1,000 terms

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verisimilar
The adjective verisimilar describes something appears to be true or real, but may not be. If you want to impress your friends, remark on the verisimilar portrait of lost love in that foreign film you all went to see.
spoilsport
A spoilsport is a person who ruins other people's fun. You know: the girl shushing everyone at a sleepover party, the kid who refuses to play when it comes their turn to be "it."
tendentious
If you are writing a report on climate change, and ignore evidence that the earth is warming, the paper might be called tendentious. Tendentious means promoting a specific, and controversial, point of view.
tightwad
A tightwad is someone who avoids spending money, like a relative who wraps a piece of junk from the basement in used wrapping paper and gives it to you, even though he or she could afford to buy you a nice birthday present.
valediction
a farewell oration (especially one delivered during graduation exercises by an outstanding member of a graduating class)
teetotalism
Teetotalism is a noun, meaning staying away from alcohol. If you see someone drinking a soda at a bar, they might practice teetotalism or they might just be planning to drive themselves home.
ursine
Ursine means having similarities to bears. Telling a woman that she has "ursine qualities" will not get you a second date. In fact, saying that a woman resembles a bear will probably get you slapped.
vulpine
You may encounter a vulpine smile, a vulpine movie director, or a vulpine laugh — whatever it is, be on guard. The word vulpine describes something that is crafty like a fox.
skulduggery
Skulduggery is dishonest words that are meant to trick people, like your brother's fast-talking that leaves you doing all of his chores and your own, plus giving him your allowance. He's a master of skulduggery.
supererogatory
Something that is supererogatory is a little too much — more than what you want or need. It could be an extra layer of tinsel on an already flashy Christmas tree or a second lengthy apology after the first one was accepted.
spartan
A spartan existence is kind of like being a monk. Your room is bare, you live simply and eat sparingly, and your sheets are probably scratchy.
uxorious
A man who dotes on or really adores his wife is uxorious; often that's an admirable trait, but sometimes, if it's carried too far, it makes you ask, "Who wears the pants in this family?"
slapdash
If you just slapped something together and then dashed when you were done, it was slapdash. The paint job was slapdash: it looked like they did it in an hour, without brushes.
unfrock
divest of the frock; of church officials
tessellated
Use tessellated, an adjective, to describe a mosaic pattern formed from small tiles, blocks, or stones pieced together: "The tessellated pavement of blue and gold stones glistened in the sunlight."
shyster
A shyster is someone who might rip you off or do something unethical in order to get his way.
subsume
Subsume means to absorb or include. A successful company might subsume a failing competitor through a merger, or love may subsume you in the early stages of a romance.
somatic
Somatic is a fancy word that just means dealing with the body. You may be tired of hearing your great-grandfather's somatic complaints, but give him a break - his body has been working for 80 years!
stipple
If you stipple something, that means you add tiny dots of color or texture, such as using a special painting tool to stipple a plain wall with dots of a different color to make it look more interesting.
wanderlust
A strong desire to travel is called a wanderlust. If you dream of backpacking through Europe, you have a wanderlust. (You probably also have unwashed dreadlocked hair and a wardrobe nearly entirely made of fleece. If not, you will soon.)
unfledged
Something that is unfledged is young and inexperienced, such as an unfledged short story writer who has great style but whose stories have plots that are impossible to follow.
symbiosis
Symbiosis, a noun, tells about the relationship between living things that helps all of them stay alive, like the symbiosis between bees that eat nectar from flowers that get cross-pollinated when the bees move from one to the next.
truculence
If you get into fights all of the time, you might be accused of truculence and sent for anger management classes. Truculence is showing a fierce kind of aggression.
synchronous
If you are a werewolf, your animal transformation is synchronous with the lunar cycle. When something is synchronous, it occurs in time or at the same time with something else.
uninhibited
The prefix "un-" means "not," making the meaning of uninhibited "not inhibited, not restrained or holding back." Someone who is uninhibited is not afraid to act however he or she wishes.
