What Vocab Words Are You Using These Days?

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On this summer Tuesday, let’s nerd out a little bit. Last winter, my friend Kath came over for dinner and casually busted out the sentence…

“The lighting in your living room feels crepuscular.”

Mic drop.

Apparently, crepuscular means “of, resembling, or relating to twilight.” I felt that little buzz of learning something new (don’t you love that feeling?) and now feel inspired to drop bigger words into everyday conversation.

Merriam Webster will email you a word of the day, along with how to pronounce it. A few words I’ve learned from them are quiescent, stentorian and confabulate. I also try to use bigger words with the boys, which come mostly when disciplining, I’ve realized — I’m always telling them not to antagonize each other and to stop being so histrionic!

Just for fun, here’s a quiz to see how strong your vocabulary is. (And remember the New York Times’s fun dialect quiz?)

What words are you using these days? Are you a vocab nerd, too? Please teach me some below…

P.S. The hardest tongue twister and annoying words. Plus, using big words with little kids, and a grammar rule I didn’t know.

(Photo by Jovana Rikalo/Stocksy.)

  1. Heather says...

    Bloviate came upon my radar around the time Trump became our president- no better descriptor for his empty, long winded speech. And, missing travel, my husband and I have taken up watching Rick Steves, pantomiming a drink every time he uses convivial to describe wherever he is (that we are clearly not).

  2. Kim Gaza says...

    My favorite thing to say after Thanksgiving dinner is, Oh that Turkey has had a soporific effect on us! 🥱😴

  3. AE says...

    I loooove ebullient, apoplectic,and quintessence. I don’t think I use “big words” in regular conversation but I do like to brag about my perfect verbal score on the SAT (a decade + later). Ha!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Wow that’s definitely something to brag about!!

  4. K says...

    I discovered these words a few months ago from an Ariana Grande interview: uxorious, ensorcelled

    It was a tiny brain-breaking moment because even with my not exactly big vocabulary, I very rarely come across new words in everyday reading, nevermind in an interview of a popstar! ps. it made me like her even more.

  5. savy says...

    THE PERFECT WFH COVID WORD:
    ennui: a feeling of utter weariness and discontent resulting from satiety or lack of interest; boredom, depression — basically means… “i feel beige” is that perfect or what…

    • M.Nicole says...

      Savy I discovered this word during COVID as well. I read it in a book and made a point to write it down and learn how to pronounce it. Now I just need to use it lol!

  6. Cat says...

    My Mother, in her infinite wisdom, thought it would be hilarious to holdover a tradition from her own childhood- we weren’t allowed to simply ask to be excused from the dinner table, but “We have reached a pleasant sufficiency, anything more would be a superfluous redundancy, may I please be excused.” It is not less crazy in retrospect!

  7. Twyla says...

    My dear friend regularly used large and complex words with her small children in an attempt to develop their speech. When her daughter was crying and was too upset to talk, she would look her daughter in the eyes and say slowly “Asia, VERBALIZE”. One day she herself was crying about something, and her daughter Asia took her face into her tiny hands, looked into her eyes, and said “Mommy, PURPLE EYES”.

    • Brittany says...

      This is hilarious!

  8. Chelsea K says...

    “came over for dinner” is the stand out vocabulary words here for me (hello stage 4 lockdown in Melbourne). Cannot wait to bust those words out sometime THIS YEAR. :)

  9. Lauren says...

    I have long subscribed to an email called A Word A Day that delivers a theme of words each week with fun, insightful additions to the definitions!

  10. Lily says...

    In one of my recent academic articles I realized I used the word “nonce” three times. You really only get one “nonce” at a time. Anyway, my word of the moment is nonce! It’s a mood!

    Also, so you word nerds listen to Lexicon Alley?! So good.

    • Kristie says...

      (This is a rather terrible word in UK slang).

    • Ellie says...

      I only knew this as British slang for someone who isn’t very bright (it’s not a nice word to use), but it has an actual meaning?!

  11. Cait says...

    I loved A Series of Unfortunate Events as a kid, which I’m glad others have mentioned! Also the YouTuber and fashion historian Bernadette Banner is FABULOUS to watch and listen to. I just love her vocabulary and insanely fast Victorianesque speech (as well as her brilliant costume sewing and history lessons).
    Thanks to a particular education philosophy, I generally do not stop and define words when reading aloud to my kids. Of they ask, I tell them of course! But I try not to constantly interrupt mysf or overexplain. I think it’s more effective to learn things from context, though I do hope when they’re older they’ll have fond memories of using a dictionary too.

  12. L says...

    “incandescent” from recently watching pride and prejudice! can’t wait to save that word to describe a time when i’m feeling incandescently happy.

  13. Piper says...

    Tangentially related: I was watching a rerun of Inkheart the other day (about how some ppl have the ability to read aloud from any book and magically make anything within the pages appear IRL, the only caveat being human characters that leap off the page would have to be replaced by someone else from the real world), a plot line that feels like it was literally written for all bookworms. And yet as a language nerd and literature lover, I remember feeling so disappointed with the movie’s characters’ utter lack of imagination. It got me thinking, what would you guys do with it if you had that superpower?

    Me, I would track down the movie version of the How to Train Your Dragon books and speak Toothless to life! And/or maybe read the Mortal Instruments to life and drink from the Cup to turn myself into an actual, honest to goodness Shadowhunter. Pretty sure demons already exist in our world, maybe it’s time we had the means to really fight them. I mean, the possibilities are literally endless.

    Thoughts?

  14. I have been writing out the “word of the day” on a blackboard in the kitchen for my eight-year-old who likes using big words. Today’s word was dulcent which is such a pleasant sounding word isn’t it? I also like using the word katzenjammer instead of hangover! :) Thanks for this post, I enjoyed it as much as the comments.

