Randomly Featured Word:
schlemiel – an awkward and unlucky person for whom things never turn out right
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While working as an editor for the Journal of Semiconductors in 2006, I had the following epiphany, which was actually something I should have learned in high school: The reason to build up an extensive vocabulary isn’t to be able to impress people with your intelligence, but rather to be able to communicate more effectively. Contrary to the impression you might get from reading an SAT prep book, there are very few true synonyms in English. The ability to choose words that convey exactly the right shade of meaning is a valuable skill, especially if you can do it on the fly in conversation.
Since having this epiphany, I’ve tried on several occasions to start a list of useful or interesting vocabulary words. I actually made it through “A” and “B” in the dictionary once, but lost steam at the beginning of “C.” I also lost my list of words. It wasn’t until I ran across the word callipygian — which means “having well-shaped buttocks” — that I acquired the resolve to persevere in keeping my list. I now write down interesting words as I run across them in my reading, and I keep them in a spreadsheet, along with a list of quotations.
My ninth-grade English teacher, Tony Diaz, said that I should keep a dictionary with me while reading and look up any new words I might come across. At the time, I thought that that would require a ridiculous amount of effort. Now I realize that I was just lazy and stupid, and I wish that I had begun cultivating this habit in middle school. I would certainly be a much better writer now if I had.
A word makes it onto my list if: (1) it makes me say, “I can’t believe there’s a word for that!”; (2) it just plain sounds funny; or (3) it seems genuinely useful. I decide that a word is useful (and worth looking up) if I run across it several times and realize that I don’t really have a clear definition of it in my mind. Anyway, below is a link to my list as it stands now. I hope you enjoy it.
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