vituperative
Use the adjective vituperative to describe criticism that's so sharp it hurts. A vituperative review of a movie would make the director bitter for months.
turncoat
Have you ever switched political parties, taken up a different religion, or — worst of all — changed which sports team you support? You are a turncoat then, a deeply hostile word meaning a traitor or deserter to the cause.
thespian
Thespian is a fancy word for actor. Since this word is related to Thespis, the guy who first took the stage in Ancient Greece, you can feel real scholarly using the word thespian.
wispy
Wispy describes something that's vague or flimsy. If your explanation of why you didn't help your mom paint the kitchen was weak and didn't help her understand your reasons, you'd call that a wispy explanation.
utopia
Utopia is a perfect paradise that doesn't exist, but which we all dream of anyway. In the dead of winter, we might imagine a utopia full of palm trees, warm breezes, and sun-soaked beaches.
skimp
The verb skimp refers to using a limited amount of something. When tomato prices are high, a cost-conscious restaurant might skimp on the amount of chopped tomatoes it puts on salads.
skinflint
A skinflint is someone who only shops at bargain stores, never orders dessert, and in general hates spending money. It's not a nice word, so if you're trying to compliment someone, better to call them "thrifty" or "frugal."
synoptic
If you've heard of a movie synopsis, which gives an overview of the plot, you can guess what synoptic means: summarizing. At the end of your 900-page treatise on morals, try to give a synoptic conclusion to drive your ideas home.
vitriolic
Mean, nasty, and caustic as the worst acid, vitriolic words can hurt feelings, break hearts, and even lead to violence.
wastrel
Your brother who spends money as quickly as he gets it, always wearing new clothes and taking friends out for expensive dinners? You might call him a wastrel, meaning he spends his money foolishly.
supplicant
someone who prays to God
supposititious
Supposititious is a fancy word for "based on guesswork." Used in a legal sense more than anything else — if a piece of evidence is supposititious, then it's basically hypothetical. It doesn't have any hard facts to back it up.
ventriloquist
Ventriloquists prove that even adults sometimes play with dolls. Specifically, these performers pretend to make their dolls, puppets, or dummies speak for entertainment purposes.
thematic
When you visit a museum and the cat paintings are grouped together in one room, and the fruit paintings in another, you could conclude that the curator favors a thematic arrangement, meaning grouped by topic, rather than chronologically or by artist.
vitreous
Something that has the characteristics of glass — hard, brittle, glossy, possibly transparent — can be said to be vitreous, or glasslike. A vitreous surface works well for a kitchen counter.
subliminal
Each of your five senses constantly sends new information to your brain. And there's another way your brain receives information: through subliminal messages. The unconscious mind picks up on things you don't even realize.
sidereal
Far out, man. I mean really far out — as in related to the distant stars of the universe. That's what sidereal means.
sleazy
Something that is sleazy is low and nasty. It's a perfect word to describe characters like the sleazy door-to-door con men who cheat old ladies into selling them their jewelry at a deep discount.
soporific
Something that is soporific is sleep-inducing. Certain medicines, but also extreme coziness, can have a soporific effect.
unprepossessing
If you find someone to be unprepossessing, you find them unattractive. Not that they're ugly, mind you! Just unprepossessing.
unguent
That sometimes sticky or greasy salve you put on cuts or rashes is also called an unguent. Whether it's a cream or a gel, the main purpose of an unguent is to heal or protect a sore.
somnambulist
If you ever find yourself standing in the backyard in your pajamas at 4:00 in the morning and wondering how you got there, you may be a somnambulist — someone who walks in her sleep.
tactile
Tactile has to do with the sense of touch. There's a huge tactile difference between smooth glass and rough sandpaper.
tangential
Tangential refers to something that's not part of the whole. If you make a comment that is tangential to the story you're telling, it's a digression. The story could still be understood without it.
