.

19. mardy: grumpy, sulky

20. clement: mild in disposition; compassionate

*this word, ambivert, solves the puzzle of designation. A few within my circle have often contemplated how to most accurately describe our situation of being known as social, even boisterous, yet reluctant at joining large gatherings. Suggestions have included “high-functioning introvert” or “gregarious hermit.” The classification of “ambivert” seems acceptable, although the desire to write with either my left of right hand suddenly becomes immediate.

What words leapt out at you as keepers this month?

May I get personal? An ambivert perhaps you are? (Yoda syntax is less intrusive)

Word Nerd Confessions: December


Oops–forgot about November’s word collection. The best solution is to double up. Here we go:

  1. scilicet: to wit, namely

2. doover: a thingamabob; thingamajig

3. unctuous: excessively smooth, suave, or smug

4. dilly: something or someone regarded as remarkable

5. withershins: in a direction contrary to the natural one, especially contrary to the apparent course of the sun or counterclockwise: considered as unlucky or causing disaster.

6. mondegreen: a word or phrase resulting from a mishearing of another word or phrse, especially in a song or poem.

7. bolide: a large, brilliant meteor, especially one that explodes; fireball.

8. egalitarian: asserting, resulting from, or characterized by belief in the equality of all people, especially in political, economic, or social life.

9. bellicose: inclined or eager to fight; aggressively hostile; belligerent; pugnacious.

10. fain: gladly; willingly.

11. whinge: to complain; whine.

12. fomet: instigate.

13. evanescent: vanishing; fading away; fleeting.

14. mirabilia: marvels; miracles.

15. obfuscate: to make obscure or unclear.

16. tome: a book, especially a very heavy, large or learned book.

17. plaudit: an enthusiastic expression of approval.

18. rodomontade: vainglorious boasting or bragging; pretentious, blustering talk.

19. sinistrality: left-handedness.

20. bight: a bend or curve in the shore of a sea or river.

I am delighted and amazed at the amount of words that are out there that I had no idea existed, but they say so well what needs to be said.

Favorites this round:

whinge–sounds like a combination of wind and whine, for those times when a simple sniffle just won’t do.

mirabilia: amazing wonders need such a word

tome: a big book needs such a term

rodomontade: bragging sounds like something worth bragging about with this word

Found any new favorites?

Word Nerd: November


This month is a mixture of archaic and contemporary. How do some of the cool words of the past slip out of usage?

  1. iwis: certainly (obsolete)

2. crepuscular: of, relating to, or resembling twilight; dim; indistinct.

3. mizzle: to rain in fine drops; drizzle; mist (I am so finding a way to use this in a story)

4. sagacious: having or showing great mental discernment; wisdom (I know this one, but haven’t yet found a way to insert it into any conversation)

5. gree: the prize for victory

6. zephyr: a gentle, mild breeze (so adore this word)

7. tantivy: to ride at full gallop

8. quiddity: the essence of something; its essential nature

9. soniferous: making or producing sound

10. chunter: to mutter

11. cavil: to raise trivial objections

12. hypethral: open roof (like the Globe theater!)

13. stownlins: secretly; stealthily

13. lunker: something unusually large for its kind

14. hypermnesia: having an unusually precise memory

15. cleek: to grab something unexpectedly; snatch

Such a preponderance of dictional expression! Which cleeked your fancy?

Word Nerd Confessions: September 2020


Traditionally the month of September signifies the end of summer vacation and the return to school. September 2020 is the year of trying to attempting to educate during a pandemic. This month’s list seems to reflect an opinion on that essential issue. It’s indeed peculiar how the words happened to line up in this theme.

barmecidal: giving only the illusion of plenty

operose: done with or involving much labor

elide: to suppress; omit; pass over

slubber: to perform hastily or carelessly

outre: passing the bounds of what is usual or considered proper; unconventional; bizarre

horripilation: a bristling of the hair on the skin from cold, fear; goose bumps

strepitous: boisterous; noisy

chutzpah: audacity; nerve

oppidan: urban

peripeteia: a sudden turn of events

mythomane: a person with a strong or irresistible propensity for fantasizing, lying, or exaggerating

fettle: state; condition

blench: to shrink; flinch

cacoethes: an irresistible urge; mania

moil: to work hard; drudge

muzz: to confuse (someone)

moue: a pouting grimace

fardel: a bundle; a burden

succedaneum: a substitute

lassitude: weariness of body or mind from strain, oppressive climate; lack of energy; listlessness

stonking: used to emphasize something remarkable, exciting, or very large (thanks to Fiction Fan’s Book Reviews inspiring use)

Word Nerd Confessions: June hi


This month we shall partake in enjoying learning about words that are about words or using words.

1. conlang: an artificially constructed language used by a group of speakers, as opposed to one that has naturally evolved–for example Klingon.

2. linguaphile: a language and word lover.

3. polysemy: a condition in which a single word, phrase, or concept has more than one meaning or connotation. For example, cleave means to separate and it can mean bring together. [semantics can be tricky on polysemic words]

4. sesquipededalian: given to long words.