  15. Violeta says...

    Love this post! Especially enjoyed the MW word-of-the-day shout-out as it’s often my friend Peter who reads the word and I just love hearing his voice! Often motivates me even more to use the word :)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      So cool!

  16. Elise says...

    I recently learned ephemera: “things that exist or are used or enjoyed for only a short time.” Helped me feel ok throwing away old postcards and Christmas cards that I’d been holding on to for some unknown (sentimental) reason. I felt better knowing they were meant to be transient and enjoined only briefly, not kept forever.

    • Jess. says...

      Hi. I think you may have just changed my life. xox

    • Kate says...

      And mine!

  17. Yvonne says...

    My granddaughters were over the other day and I was exhibiting bad table manners while we were eating (licking the bbq sauce off my fingers). My 3 y.o. granddaughter rolled her eyes at me and said, “how distasteful.” I was left speechless!

    • Agnès says...

      ahaha!

  18. Karin says...

    A friend of mine has instructed her 3 and 5 year old to use “detest” instead of “hate” when they complain:
    “I detest taking baths!”
    “I detest green beans!”
    Such elegant whining!

    • Jess. says...

      I have a friend whose kids used to say, when they were very little, “I require assistance” instead of “I need help,” and it was awesome.

  19. Ceridwen says...

    We were watching Glow Up! on Netflix last night and one judge said to the other…”let’s confabulate”. We all said, what did she say?? And here is that wonderful verb today. I’m going to try and work it in during the day…

    I Romberg my daughter, at 5, said to me when very annoyed “Don’t be so insolent.” She had such satisfaction on her face. I was both offended and proud! Later we were watching the film Ballerina…ahh…that’s where she got. She had obviously tucked it away and found the perfect moment to pull it out.

  20. Sandy K says...

    I love the word “interrobang”! It’s what you call it when you use a question mark and exclamation point together…Right?!

    • Joanna Tsay says...

      Forgot to mention I had a very cool 6th grade English teacher who used the Calvin and Hobbes comic strips to teach us vocabulary. We loved that.

  21. Lindsey says...

    We just watched a documentary on Netflix about the Scripps spelling bee, and some of the words these kids can spell! I’ve never heard of them, but they know their root, definition, nation of origin…I learned so much!

  22. Ann says...

    My kids have been fractious (irritable and quarrelsome) this week.

  23. Lauren E. says...

    I saw a post from Sarah Jessica Parker on Instagram, and her caption was typical SJP-speak (she’s got this really whimsical way of writing and speaking), and someone in her comments called her pretentious (she replied, and it was AGAIN very typical-SJP and kind and lovely). But it made me realize that sometimes I tone down my vocabulary because I don’t want other people to think I’m being pretentious. The truth is, I’m a vocab nerd. I was an English major and now I’m a writer and I just love big words. I hate that (ESPECIALLY as women) we’re taught not to act too intelligent or to tone our intellect down so that other people in the room don’t feel small.

    I say, MORE POWER TO THE TEN CENT WORDS!

    • Maeve says...

      I could not relate to this or agree with you more. Here here ten cent words!!!

    • maria says...

      My father called them 25 cent words, and yes, they rock! 8-)

    • Denise says...

      My BFF and I always remark on how we can have natural conversations together using all the words we know because we both understand them!

    • I felt this way for years. YEARS. But…I began noticing that when I used ‘big words’ it often distracted my audience (I’m a writer as well). Whether I was at a dinner party or writing an article or conducting an interview, if I could use plain, simple words, the results were just much more human. As much as I personally love a $2 word, the way they roll off the tongue or hang in the air, the point isn’t always what the word means to me as much as to the person who is on the receiving end. There is real beauty in simplicity, which took years for me to appreciate. That said, the word I can’t give up is mercurial. People never fail to tilt their heads and look at me like: you just made that up! But there just really is no simpler word to describe its meaning.

    • Sharon says...

      oh yes!!! So much YES to this. As a woman that works in the South, I have been told multiple times to stop using certain words or not be so serious because I’m making others feel inferior. I want to say, not all women find giggling “cute.” I’ve always complied and sincerely want to make others feel included, but I can’t help but think of all the gender norms rolled into those comments.

  24. Tess says...

    My four year old recently learned the word “gawk” (thanks to “Ada Twist, Scientist”!) and has been integrating it into her everyday vocabulary, which I just love! Thanks to her obsession with science audiobooks and podcasts for kids, she also knows the Latin names for the various evolutionary stages of whales and horses…

  25. Sarah says...

    Like a vocabulary dictionary only more fun, if you haven’t already watch Schitt’s Creek and pay attention to Moira’s lines- apparently as part of her character development Catherine O’Hara brought to set a dictionary of seldom used words to add to her character’s lines. The results are hilarious!

  26. Mouse says...

    Slightly off-topic, but as we progress in our covid journey, all of a sudden every organization is using the word “robust”. If I hear it one more time I will scream. It seems to now mean that the organization wants you to think that things will be relatively normal but that they don’t know how it will work. Fair enough I suppose, but I wish they would just admit it won’t be normal and move on. This is how words get corrupted……

    • Betsy says...

      Adding to the covid overdone words list: unprecedented and mitigate.

    • Joanna Tsay says...

      I do love words, I still remember favorite words learned since I was young: umbrella in kindergarten, Hawaii in first grade, unique in second grade. I’ve moved around and still have a tattered old Roget’s college thesaurus, and when I was an introverted kid first starting college I used to seek comfort by reading the giant Oxford dictionary in the music library during my lunch breaks. Probably my my most used quarantine “fancy” word has been despondent 😭.

      Has anyone heard of Freerice? It’s a vocabulary game that donates ten grains of rice every time you answer correctly. Another favorite word game I used to play all the time was guess the five-letter word. Your word has to have five different letters so you use process of elimination guessing your opponent’s word with five-letter words. I used to ply this so much that five-letter words with five different letters used to pop out at me whenever I read anything, haha.

