57 Words to Power Up Your Vocabulary: May 2010
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57 Words to Power Up Your Vocabulary: May 2010

An excerpt from Robert H. Hill's "10,000 Extraordinary and Puzzling Words." Edition #1.

I'm always looking for ways to stimulate my mind and to improve myself. The vocabulary of the average person reaches a zenith somewhere around the end of college, and then it gradually degenerates from there (along with the rest of our recently-acquired knowledge). The key to interrupt this process of linguistic decay is to find new words, new ways to use old words, and new phrases. Often, the key to sounding more intelligent isn't using a bunch of large, complicated words that nobody knows, but finding that one right, excuse me, ideal (yes, pun intended) word that summarizes what you are trying to express. This is the heart of the matter, anyway: language is what proves we can express our ideas in ways other than grunting, pointing, and drawing pictures, thus hopefully advancing ourselves beyond cave man status.

If you're interested in updating your vocabulary and making some old, tired synapses fire up again, then read on! The first phrase comes from Professor Brian Jay Corrigan at North Georgia College & State University (NGCSU) in Dahlonega, Georgia. I took his English Literature class in 2007; in it, Dr. Corrigan expressed his own passion for refined speech. He also stressed to us at multiple times during the semester that, if we wanted to impress our corporate co-workers, then we should remember the story of Sisyphus, an exiled king of Corinth in Greek mythology who was condemned to roll a gigantic stone to the top of a hill from which it constantly fell back down to the bottom. Sisyphus is pictured above with Tantalus and Ixion, two other cursed characters in Greek mythology. This first word is also contained in the book from which I am sourcing the rest of my material: 10,000 Extraordinary and Puzzling Words originally compiled by Robert H. Hill in 1959. The rest of the words will proceed in alphabetical order (more chapters to follow). The edition was revised in 2007 (this is the copy that I recently obtained). The work was originally published under the title A Dictionary of Difficult Words.

The words will follow the author's format: language of origin if it appears, and then part of speech followed by definition. Pronunciations are omitted. If there is an explanation preceding the definition, the definition is bolded to highlight it. Parts of speech and other abbreviations are as follows: Adj. is an adjective. N. is a noun. Pert. is pertaining to.

Sisyphean: adj. pert. to Sisyphus, in Gr. myth. king of Corinth, condemned in underworld to roll huge stone to top of hill from which it constantly fell back; laborious and fruitless; endless

abapical: adj. at lowest point.

abbozzo: n. rough, preliminary sketch.

abiosis: n. absence of life.

abiotrophy: n. physical degeneration; loss of vitality.

ablepsia: n. blindness.

aboulia: n. loss of willpower.

abreuvoir: n. gap between stones in masonry.

acarpous: adj. not yielding fruit.

acatalepsy: state of being impossible to understand.

acephalous: adj. lacking a head or leader.

à cheval: French, "on horseback"; astride; saddling.

achloropsia: n. colorblindess, especially toward green.

achroous: adj. colorless.

acomia: n. baldness.

acopic: n. & adj. curative of fatigue.

acoria: n. morbid appetite for food.

acratia: n. impotence.

achronychal: adj. happening at sunset.

acronyx: n. ingrowing nail.

acropodium: n. pedestal of statue.

acroteric: adj. pertaining to or affecting the extremities.

aculeiform: adj. thorn-shaped.

acyanopsia: n. colorblindess toward blue.

acyesis: n. sterility of female.

acyrology: n. incorrect diction.

adelphogamy: n. form of marriage in which brothers have common wife or wives.

ad hominem: Latin "to the man"; appealing to prejudices or passions; illogical.

adosculation: n. sexual impregnation by contact only; wind pollination.

adoxography: n. fine writing on trivial or base subject.

advenient: adj. due to outside causes.

affusion: n. pouring liquid on, especially in baptismal ceremony or as medical treatment.

agennesis: n. sterility in the male.

ageustia: n. absence of taste.

agio: n. charge made when cash is given for paper currency, or one currency is exchanged for another.

agnail: n. "hangnail"; sore at the nail; whitlow.

agonism: n. competition (especially athletic) for prize; great effort.

agraphia: n. inability to write due to form of aphasia.

albiflorous: adj. having white flowers.

alcovinometer: n. instrument measuring alcoholic strength of wine.

aleatory: adj. dependent on chance; pertaining to gambling or luck.

algesia: n. sensitiveness to pain.

aliment: n. food, nourishment.

allantiasis: n. sausage poisoning.

allelomorph: n. one of a pair of alternative contrasting inheritable characteristics; gene carrying that characteristic.

allochroous: adj. changing in color.

allolalia: n. form of aphasia in which words are spoken at random.

alogism: n. illogical statement.

alpenglow: n. reddish light at sunset or sunrise on mountaintops, especially occurring before appearance or after disappearance of sun.

aluminosis: n. lung disease due to inhaling aluminum dust.

alveary: n. beehive; outer canal of ear.

ambisinister: adj. left-handed in both hands; awkward.

amicicide: n. murder or murderer of a friend.

amygdala: n. any almond-shaped formation in body, e.g. tonsil.

anacoluthon: n. lack of sequence; passing to a new subject, or sentence construction, without completing first one.

anaphia: n. loss of sense of touch.

androcracy: n. domination of society by men.

Ironically, spell check in Microsoft Word only recognized five of the above 57 words: Sisyphean, agnail, aliment, alpenglow, and anacoluthon.


10,000 Extraordinary and Puzzling Words. Robert H. Hill. New York: Tess Press (Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers), 2007.


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Comments (9)

I completely agree that continuing to learn new words is a good way to keep oneself sharp (and it's a good thing, since I'm married to someone who requires himself--and therefore me--to learn one new word every day); however, as you point out that only 10% of the words listed here are recognized by Spellcheck, I think it's more productive to be selective in choosing words that one might actually use. Linguistically, it defeats the purpose of communicating if there is a 90% chance that the person to whom you're using a word finds it meaningless; I once backed out of buying a house because of too many abreuvoirs in the chimney, but that's not what the home inspector called them. . . .

I don't think I can even pronounce many of the words listed here :-) Not sure about years shortly after college being the zenith for word aquisition, I now read more widely, write more and use more words than ever before. Fascinating subject you've chosen here.

I went through twenty pages of words like anatripsis (it means the use of friction as medical treatment, never knew) in order to pick out these, so I think you have a point about being selective, Katie. Some words are arguably cumbersome in everyday speech, but I think there's something to be said for beating back Alzheimer's another few years! :) And Val, since you write and use words in your spare time, I would hardly consider you the average person! Glad you both enjoyed this. I was going to make a monthly series out of this; do you consider it readable enough for future editions?

Yes--but as we discussed above, perhaps leave out medical or highly-technical terminology and stick to words that people would actually have occasion to use, and be pleased that they them tucked away.

wow some very interesting words here, many I knew but then many I didn't

Well, -I knew four or five of these impressive tongue-twisting words..

Albiflorous hills with achronychal alpenglow skys- love it :D - More!! Can we get the "B"s next?

I got about halfway through the A's with this first one....so the third one will probably be the B's. I am making this a bi-monthly series, so look for the next one Tuesday June 1st and then every two weeks after that. Thanks for the comments!

Indeed these are new words to communicate old words. What a way to stimulate one's intellect.