turpitude
If you are guilty of turpitude, you should be ashamed of yourself. Turpitude is a word that represents depraved behavior. Prisons are filled with criminals who have engaged in acts of moral turpitude.
solecism
Ever snore at the opera? Burp at the dinner table? Forget your mom's birthday? Probably all three, right? Well, don't worry. Instead of just screwing up, what you did was commit a solecism. Sounds kinda neat that way, huh?
yokel
Yokel is a disparaging name for someone from a small town or the countryside. To call someone a yokel is to imply that they are unsophisticated, uneducated, and probably dim-witted.
valedictory
A valedictory is a speech expressing farewell, as at a school graduation. The adjective valedictory relates to saying good-bye, but almost always refers to a speech or address.
verisimilitude
Verisimilitude means being believable, or having the appearance of being true. You can improve your play by using the sounds and smells of the beach as well as lots of sand to create verisimilitude.
willowy
slender and graceful
stodgy
Stodgy is an adjective to describe anything dull, out-of-style, or even hard to digest. Just your luck getting stuck sitting next to stodgy Aunt Irma at Thanksgiving! From the looks of her stodgy moth-smelling clothes to her stodgy or dull conversation, chances are it will be a long meal. Just hope the mashed potatoes are light and fluffy.
suborn
One of the reasons Mafia bosses are so good at avoiding prison is that they know how to suborn witnesses and jurors — that is, to bribe people to lie. After all, it wouldn't be nice if an accident were to happen on the way to court, kapeesh?
wangle
Wangle means to get something through deception or devious coaxing, like the time you tried to wangle your way into a concert by pretending to be the singer's sister.
sibylline
The adjective sibylline means "having a secret meaning" or "foretelling the future," like a fortune teller whose crystal ball reveals a sibylline message about what will happen.
tutelary
The adjective tutelary describes something that is supervising or guarding something else, like the tutelary duties of a babysitter who makes sure the kids don't hurt themselves at the playground.
verbiage
Verbiage is what it sounds like — a lot of words: verbs, nouns, adjectives and all the other parts of speech. Usually, verbiage means a few too many words — like the excessive verbiage in a legal document.
verbose
Verbose describes a person, speech, or piece of writing that uses many words, usually more words than necessary. If you talk too much, you can be described as verbose, and so can your history paper if you didn't do the research and are just tried to take up space with words.
slipshod
When someone does something in a slipshod manner, they do it in a way that's careless and sloppy — that isn't right.
timbre
Timbre is a word that describes the tone or unique quality of a sound. If you play the same note on a piano and on a guitar, each note will have its own timbre.
zany
If you've been called zany, you are goofy, wacky, and clownish. Zany describes very silly people and behaviors. If you break into a bad, old-guy imitation of hip-hop, you might be trying too hard to be zany.
stickler
A stickler is someone who insists that things are done in a certain way. Say you're getting married and want to write your own vows, but your partner's mother demands that you have a traditional ceremony. The mother is a stickler for tradition.
turgid
Turgid describes something that's swollen, typically by fluids, like a turgid water balloon that's way too big to resist dropping on your friend's head.
viscous
Viscous means sticky, gluey and syrupy. So if something is viscous, you usually don't want to stick your fingers in it — that goes for boogers and maple syrup alike.
veracious
Someone who is veracious speaks the truth — like your brutally honest friend who always lets you know what she thinks about your outfits, your hairstyle, your lasagna recipe, and your taste in movies.
stultify
When something stultifies you, it drains you of your energy, enthusiasm, or pleasure. A well-acted Shakespeare play can be a thrill. A poorly-acted one can stultify like nothing else.
toady
You can call the kid who is always really nice to the teacher in hopes of getting a good grade a brown-noser or, if you want to sound clever, a toady.
titillate
A juicy steak may titillate your taste buds, or sexy images in a foreign film may titillate your desire. Titillate means to excite someone's imagination, especially in a sexual way.