    • Agnès says...

      I had to remove the word “confinement” from a long essay I had been writing for few months; it is SO annoying, I can’t find a better word but it is so linked to COVID (here in France, it’s the word for quarantine or lock-down) that I can’t use it anymore. It was a key word for my research :-(

  27. Alice says...

    A couple of favourites- uxorious (excessively fond of one’s wife, and a great way to use up loads of letters in scrabble), jentacular (pertaining to breakfast), quotidian (everyday), ameliorate (improve) and mellifluous (honey-like).

    I read voraciously, and play a lot of scrabble/ banangrams/ do a lot of crosswords. My boyfriend is constantly amazed at some of the words I come up with!

    • b says...

      Same here. I also have a ton of useless knowledge about the world/pop culture. I fall down Wikipedia rabbit holes sometimes, reading about various topics.

      For example, Lisa Kudrow first auditioned for Peri Gilpin’s role as Roz on Frasier, but ended up not doing it because she couldn’t film Frasier and Friends at the same time.

    • Susan says...

      I thought ameliorate meant to destroy something until I read this, it’s totally opposite of what I thought! Thank you!

    • Kat O says...

      “Jentacular” reminds me of “postprandial” – the time after dinner or lunch.

  28. Rosalie says...

    I did the vocabulary quiz and wasn’t expecting to do well as someone not from an English speaking country. However I knew 7/10, and my knowledge of Latin helped me a lot :)

  29. agnes says...

    That is my favorite thread! Thanks to you i’ve just learned the word “petrichor”, we never use it in french, though I know now it exists. I wouldn’t know how to use it though. “Can you smell the petrichor this morning?” I feel like my brain is doing a happiness dance right now. During the lockdown in march/april, in France, there was a special tv programme for schools, but they took one afternoon to make a dictation, and with all my friends and family, we did it. It was so exciting, weird how words can make you happy.

  30. It’s funny, because we have the word “crépusculaire” in French, so I would have understood your friend, but I would have attached a darker meaning to it (pun intended), because it can have a foreboding vibe in my language.

    • jane says...

      Yes, the foreboding vibe, (perfectly described), is precisely why I don’t feel comfortable using it!

  31. Di says...

    “copacetic” is a favourite. Used by Zeke in the show Parenthood – I knew the word even before that but was surprised to hear it used in a TV show!

    • Anne says...

      I love this conversation so much! Also, do any of your families have words they’ve made up and just stuck? We do. Our kids would try their hardest to find the right word in a conversation and end up making their own. We all know what they mean and we use them regularly with each other. It’s sweet.

    • Joanne says...

      To Anne regarding made-up words: our family calls unmatched socks snurks. When our daughter went away to college she was surprised to learn others had no idea what she was referring to.

    • Kath says...

      Look up “Copacetic” by Local H on YouTube. Such a great 90’s song!

    • Agnès says...

      @Anne, absolutely! I was discussing it with a friend who discover late in life that a word she had in her vocabulary doesn’t even exist and is just one of those words from family language!

  32. Martini says...

    ” Serendipity “, to happen upon good luck or a thing of happiness without searching for it.

    • jillian marie bedell says...

      from the Sanskrit “Serendripa”! (Giant Joseph Campbell nerd here.)

  33. Alex says...

    I don’t know why but when I learned the word postprandial it always stuck with me. It is nice to have a term for the period of time after lunch or dinner. Also have always loved bedraggled. There is no other word that so perfectly suits what I picture in my head when I think of something (or someone) that is disheveled and damp.

  34. Bonnie says...

    I love words from the Victorian times such as “vex”, “gainsay”, and “amiable”.

  35. Caitlin says...

    “Arrant”

    Meaning complete or utter

    Thanks NYT magazine crossword :)

  36. Meghan says...

    Whenever I encounter a new word, I added it to this ongoing note that I have on my computer (it’s aptly called the “New Word List”); I add its definition and an example sentence so that I know how to properly use it. It’s been really helpful to file away new words to pepper in essays or conversations, and I’ve found this especially helpful while learning a new language!

  37. Lauren says...

    Oh! And! Since she was about three, for no reason any of us have been able to discern, my niece has referred to other kids as her colleagues, e.g. “I was playing in the sandbox with my colleagues.” It’s weapon-grade cute.

    • Dana says...

      I LOVE this!

    • jane says...

      oh wow – that is lethally sweet haha

  38. Lauren says...

    “Foofaraw” (a large fuss for a small thing) gets a lot of play around here, as does “kummerspeck” (German, “grief bacon,” or the weight you gain when stress eating).

    • Janine Henley says...

      Reading teacher here- did you know that children’s books have more complex vocabulary than adult college graduate’s conversations? I was stunned when I read that! Every since I read that statistic I have been trying to use complex vocabulary with my students. It takes several repetitions of the word, but soon even my kinders will be saying things like “let’s take a gander at this book!” Amazing!

  39. Elliesee says...

    Moira Rose would approve! The test is fun, I learned hubris that really just does not translate directly to French like many big English words

  40. Kristie says...

    My two year old says Electrician and perpendicular, and it’s so adorable. She also calls bicycles “bike-ls” (like Michael with a B) and crocodiles “snaps”, so hey.

  41. Katey says...

    We live in the Finger Lakes region of NY. We took our boat out and my husband was explaining something to our 5 year old, something to do with the *marina.

    A few minutes later I said to my husband, “The marina could be called a lacustrina. Lacustrine has to do with lakes. Marine has to do with the ocean.” He tried it on for size and we agreed it was a very nice word to know.

    Thanks for asking this question!

