charlie's blog

Thursday, November 20, 2008

new words

Below is another batch of new words I encountered this week and last week. A lot came from The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, and others have been coming from's Word of the Day emails, which I get every morning.

Before I get to the words, I wanted to talk briefly about an unexpected (and positive) side-effect of creating these new-word lists. Historically, whenever I would come across a word that I had never seen before, I would usually just try to infer the meaning from context and move on. If a dictionary was readily at hand, I might consult it, but often I was lazy and wouldn't bother. What's worse, if I knew I had seen (and maybe even looked up) the word before, I would be even less likely to look it up again, even if I still wasn't 100% sure of the meaning. I was stubbornly insisting to myself that I must know what it meant by now, even when I really didn't.

However, since I started keeping this list, I've been a lot more diligent about looking things up, and a lot more honest about whether I really know what a given word means. Sometimes it's hard, though. I didn't mind adding 'prognathous' a few weeks ago, because I knew I've never seen it before, but I've seen 'teleological' before and figured I should know it. The reality was that I didn't know it, and that if someone asked me to use it in a sentence, the best I could do would be "Today's new vocabulary word is 'teleological'." So I went ahead and looked it up1.

Also, I should note that some of the words listed here (and in previous posts) have more than one definition - I'm only including the one that applied in the case I encountered.

Anyway, let's get to the words.

monotreme - an animal of the Monotremata order, of which duck-billed platypuses and echidnas are the only living members
puggle - a baby monotreme
philippic - a verbal denunciation or tirade
exigencies - the demands or requirements of a situation
amour propre - feelings of excessive pride
excelsior - thin curly wood shavings used for packing or stuffing (used in this case to describe the curliness of someone's hair)
mot juste - the exact or appropriate word or expression (seems related to bon mot, I guess "mot" means "word" in French)
fungible - interchangeable; able to be substituted
aliquot - a fraction of a sample with a specific volume (Donelle taught me this one)
nystagmus - rapid, rhythmic, involuntary eye movements
strabismus - misalignment of the eyes
soi-disant - self-styled or self-proclaimed
revenant - someone who has returned from the dead or from a long absence
febrile - feverish
orotund - pompous, bombastic, or ostentatious in style
horripilation - a bristling of the hair due to chilliness or fear
lacunae - pockets or cavities
lucubration - laborious study or the product of such study
immure - to imprison, or bury within a wall
ween - to suppose, think, or believe
overweening - unduly confident, arrogant, presumptuous
teleological - showing evidence of design or purpose

I like "horripilation" as an absurdly fancy way of saying "goose bumps" - why settle for two syllables when you can have five?

1. Having an iPhone has been great for this: I have three different dictionaries on it, and I use them all regularly.



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