stymie
The verb stymie means to obstruct or hinder. Constantly texting with your friends will stymie your effort to finish your homework.
sluggard
Do you know anyone lazy or slothful? Then you know a sluggard: an idle or sluggish person.
traduce
To traduce is to badmouth someone or something. If you don't want people talking trash about you, then don't traduce them either — even if they started it.
squelch
When you squelch something, you're putting an end to it. You can squelch an idea or a rebellion.
verve
If something has an energetic style or vitality, you can say it has verve. Dancers are noted for their verve on the stage. Morticians? Not so much.
unerringly
without making errors
unconscionable
Something that is almost unimaginably unacceptable is unconscionable. Think of it as being something that no reasonable person would even think of doing or saying — something unbelievable, outrageous, and often horrible.
vivisection
Vivisection means literally "to cut up something that's alive," and it's the term used for operating on live animals for scientific research. The word is usually used by people who oppose the practice.
tyro
A tyro is a beginner, a new recruit, or someone who is just learning something. If you are the new guy at the job and you're wearing a big dorky badge that says "Trainee" on it, you are a tyro.
unsavory
Call something unsavory if it's unappetizing, tasteless, or morally offensive. Curdled sour milk is pretty unsavory, as are the dirty details of the latest political scandal.
unrequited
Unrequited is used almost exclusively in the context of romantic love. If you love someone and they don't love you back--that, my friend, is a case of unrequited love.
visceral
When something's visceral, you feel it in your guts. A visceral feeling is intuitive — there might not be a rational explanation, but you feel that you know what's best, like your visceral reaction against egg salad.
sophist
A sophist is someone who makes good points about an issue — until you realize those points aren't entirely true, like a political candidate who twists an opponent's words or gives misleading facts during a speech.
zephyr
Besides being the name of Babar's monkey friend in the much-beloved picture books about the elephant Babar, a zephyr is a gentle breeze.
somnolent
If you're somnolent, you're feeling sleepy or drowsy. It's best to avoid operating speedboats or motorcycles when you're somnolent.
witless
A witless person is a numbskull. To be witless is not to lack the "funny" kind of "wit," but to lack the "brains" kind of "wit." If you're witless, you don't have your wits about you.
sleight
The noun sleight refers to being able to use your hands with ease, especially when doing a trick. Sleight is often used in the phrase "sleight of hand." If you are a good magician, you can make a coin disappear with sleight of hand.
viscid
The adjective viscid is used to describe something that is sticky or a thick, slow-moving liquid. If bake bread and you get flour all over your counters, clean it up carefully because adding water can turn the flour into a viscid paste, and then you'll really have a mess!
skittish
If you're skittish, you're unpredictable and excitable. You've probably seen skittish horses in parades — the loud noises and crowds of people make them very nervous and jumpy.
suture
If your energetic dog gets his paws on your beloved teddy bear, and you don't realize it until it's too late, you might have to use a needle and thread to suture Teddy's left arm back onto his body.
stilted
The adjective stilted describes something—usually a style of writing or speaking—that is unnaturally formal. It also refers to something raised on stilts, such as some lake houses that are stilted, or resting on stilts over the water.
solstice
The longest and shortest days of the year — the days when the sun is furthest from the Equator — are each called a solstice.
superannuated
If a friend describes your dot matrix printer as superannuated, then you should probably plan a shopping trip for electronics. Your friend has just pointed out that your printer is obsolete.
supernumerary
Supernumerary is an adjective that describes something there's too much of. If a scheduling mishap results in three extra people showing up for work, then you have supernumerary staff.
surrogate
Someone who acts as a surrogate takes the place of another person. In the middle of a big Hollywood awards ceremony, if a celebrity has to go to the bathroom, a surrogate will take his or her place and fill the seat.
sybarite
If you know someone who's totally addicted to luxurious things and all of life's pleasures, call them a sybarite. Unless she's inviting you over for champagne brunches and showering you with gifts — in which case you should keep your mouth shut.