  42. Agnes says...

    I did the vocabulary quiz, and my score was fairly elevated as compared to the peers in my age range. I wouldn’t attribute that to me necessarily, but to my British father from a much older generation who voraciously read the classics. I also devoured books when growing up. I think that combination of things likely garnered my high score.

    I also could have said, ‘I had an old British dad who dug books, me too, so now I know lotsa words’. haha! I love the UK for their rich every day vernacular!! ;)

  43. Rose says...

    Certified word nerd here. I taught my kids when they were very little if they came across a word they didn’t know to look it up on the Merriam Webster website specifically because of the pronunciation option. It makes you a better reader and speaker. My favorite new word was noctilucent which means to shine or glow by night. An example would be a cat’s eye. There is a word for everything and I love it!

  44. Sara says...

    I love vocab. Thank you for the MW Word of the Day recommendation! We learned the word crepuscular last year after adopting our rabbit. Rabbits nap on and off both day and night, so they are considered crepuscular!

  45. HH says...

    I love M-W’s word of the day. Favorites find their way onto sticky notes that clutter my office iMac. Long-standing favorites that still make me laugh:

    SPANGHEW: To throw violently into the air, especially, to fling (a frog) violently from the end of a stick

    ABECDARIAN: relating to the alphabet; rudimentary

    You’re welcome. :)

    • Kat O says...

      *abecedarian ;)

  46. Nadine says...

    Well, I haven’t had occasion to say it out loud – but have thought of the word verdant a couple times lately. It’s amazing what a calming effect nature has!

    • Alice says...

      Read some Salmon Rushdie, that guy writes like he swallowed the dictionary! I learned so many words reading a couple of his books recently, including the word “crepuscular”–your mention of it reminded me of his work. Thank goodness for the dictionary function in kindle…

  47. Andrea says...

    My favorite word – which unfortunately cannot easily be dropped into everyday conversation very often- is “katabatic,” which refer to the wind coming off a glacier.

    • CandiceZ says...

      Air conditioning!!!!!!!! The AC feels so katabatic!

      I love this.

      I shall try to save this for someday ….probably especially useful in a Floridian movie theater in Summer….

  48. Rosie says...

    I am known for my very formal vocabulary. One of my closest friends is a terrific mimic (only ever in good fun, not mocking) and she can do my voice and also nails my speaking pattern and uses “big” words. Apparently I use ubiquitous, sagacity, confrère, subjugate, perturb, and sunder very frequently. I don’t remember ever using the word dipsomaniac, but apparently I did because it always makes it into her routine. It’s hilarious. But yeah, if you read a lot, particularly classic literature, your vocabulary reflects it.

    • Caitlin says...

      Petrichor: the earthy smell of the air after rain

    • Kat O says...

      “Sagacious” always makes me think of “perspicacious” (having easy understanding)!

  49. Kim says...

    I teach college courses in business writing and communications. One of the points I make most frequently to my students is that the point of speaking and writing is to communicate effectively. And that means being sure that your audience will understand what you are saying. Using big words for the sake of big words not only draws attention to the word itself rather than the content of the message, but it can also be (and frequently is) used to exclude people from the conversation or bring attention to the speaker’s “superior” education. I’m a language nerd and I read the dictionary for fun, but I consciously use inclusive language with my students and friends who are not similarly inclined.

    • CEW says...

      Agreed wholeheartedly. I’m an English major and Twain’s adage about the lightning vs the lightning bug is so, so true. Sometimes a five dollar word makes sense and its connotations fit the sentence. Other times it doesn’t. Knowing that difference is something you pick up from reading and seeing it contextually, not from getting a word of the day email.

    • Lauren says...

      Right there with you! I do try to go easy on my 16-year-old self, though: that innocent girl just wanted to be ‘educated’ and didn’t much know how apart from learning and using big words!

      I have a friend who, in normal conversation, uses SO many uncommon words specific to either her job or her grandparents’ native language, such that people are always having to ask her what this or that word means. It drives me absolutely bonkers!

    • Amelia says...

      YES to this. I’m also a huge language nerd and was affectionately dubbed the walking dictionary in high school, but over time I’ve learned that using multi syllable words liberally in conversation just alienated others, even though that was not my intention. As a journalist too it’s been drilled into me to always use simpler, more “accessible” words in place of unnecessarily big words in stories. It doesn’t mean one is dumbing down anything — making your text easier to read makes the info contained within easier to process, too. One’s writing must always be in service of enabling rather than thwarting comprehension. Agree that there’s a time and a place for big words, usually with similarly-minded language enthusiast friends or family, to be sure that everyone is equally enjoying the discourse.

    • jane says...

      There’s a fine line between dumbing down and clarity and it requires a fair degree of social IQ to navigate. But part of the fun of being human is learning to play that line and the continuous refinement of effort it demands. With all due respect if I were an English teacher I would lean heavily on the edge of that envelope because we skew towards “dumbed down” in America at large.

    • Kat O says...

      I’ve always thought that one of my talents as a social worker was being able to “translate” information – putting things in terms that people can understand (this was especially helpful when I worked in medical settings, and when I worked with children with developmental delays). It’s not about “dumbing down” information, but about choosing the right words, analogies, and even structuring the delivery in ways that people can both comprehend and relate to (also: I frequently end sentences in prepositions because it often sounds more natural :). It doesn’t just require communication skills; you also need empathy in order to understand someone’s perspective, and notice when they are or aren’t connecting with a message!

  50. Louisa says...

    We have a little pod school and the kids’ initials spell R-O-C-K. Until little Harry joined us. So I looked to see if CHORK is a word. It is. “To make the noise that feet do when one’s shoes are full of water” :)

    Other favorite words I like to use – sanguine, imperious, petrichor.