5. epiphonema: a sentence that is an exclamation, a general or striking comment, or a succinct summary of what has previously been said.

6. contramine: a word that has opposite or nearly opposite meanings–let’s return to cleave, how it can mean “split” or “put together.”

7. breviloquent: speaking or expressed in a concise or terse style; brevity of speech.

8. quidnunc: a person who is eager to know the latest news and gossip; a gossip or busybody.

9. voluble: characterized by a ready and continuos flow of words.

10. lacuna: a gap or missing part, as in a manuscript, series, or logical argument.

Words about words. I love how sesquipededalian is the manifestation of its derivative. And what about quidnuc? Why doesn’t that one pop up more in more English village novels? I can’t help but be amused that breviloquent is not brief in formation. Definitely not a descriptive of Polonius. It’s also such a score to provide one exemplar twice, as in contramine and polysemy.

Which word is a standout for you?

Word Nerd Confessions: February


Having just enjoyed a lovely Valentine’s Day weekend (actually it was a gotta-get-outta-the-snow escape) I am relaxed and ready with a new outlook that should see me through the rest of winter. Longer days and bluer skies make a difference in maintaining a cheerful outlook. 

As a celebrant of fresher weather ahead, I’ve pulled some words out of storage that produced a bit a happy when first discovered. 

1. kvell: to be extraordinarily pleased; especially to be bursting with pride, as over one’s family.

2. persiflage: light bantering talk or writing.

3. rax: to stretch oneself, as after napping [nite: it took four times for auto-check that “rax” is the word I actually wanted, not “fax” or even “dad”]

4. prevenance: special care in anticipating or catering to the needs and pleasures of others.

5. gallimaufry: a hodgepodge;  humble;confused medley.

6. snarf: to eat quickly and voraciously [I didn’t realize this is a legitimate word–it’s been a part of my lexicon ever so long].

7. deipnosophist: a person who is an adept conversationalist at a meal.

8. oneiric: of or relating to dreams.

9. trangam: an odd gadget; trinket.

10. flaneur: idler; dawdler; loafer [thus definition doesn’t describe the full concept–go here to discover what a flaneur is all about]. 

Word Nerd Confessions: July


Summer is its own special time, especially July. It’s solidly summer: weather is warmish but not too uncomfortable, events are happening–outdoor concerts, craft fairs, and the like, the lake is tolerable not freezing, school is distant past and not a threat on the horizon.

July requires its own set of vocabulary:

serotinal:pertaining to or occurring in late summer (must be related to serotonin–that feel good chemical in our brain).

phub: to ignore (a person or one’s surroundings) when in a social situation by busying oneself with a phone or other mobile device (I admit to phubbing when at the park or beach–tuning out people to cocoon in my little bubble of perceived solitude–is this a bad thing though?).

tzimmes: fuss; uproar; hullabaloo (when temps get too warm crankiness arrives and tzimmes is a fitting word).

ergophobia:an abnormal fear of work; an aversion to work (self explanatory).

benighted: intellectually or morally ignorant; unenlightened (unfortunately, there is evidence of this behavior when out and about during summer, especially seen at the beach–oh my–do my students who are life guards have interesting days).

paseo: slow, leisurely walk or stroll (summer evenings when the temp drops a tad and the sun has just disappeared on the horizon, a paseo along the boardwalk after dinner is a lovely way to start/end the evening).

craic: fun and entertainment, especially good conversation and company (often precededby the–English derived, as in “wisecrack”).

solitudinarian: a person who seeks solitude; recluse (me, that’s me–give me a hammock, a book, and a soft breeze and I’ll be a-phubbing for hours).

deracinate: to remove or destroy utterly; extirpate (related to above as in socializing?)

ariose: songlike (“The ariose breeze filtering through the stand of pines added an extra appreciation of the fine quality of this July day.”)

biophilia: a love of life and the living world; the affinity of human beings for other life form (but not when they are benighted or phubbing).

sabulous: sandy or gritty (beach wear side effect)

cynosure: something that strongly attracts attention by its brilliance, interest, etc. (blue lake, hot day)

pasquinade: a satire or lampoon, especially one posted in a public place (like Taming of the Shrew as a performance in the park–good times having Shakespeare as a summer performance).

joyance: joyous feeling; gladness (that overall summer mood)

hygge: adj.--cozy and comforting; noun–the feeling of cozy and comforting (some may associate this with winter, but being snug in a backyard hammock with a cool breeze playing about is indeed cozy and comforting).

petrichor: a distinctive scent produced by rainfall in dry earth (there is a word for that amazing smell right after the rain hits the hot sidewalk–word nerdiness points!)

Heiligenschein: the ring of light around the shadow cast by a person’s head, especially on a dewy sunlit lawn; halo (you know that photo, the one where you notice that strange glow around the person’s head -“whoa, I didn’t know you were an angel! Look at your halo!)

viator: wayfarer or traveler (got my bags packed and my ticket to go)

vade meecum: something a person carries about for frequent or regular use (a book, of course–summer is prime reading time).