tantamount
When something is tantamount to another thing it is essentially its equivalent. For some animal activists, wearing fur is tantamount to murder.
tertiary
Tertiary is another way of saying "third in importance," like socializing with co-workers being a tertiary reason for getting an after-school job — less important than, first, earning money and second, gaining skills.
testator
When you make your last will and testament, you are the testator, and if the will is written and witnessed according to the law of the land, your estate will be divided in the way you, the testator, requested.
tutelage
If you babysit and tutor younger children after school, the kids are under your tutelage. You are responsible for their care and education.
tipple
Use the verb tipple when you want to show that someone drinks moderately but regularly. During Prohibition in the 1920s it was illegal to tipple but today you can tipple almost anywhere — as long as you are 21.
tipple
Use the verb tipple when you want to show that someone drinks moderately but regularly. During Prohibition in the 1920s it was illegal to tipple but today you can tipple almost anywhere — as long as you are 21.
unfaltering
Unfaltering means unwavering, not changing. As an adult, you might thank your mother for her unfaltering support of your education, never letting you skip a night of homework. Now, not so much.
stentorian
The adjective stentorian describes a booming voice. If you're teaching a group of unruly kids, you'll need to practice a stentorian voice to be heard above the din.
suavity
Suavity is the art of making people like and want to be around you, like the celebrity whose suavity helped him land great movie roles — even though he wasn't the most talented actor to audition.
supine
One can be described as supine when lying face up ("his favorite yoga poses were always the supine ones"); or, if one is very passive or lethargic ("supine in the face of their threats and insults").
smattering
A smattering is a small but inexact amount of something. If you know a smattering of things about Australia, then you don't know much.
stratified
Use the adjective stratified to describe something with many layers, either physically (like the layers of your skin) or socially (a kingdom with the king at the top and peasants at the bottom).
unimpeachable
Unimpeachable describes someone or something that is totally, completely, without any doubt, innocent and good, like an unimpeachable role model who avoids bad influences and sketchy situations.
unassailable
The adjective unassailable means without flaws or indefensible. If you are going to get home late (again!), you'd better have an unassailable alibi for your parents, or else you should plan on not seeing the outside of your room for a while.
tantrum
A tantrum is a short-lived fit of frustration. Kids have them. Politicians have them. Reality show stars have them. I bet even you have had one!
sinecure
If you have a cushy job — one that pays, but involves minimal work — then you have a sinecure. "Because he was the brother of the CEO, he was offered a sinecure in the company: he showed up each day and collected a pay check, but others actually did his work."
titular
You might say you're the boss man in your household, but if everybody else in the family ignores you, 'boss man' is probably a titular position for you. In other words, it's just a title. There's no power behind it.
truism
Here's a truism for you: Only people who look up words they don't know can expand their vocabularies. Did you find that statement obvious, boring, and saying nothing new or interesting? That's the perfect description of a truism.
vapid
Reserve the adjective vapid for the airhead in your office that brings nothing to the table, except maybe the doughnuts. (And be careful to mutter it behind her back; it's much too vicious for a casual dig.)
squeamish
If you fainted or threw up at the sight of frog intestines in biology class, you're squeamish — easily nauseated or shocked by unpleasant, icky things. No horror movies for you!
vertigo
If you're standing still but the room is inexplicably spinning, you might want to let someone know you're suffering from vertigo — the sensation of dizziness or whirling.
ventral
The adjective ventral refers to the area on the body in the lower front, around the stomach area. The ventral fin on a fish is the one on its belly.
venial
Some crimes are unforgivable. Others are venial — venial crimes and sins are excusable. They're not a big deal.
vacuous
Reserved for the harmlessly stupid and truly meaningless, vacuous is a smart-sounding way to describe something dumb. Celebrity gossip and reality TV is usually pretty vacuous, even if it's fun.