  51. Christa says...

    Crepuscular reminds me of Trumpet of the Swans—where I first learned the word. <3

  52. Elinor says...

    I recently started a veterinary anatomic pathology residency, so I’m learning lots of fun words. Today I looked up phlegmonous (a diffuse spreading of inflammation of or within connective tissue) and catarrhal (copious discharge of mucus, associated with inflammation of mucous membranes). I keep a list of words I like.

  53. Heather says...

    I love reading A Series of Unfortunate Events with my kids because there are so many interesting vocabulary words used (and in such a kid-friendly way).

    As for me I’ve been spending five to ten minutes a day learning Finnish on duolingo. Not exactly extending my vocabulary but sort of!

    • Terri says...

      Yes! My high schooler still uses the word penultimate, which he learned from A Series of Unfortunate Events. We loved that series.

    • Hanna says...

      I’m learning Finnish on duolingo as well! I’ve found my vocabulary has grown so much in the past few months! And my Finnish relatives are impressed…

    • Kamina says...

      I just used “penultimate” in my PhD thesis. Definitely learned that word from A Series of Unfortunate Events when I was younger.

    • beth says...

      I read that series aloud to my son when he was young, and loved the vocabulary throughout. Penultimate and ersatz are two words we both love because of it!

  54. Leigh says...

    I LOVE the word crepuscular. My husband and I use it all the time!

    My word for 2020 has been…verklempt. Not by choice, but just because so much has happened this year. I love how it sounds, and I love the meaning. So often this year, I find myself turning to my husband and saying, “I feel just…verklempt.”

  55. Sarah says...

    Oh my gosh, I just had the funniest group chat after someone casually threw ‘perseverating’ into the conversation. Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one who had to google it.

  56. Dee says...

    Defenestration was new to me this week!

  57. Silly lily says...

    Not using any particularly impressive words at the moment but I just lost my 12 year old pug, Clemenza, on the 4th of July. Still missing him terribly. Thank you for the sweet photo.

    • Ashley says...

      Sorry for your loss, Lily! <3

    • Tara says...

      Lily, sending you my deepest sympathies. We have two black pugs (Daphne is 9, Clover is 4), but our first baby was Doris, and she was wonderful. We had to put her down right before her 15th birthday and that was 4 years ago. It was terrible. I still miss her and think of her often–and look for her little sweet face as I walk up our steps–but the pain has lessened and the happy memories remain. I hope she and Clemenza are snoring together in a sunny patch right now–if there IS a heaven, our dogs are there!

    • silly lily says...

      Tara, if Doris and Clem have found each other, then Doris isn’t getting a whole lot to eat these days. But aside from a larger than life appetite, Clem remains a marvelous and kind boy who’s awfully nice to cuddle with.

      I thank you and Ashley for your kind thoughts.

    • Nigerian Girl says...

      Sorry for your loss, Lily. Clemenza is such a beautiful name. Thanks to Animal Farm, I believe Sugarcandy Mountain really exists, so I do believe your beloved Clemenza is at peace up there.

  58. Kiki says...

    I love well-placed, beefy words in writing. In conversation though, I think it sounds hella pretentious.

    • Louisa says...

      I believe you mean preternaturally pretentious. ;)

  59. Anna says...

    In my early twenties, I was working at a toxic company and desperately studying for the GRE so I could go to grad school and change careers. One of the study materials was a deck of flashcards, and it included the word plucky (spirited, brave). It was such a strong reminder of the person I had been, how much my toxic work life had taken from me, and why I was working so hard to make a big professional move.

    I gave away the rest of the flashcards years ago, but I kept that one. I tucked it in my wallet when I finally scored an interview for my dream job; carried it in my backpack when I hiked to Machu Picchu; and still tape it to my mirror the night before a big presentation at said dream job–anytime I need a reminder of that plucky 24 year old who had the gumption to leap into the unknown and trust herself to figure it out

    The last few months have been uncertain (to say the least) so I’ve been extra grateful for my ‘you are plucky!’ mantra

    • Terri says...

      I love this! Thanks for sharing your story. I am a 42-year old studying for the GRE because I’m trying to rescue myself from an abysmal professional track. This is so inspiring to me.

    • cosmclo says...

      I LOVE this! How fun to have that card as a reminder of all of the amazing things you’ve done and will continue to do.
      I also love the vocab/grammar posts!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      that is amazing, Anna!

    • Maryn says...

      I hope someday when you write a memoir, you call it “Plucky.”

    • jane says...

      so good : )

  60. Charlene says...

    We have been reading Anne of Green Gables aloud and it’s been a terrific way to refresh my vocabulary. My daughter (6) has even been trying out words!

  61. Ari says...

    When I first started dating my now husband, he introduced me to “troglodyte,” a term I’m sadly using a lot of lately. I wish my days were calling for another word; pre-COVID I was using “ebullient” a lot.

    • Rusty says...

      Troglodyte….hhhnmmmm……Trumplodyte?!?! 🤣

  62. Julia says...

    I’m a college professor, and my research uses specialized vocabulary, so it’s not uncommon that I write texts that are hard to understand for a non-academic audience. But I almost never use “big” words for no reason; if there is a more common word that does the job just as well, I use it. Of course it depends on the function of the text I am writing, and who I am speaking to, but most of the time, I think simpler is better. A lot of my students think that good writing in college means using lots of fancy words to sound “deep” and most of the time, they just produce pretentious nonsense. I have to ask them to write as if it were for their sibling in sixth grade if I want to get something comprehensible out of them. Sorry for the cranky rant!

    • Deanna says...

      My sister thought using big words made her papers sound smarter, so she’d just use whatever the synonym was in the thesaurus. I had to break it to her they don’t mean the same thing and simpler is usually better.

      As a reader of academic papers, I wish they were written in lay-person speak so I could get through them a bit faster (and know for use I’ve understood the paper correctly).

    • Lorena says...

      As an English teacher I love language. But as that same English teacher grading 100 papers, I implore my students not to abuse the thesaurus. If I see “plethora” any more my head will explode.