So that’s a batch of summertime words. There are some fabulous ones that I’m determined to slip into casual conversation.

“I see you got your vade meecum ready.

“Wow! Smell that petrichor!”

“Yup, me and the hubs got our bags packed–we’re just a couple of viators ready to hit the road.”

“Nothing like a well-done pasquinade to get a person laughing.”

“These summer concerts have a certain cynosure about them, don’t they?”

What two words are you going to work into a conversation?

Why We Say: Old Words, New Meaning


Immersed in the study of Hamlet, I currently have to pause in our scrutiny of the emo Dane to explain an old word that Shakespeare uses that now has new context. Elizabethan slang is a study in itself. “Get thee to a nunnery” and “You are a fishmonger” as well as “Are you honest?” have a subtext if their own.

Moving to the present–

There are some words that used to mean one thing, however, due to current usage have evolved differently in connotation and denotation. These are standouts from an article by the Mirror:

ADDICT

In Roman times addicts were broke folk given as slaves to the people they owed money to. 

It comes from the Latin addictus, which meant “a debtor awarded as a slave to his creditor”.

In the 1600s it was used in the sense of giving yourself to someone or some practice.

AWFUL

In the 1300s it originally meant “inspiring wonder” and was a short version of “full of awe”. But now the word has purely negative connotations.

BROADCAST

It may now be the way the BBC spreads the news, but in 1767 “broadcast” meant sowing seeds with a sweeping movement of the hand or a “broad cast”. Its media use began with radio in 1922.

CUTE

Cute was a shortened form of acute, meaning “keenly perceptive and shrewd” in the 1730s. 

But by the 1830s it was part of American student slang, meaning “pretty, charming and dainty”. 

And, bizarrely, the original sense of “dainty” was “worthy and substantial”.

FANTASTIC

If you’re thinking of telling your beloved how fantastic they look today, think again.

Unless, that is, they look like a Hobbit or an Avatar (whatever floats your boat).

The 14th century meaning is “existing only in imagination”, from the old French term “fantastique”.

It was not until 1938 that the word was first used to mean “wonderful or marvelous”.

MATRIX

You may be thinking of Keanu Reeves in his 1999 hit sci-fi movie. But in reality “matrix” comes from the 14th century French word meaning “pregnant animal”.

It went on to mean “womb or source”. Eventually in 1555 it was adapted to mean “a place where something is developed”.

NERVOUS

In the 1400s a nervous person was actually “sinewy and vigorous” – as the Latin word nervus applied to both sinews and nerves.

By 1665 nerves were better understood and by 1734 the term meant “suffering a disorder of the nervous system”.

By 1740 it meant “restless, agitated, lacking nerve” and it then became a widespread euphemism for mental illness – forcing the medical community to coin “neurological” to replace it in the older sense.

“Nervous wreck” was first used in 1899.

NICE

Derived from the Latin nescius meaning “ignorant”, the word began life in the 14th century as a term for “foolish” or “silly”.

It soon embraced bad qualities, such as wantonness, extravagance, cowardice and sloth.

In the Middle Ages it took on the more neutral attributes of shyness and reserve.

Society’s admiration of such qualities in the 18th century brought on the more positively charged meanings of “nice” we know today.

I won’t even address how “literally” is so wrongly used today. Some pet peeves are best kept quiet.

Word Nerd Confessions: January


I really like the time around New Year’s. Turning the calendar page, fresh start, anticipating what’s ahead, knowing that the midpoint of the school year has arrived and I’m ready to return for second semester.

It’s also a time I feel the need to tidy up: closets, projects, pantry, and my email gets a sound once over. This month’s feature of Word Nerd gets an extra dose of cleaning up. Some of these words have been lingering in the queue for over two years. Time to dust them off and send them out in the bright new year of 2019.

*This became the word one year in my AP Lit class. It found its way merrily into many an essay.

*I do so like this one. However, I feel a bit snooty when I insert it in a sentence.

*A personal favorite. I do so cringe when people say “a small, little”–it’s small or little. And don’t say “very unique” around me either. Yes, real estate blurbs are the worst offenders.

*footle and gleek must be pals

*As a child I remember a comic strip called “The Katzenjammer Kid’s”–they were naughty little trouble makers. Ah, they obviously caused their parents distress.

This word is supposedly obsolete, yet I think it could catch on once again. Bumper sticker stuff: Experience Esperance.

Well, my word closet is a bit less crowded. I hope you picked up a couple or a few new words to carry you into the new year.

Any favorites from the list? As for the usual challenge of creating a sentence with all the words (20!)? Only if you are up for it.

Word Nerd Confessions: December


[somewhat hummed to Tannenbaum]

December. Oh, December. How colorful, your days are bright. With evergreen and flashy lights, your lengthy nights are cozy bright. December. Oh, December. Your passing will soon bring June.

Don’t get me wrong. December is fairly pleasant, considering all the snow that must be dealt with. Decorations, festivities, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, Christmas Break. I like December much more than January. But that is next month. This month let’s focus on the bright, brilliant, and happy of the Christmas month.

And this last word is to bring in the new year…

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