winnow
To winnow is to blow something away until you are left with what you want, like grain from chaff. If you only want your favorite people at the party, you will need to winnow down the guest list from 300 to 30.
tenuous
If something is tenuous it's thin, either literally or metaphorically. If you try to learn a complicated mathematical concept by cramming for 45 minutes, you will have a tenuous grasp of that concept, at best.
unctuous
You might know the idea of the adjective unctuous by other words like "oily," "smarmy," or overly "flattering." When a person is unctuous, you can't trust their kindness, because they usually want something in return.
superimpose
Superimpose means laying one thing on top of another. It's often use to describe images in a photo collage — like the superimposed image of a skyscraper on the surface of the moon.
vignette
A vignette is a brief but powerful scene. A good vignette leaves you wanting more.
unsullied
Your reputation is unsullied, or unsoiled, because you study hard, you don't skip school, and you are generally kind to everyone. Your friend's reputation hasn't stayed unsullied since he got caught selling answers to tests.
stalemate
A stalemate is an impasse in a contest, a point where neither player — usually in chess — can win or lose.
sycophant
A sycophant is a person who tries to win favor from wealthy or influential people by flattering them. Also known as brown-nosers, teacher's pets or suck-ups.
staccato
Staccato is a musical term for notes that are played quickly and sharply. It can also refer to anything characterized by similar beats, such as the staccato clacking of a woman's high heels on a tile floor.
trenchant
If you're trenchant, it means you think or say smart, sharply worded things that cut right to the heart of the matter. A trenchant observation is one that makes people scratch their chins thoughtfully, or wince with embarrassment for whomever you're talking about, or both.
verbatim
Repeat something you've read or heard precisely word-for-word, and you have just quoted it verbatim. That's great if what you deliver verbatim is the directions on how to defuse a bomb, but not a good idea if you're cheating on a test and copying someone's answer verbatim.
witticism
Witticism describes something funny that someone says, like a pun or little joke. You may have heard that it is good to start off a speech with witticism because if you make the audience laugh, it'll help them — and you — relax.
swelter
To swelter is to be hot — very, very hot, like on a humid, ninety-degree day. To swelter is to feel like you're in an oven.
vilify
To vilify someone is to spread nasty stories about them, whether true or not.
soothsayer
A soothsayer is someone who can foretell the future. If the convincing soothsayer at the state fair tells you you'll soon meet someone tall, dark, and handsome, you'll probably keep your eye out for someone who fits that description.
sportive
Sportive is a good adjective to describe fun-loving people who are playful and lively, like your sportive friends who run straight to the water or hit the volleyball court when they get to the beach.
stamina
If you can run for a really long time, or carry a heavy box a really long way, you have stamina. Stamina is staying power or enduring strength.
travesty
A travesty is a cheap mockery, usually of something or someone serious, such as a travesty of justice.
slake
When you slake something, such as a desire or a thirst, you satisfy it. A big glass of lemonade on a hot summer day will slake your thirst.
statutory
If something is statutory, it is related to or set by laws or statutes. Statutory restrictions on air pollution require drivers to have the emissions from their cars check every few years.
unwarranted
When something is unwarranted it's not called-for under the given circumstances. For example, debating the merits of someone's talent is one thing, but calling them stupid is unwarranted.
umbrage
When someone takes umbrage at something, they find it offensive, and it probably makes them angry.
unmitigated
The adjective unmitigated describes something that is undiminished, unqualified, or absolute. If your new recipe for chocolate cupcakes is met by enthusiastic cheers, you can assume you have an unmitigated success on your hands.
ulterior
An ulterior interest, argument, or revelation is one you try to keep hidden, like your ulterior motive for weeding your grandmother's garden is to have a conversation with your crush — and Grandma's neighbor — who happens to be outside, too.
sublimate
When you're at a lecture and you feel restless, you've got to sublimate the desire to move around. That means you force the desire to be more subtle so you can continue listening — even if you don't want to.