    • Nigerian Girl says...

      As a writer of ‘simple’ prose and a reader who adores spare, elegant prose, I’m with you on this.

  63. Kari T. says...

    When we were misbehaving our mom used to always tell us to quit being uncouth! It always made us giggle.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      omg my mom used to say that too!!! “that’s so uncouth!”

    • K says...

      my dad used to go around saying uncouth too, but in a way that i feel like he just discovered it in a book he recently read. he asked me if there was therefore such a thing as being ‘couth’

  64. riye says...

    I was talking about “Good Omens” (Terry Patchett) with a friend and how much I loved how “louche” David Tennant’s character Crowley was and she told me she’d never heard of the word. A few months later, we both started seeing “louche” popping up in various places, much to our amazement. :-)

    • Oh, I didn’t know louche was also a word in English; I know it from French. I’ll have to keep my eyes open for it in English now!

  65. Kristina M says...

    I am a HUGE word nerd. At any given time, I have multiple lists of words I come across and like scribbled in random places. During lockdown, I’ve found myself writing simple haikus using these found words because I love the sparsity inherent in this art form – it’s become a fun little creative challenge!

  66. E says...

    I’m currently watching the Netflix show “Glow-up” and the judges always need to go a for a “confab” and I always meant to look up what that meant, but was clearly too lazy to :)

  67. Michelle deBaroncelli says...

    I was reading this FASCINATING article on why/how Charles Schulz decided to create Franklin, the first black character in Peanuts, and Kenneth Kelly, a black man, suggested that Mr. Schulz include a “supernumerary role for a Negro character.” And now supernumerary (present in excess of the normal or requisite number) is my new favorite word.

  68. Ellen says...

    Totally agree.

  69. Patricia says...

    I am well,” but nothing is well.”

  70. ColleenK says...

    My husband grew up racing bicycles. A commonly used term in racing is penultimate (last but one in a series of things; second last), or the penultimate lap. He has dropped into conversation as frequently as possible in the 20 years I’ve known him, and it’s become a favorite of mine as well. Now that we have children, it has become our favorite family word. It makes me a proud mama to hear my ten and seven year old break out penultimate whenever the rare time strikes that it is appropriate.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      OMG I was literally just thinking about the word penultimate. and how many people think it means the last, when really it means the second to last. that’s so funny. I love that word. brain match :)

    • agnes says...

      it’s funny because in spanish it is very common to say “penultimo” and even “antepenultimo” words that are so specific amaze me; we don’t use them in french but rather fabricate a chain: “dernier, avant-dernier, avant-avant-dernier”; I speak french, english and spanish and have for a long time and the diversity of each language amazes me aswell as discovering words/concepts that exist in one language and not in another. For example, in English you have so many verbs that express a sound and resemble that sound, it’s so musical. (I love words. LOVE)

  71. maywyn says...

    Impervious. Searching for a word for a poem, it was in a list of synonyms. Stuck in my brain like seeing a cannoli for the first time.

  72. El says...

    Does anyone have suggestions for a good vocabulary/word of the day app? This year I became a big fan of geography apps– I got into them as an alternative to staring at instagram or the terrifying news. (MapQuiz is a good one– simple and free.) And hey, now I can pick out every nation on a map! It would be fun to do the same with vocabulary words.

  73. Steph Gilman says...

    Currently I’m getting my MFA in creative writing and oh my goodness I get so hung up on all the words I don’t know – to the point where I think “should I even be in this program if I have like 50% the vocabulary of some of my peers and [certainly] professors?” So, I created this ever-lengthening note in my phone titled “Words to sound really fuckin’ smart” with all the new words I’m reading and hearing along with their definitions. I feel like I’m in grammar class again! Hopefully some day I’ll actually use them in my writing correctly. :)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      hahaha love the name of your list!

    • agnes says...

      Oh I want to do that! let’s totally be the MARIkondo of words! only words that spark joy!

  74. Gretchen says...

    I’m reading a great and weird book right now by Patrick Ness called Burn. (It’s a YA novel set in 1957 and also there are dragons.) The author said his UK editor casually dropped that it was a “uchronia” into conversation…it means an alternate history story. Turns out I really love a good uchronia!

  75. Meghann says...

    Ha! I love this! My husband, who is Dutch, has quite an impressive vocabulary in English. He drops “big words” whenever possible and smirks when I say, “well done”. Occasionally he’ll use a word incorrectly, though, and I can see him looking at me like, “and? Did I use it right?”

  76. Emma says...

    Hahaha yes! All the big discipline words my mom used. I remember being super little and telling my two older sisters to stop provoking each other

    • Alice says...

      hahah my mum used “aggravating”!

  77. Linzy says...

    When I was online dating I picked the username “callipygous1” – anybody who ‘got it’ immediately piqued my interest. :)

  78. E says...

    Love the pug photo. Reminds me of my cousin sending me the definition of ” pug” that she received as a word of the day because I had a pug.

  79. J. says...

    One of the greatest blessings of my life was to take a small writing seminar in college with a New Yorker writer and author of many books. Sitting with him as we edited pieces together, choosing each word with such care and thoughtfulness, made me feel like selecting a particular word can be almost like picking out a gift for someone you really love– part of the joy is in the search and meaning! And when it’s right and brings you joy to use it (or gift it, to stretch the metaphor?), you just KNOW!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      love this, j. xoxo

  80. Joyce says...

    Ostensibly! Which means apparently, but perhaps not actually. A good combo: ostensibly innocuous.

    So many use cases :)

    Really enjoying this post and these comments! :)

  81. Emma says...

    I like the word ‘fubsy’–meaning chubby and somewhat squat, according to Merriam Webster.

    Fubsy sounds like it would be a cute name for a corgi! I found the word here a while back: https://www.instagram.com/dusty_words/ There are a lot of fun vocabulary + illustrations there as well!

    • Wendela says...

      I love language and words. It’s not a favorite one, but this word describes my feeling on this hot, muggy, , mid-pandemic day: logy. (Sluggish, groggy, pronounced LOW-gee). I still remember the day a friend of mine used it casually and said “oh, you don’t know that word?” ever so innocently (she was another person who liked to drop esoteric words into regular conversations).
      And I did not apparently know the first definitions of confabulate—I only knew the 3rd definition. How confusing that it can mean either “to chat” or “to fill in missing memories by fabrication” (which is a more innocuous form of lying).

  82. Sarah says...

    I’ve learned some excellent weather-related vocabulary from the Capital Weather Gang at The Washington Post, such as “graupel” and “rime” (both of which describe not-quite-snow and not-quite-sleet that we tend to get during DC-area winters. Also “hiemal” (relating to winter). Apparently I am in the mood for a change of season?

  83. Maclean Nash says...

    My mom and I used to play the “dictionary game”. Which goes as follows – one person says either the word OR the definition of the word and the other has to guess what the other is.
    Honestly, super nerdy but very fun! We would always laugh when one of us didn’t correctly guess a very mundane word because the definition read as considerably more complex.

  84. Ellen says...

    Oh, I love vocabulary. I’ve started a list on my phone of words from other languages that I wish existed in English (examples: tsundoku, Japan, stack of unread books by the bed. Kalsarikanni, Finland, drinking at home alone in your underwear.) My favorite new-to-me word in English is “ultracrepidarian” which is someone who gives advice outside their realm of knowledge. I find I could deploy it daily if I wanted to!

    • jane says...

      This is my favorite genre of words! The only one I remember is, “esprit de l’escalier: a witty remark that occurs to you too late.”

    • agnes says...

      LOVE your list! “ultracrepidarian”, thank you so much for that one!

  85. Lynea says...

    Growing up I was regularly told to look words up words in the dictionary that my mom and her siblings grew up with. It had all manner of doodles in it, most famously an elephant’s butt drawn on the back with the words “the end.” (A work of art attributed to my rowdiest aunt).

    This post has me feeling very nostalgic about that book! I’m curious, parents and caretakers, if you have your littles look words up; do you have a physical dictionary to peruse or has this evolved into a google right of passage?

    • Elspeth says...

      Hard copy dictionaries all the way! Helps with alphabet knowledge and familiarity, but also leads down fascinating rabbit holes as you discover other (fascinating) words on the same page!

  86. Katie says...

    I just looked up crepuscular a few days ago after finishing a Trumpet of the Swan read-aloud with my four-year-old! It can also be used when referring to animals that are active or appear at twilight. Words are awesome!

  87. Sue says...

    Elizabeth Bishop wrote a wonderful essay about her friendship with Marianne Moore called “Efforts of Affection” (in her collected prose), and one of my favorite bits of it is this: “A friend has told me of attending a party for writers and artists at which she introduced a painter to Marianne by saying, ‘Miss Moore has the most interesting vocabulary of anyone I know.’ Marianne showed signs of pleasure at this, and within a minute, offhandedly but accurately used in a sentence a word I no longer remember that means an addiction, in animals, to licking the luminous numbers off the dials of clocks and watches.” I only wish she’d known what the word was!

    On a separate note, my (older) partner was diagnosed with dementia last year and has a hard time sometimes saying what he wants to say. But his old vocabulary still emerges, always correctly– “vituperative” and “peripatetic” and “ephemeral,” most recently.

  88. Sharon in Scotland says...

    Oleaginous………….a lovely word to describe an unattractive trait.

    • Brittany says...

      A friend used oleaginous just last week and we looked it up. So good.

  89. Caitlin says...

    I have this funny memory from childhood wherein I was spending the night at a friend’s house and we wanted to rent ‘Jerry McGuire’ and ‘The Craft’ from Blockbuster. We were probably in 5th or 6th grade. My friend’s mom said if one of us could spell the word “indubitably” correct she would rent them for us… and my friend did! I didn’t even spell it right for this post, lol, so it’s a good thing my friend came through. We felt so grown up watching those movies!

  90. “Insouciance” – casual lack of concern; indifference

    It’s a lot more fun when you say it with a French accent. Also, anyone who grew up listening to Mariah Carey. like I did, knows she incessantly weaves vocab words into her lyrics.

    • Katie H says...

      Every book I seem to be reading lately includes the word insouciance! The first few times, I had to look it up . ;-)

    • agnes says...

      it’s being carefree; a “souci” is a worry.

  91. Sadie says...

    Gubernatorial. lol

  92. suki says...

    I just came across an impressive new word used very casually and now I cannot find it after clearing my history. It was something along the lines of heurologist/horolocial/hierolgist???. . . while being none of those words. It’s driving me nuts! I am trying so hard to remember where I read it and in what context.

    • Alex says...

      Horologist maybe? Study of time/ clocks.

    • Kate says...

      Heuristic?

  93. Cooper says...

    One of my favorite parts of reading on my Kindle app is being able to tap an unfamiliar word to instantly reveal the definition. If I’ve been reading my Kindle too long, I’ll try to tap words in print books, too, haha.

  94. Megan says...

    Yes to this! I read almost exclusively on kindle and I love the feature where pressing on a word brings up its definition. It’s expanded my vocabulary immensely (and maybe resulted in me pressing on words when reading paper magazines. . .oops!).

  95. Emma says...

    Oooooh I love the word verklempt but am always annoyed when I type it out how it gets underlined as red, like it’s not recognized as a real word!

  96. Suse says...

    Gobsmacked!

  97. Loooove “that little buzz of learning something new,” and also love all these dog photos lately :)

  98. chelsea w says...

    I used to say the word “ameliorate” sometimes until, one time, a friend joked that it reminded her of Amelia Earhart.

  99. Julia says...

    Interestingly, I’ve noticed a lot more people using the term “novel” in conversation when referring to something new. I’m almost positive that it has to do with how often we hear the term “novel coronavirus,” but I do not recall hearing it as often before.

  100. Jenn P says...

    This is the opposite of what you’re asking for, but if someone could find (several) alternatives to “unprecedented” I’d be forever grateful.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      hahahaha

    • Annette says...

      Unparalleled, unequaled, unrivaled, unusual, exceptional, prodigious, abnormal, remarkable, unique, atypical, freakish, groundbreaking, revolutionary, pioneering and anomalous.
      Just in case anyone else needed a change of pace. ;)

    • Meredith says...

      Haha yes! I second this! :)

  101. I always love bringing up petrichore after it rains :)

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      “a pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather” = love that!

    • Leah says...

      There’s a great story behind the word petrichor too. It used to be called ‘argillaceous odour’, but was renamed by Australian scientists investigating the oil trapped in rocks and soil that is released by moisture. It is from the Greek petra for stone, and ichor for the blood of the gods.https://blog.csiro.au/the-smell-of-rain-how-our-scientists-invented-a-new-word/

  102. liz s says...

    Crepuscular is not an uncommon word where I’m from as we have a plethora of crepuscular animals here and need to be mindful when driving at the time of day!

  103. Tristen says...

    Many moons ago, one of your posts inspired me to start using the word “postprandial.” Every time I say it, I imagine the standing-ovation gif you posted along with it.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      hahahaha yes! maybe I’ll take a postprandial walk tonight actually :)

    • This is a word we use in the medical community (usually not in a very pleasant context) so I find it humourous to see it’s also considered a five dollar word!

  104. Abby says...

    At a previous job we had a small department and someone instituted what we called, WOW (word of the week). We’d take turns picking a word and then that week it would be a competition to see who could incorporate it more into emails and meetings. My co-worker and I started looking up words that had become extinct and that’s how we came across the word “kench” which we loved. It means to laugh hard. It’s been almost ten years, but she and I still write “kol” instead of “lol” in all of our text correspondence to this very day.

    • Neela says...

      Awesome 😂

    • Kari T. says...

      I looked up kench and the Merriam Webster definition now is “a bin or enclosure in which fish or skins are salted” lol!! I wonder if the extinct definition lives on in another dictionary. Anyways, the reason I looked it up at all was to see if it was defined as a verb or a noun and if it was a noun I was going to suggest a good stentorian kench is always a great stress reliever!

    • Kari T. says...

      @Abby, thank you for the link!! I now have the perfect description for my boss, ludibrious!

  105. NN says...

    Yay! My parents always used “big words” with and around me as I was growing up, to the extent that I was able to fool teachers, and then bosses, that I’m smarter than I actually am! Highly recommend it! :)))

  106. shelby says...

    I work at a university with a lot of folks that have their doctorate (PhD, JD, EdD, MD, etc, etc). When I first started my job I was so nervous about trying to present myself as a Knowledgeable Adult (I was 24 at the time, my first *real* job) that when someone would use I wasn’t familiar with, I would frantically scribble it down in the margins of my notebook while causally nodding along and look it up later so I could understand what they were talking about.

  107. Sarah says...

    I’ve been using “reify” quite a bit, and also trepidatious.

  108. Monica says...

    Yes!! I’m a total vocab and grammar nerd. I love using the word “egregious” – it’s so satisfying to say and sounds as strong and impactful as its definition! Other favorites are “kerfuffle” and “discombobulated”. Yay, words!! ;)
    I also love the scene in Clueless, where Cher teaches Tai the word “sporadically”: “Try to use it in a sentence today.” Haha.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      haha I loved that scene!

    • Whitney says...

      Monica, you would like flying out of the Milwaukee airport. We have the world’s only “recombobulation area” immediately after you go through security.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      whitney, no way! oh my gosh, these comments are really delighting me today.

    • Alix says...

      Whitney, it’s been a while since I’ve flown through MKE, but I believe it’s called the “recombobulation station” if I’m not mistaken? Or maybe that’s just what I call it in my head because the rhyming makes it even more hilarious…

  109. Samantha says...

    Love this!! I’m a huge fan of elevated words – but can find myself struggling to explain the nuances of a big word when called on it (i.e. irascible is kind of like angry, but not quite …)
    Growing up, my mother (a lawyer) would drop big words at the dinner table – and if we didn’t know what it meant we would have to go to the dictionary, look up the word, spell it, and then use it correctly in a sentence!
    Annoying – but essentially a real life word-of-the-day exercise!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      haha that is such a mom move! I love it.

  110. Lora says...

    The beauty of new words is that they help you notice things you wouldn’t otherwise notice, such as the other day when my husband pointed out the “virga” near the horizon (defined: rain that evaporates before it hits the ground). Before he said it, it just looked overcast to me but afterward the wispy bits of low-hanging cloud meant something. Those kernels of knowledge add up.

    Also, as a psychologist, I associate “histrionic” with a specific disorder so I laughed when I read that line. Kids can be super attention-seeking and theatrical though!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      “Also, as a psychologist, I associate ‘histrionic’ with a specific disorder so I laughed when I read that line. Kids can be super attention-seeking and theatrical though!” = hahaha

  111. Lesley says...

    Crepuscular takes the cake! I like using quotidian and prescient.

    • Robin says...

      When I was growing up my father (a literature nut) would never define a word for me when I asked him its meaning. He’d always say, “look it up”. Sometimes I’d just roll my eyes and move on, but usually I’d look it up. Not only do I have a special relationship with dictionaries and vocabulary, but I credit that practice with making me a confident and enthusiastic researcher.