vernal
If you enjoy the vernal lushness of the landscape, that's a kind of fancy way to say you like the way nature looks in the springtime.
stricture
One meaning of stricture is a nasty criticism, while the other is a sharp contraction of a tube or canal in the body. Either meaning can mean great pain to the person experiencing the stricture.
squalor
If something is extremely dirty, filthy or just plain disgusting, it falls into the territory of the noun squalor. We're not just talking about a messy room. We're talking about a dungeon riddled with rats and roaches.
vicarious
If something is vicarious, it delivers a feeling or experience from someone else. If your child becomes a big star, you might have a vicarious experience of celebrity.
torrid
If you're having a torrid romance, that means it's steamy and emotionally charged. If you're listening to a torrid band, then you're listening to a band that has a lot of energy.
smolder
When a fire is barely burning, it's smoldering. Fires can smolder for days without anyone's knowing, then burst into a conflagration that gets the fire department sirens wailing all over town.
splice
As noun and verb, splice refers to the overlapping or interweaving of two ends of something to create the strongest possible attachment.
surfeit
Steve baked a surfeit of jam tarts. Steve ate a surfeit of jam tarts. Steve surfeited himself on jam tarts. Whether surfeit is a noun or a verb (as in "overabundance" or "gorge"), Steve is likely to end up with a bellyache.
spontaneity
Acting with spontaneity might mean bursting into song on the street, or throwing down your rake and jumping in a pile of leaves — in other words, doing something without thinking it through beforehand.
vixen
A vixen is a female fox. Or it can be a woman with a temper. If you really want to insult a woman who is a little short on patience, call her a vixen. She won't like it.
turbulence
Use the noun turbulence to describe instability or disturbance. If you're on an airplane during a storm, turbulence is that horrible thing that is causing the plane (and your stomach) to bounce around.
unsightly
Unsightly is a gentler way of saying ugly. Often something that is described as unsightly sticks out like a sore thumb in an otherwise attractive environment.
sluice
Anything that resembles a water slide with a gate is a sluice — a narrow channel that controls water flow.
unfeigned
Feign means to fake, or pretend, so unfeigned means sincere. If you greet a friend with unfeigned joy, she'll know you are happy to see her.
unscathed
If you walked away from a nasty bike accident without a scratch, you walked away unscathed, meaning you came out unharmed.
unbridled
Unbridled means unrestrained. When you find out that you just won the lottery, feel free to jump up and down with unbridled joy. Go ahead, most people would probably let loose in the same way.
tirade
A tirade is a speech, usually consisting of a long string of violent, emotionally charged words. Borrow and lose your roommate's clothes one too many times, and you can bet you'll be treated to a heated tirade.
trite
When you want to indicate that something is silly or overused, you would call it trite. A love song with lyrics about holding hands in the sunshine? Totally trite.
tawdry
Tawdry means cheap, shoddy, or tasteless. It can be used to describe almost anything from clothes to people to even events or affairs.
venal
Someone with venal motives is corrupt and maybe a little evil. Nobody wants to be thought of as venal.
wiggle
To wiggle is to move something back and forth. When you dance, you probably wiggle your hips. If you wiggle them too much, your mother might wiggle a finger at you and say "Settle down!"
unassuming
The word unassuming means modest, lacking in arrogance, pleasant, or polite. You'll find that some of the most unassuming people are actually the most interesting and powerful of all. They're just decent enough not to display it all the time.
vitiate
As some sneaky five-year-olds know, crossing one's fingers while making a promise is an effective way to vitiate, or destroy the validity of, an agreement.
uproarious
Uproarious describes a room of happy people laughing, or a noisy crowd at a soccer match. Uproarious situations are very loud, a little out of control, and often hilarious.
unilateral
Unilateral means "one-sided." If parents make a unilateral decision to eliminate summer vacation, it means that the students' opinions or opposing views weren't considered.
windfall
Lucky you! You just won the lottery and your windfall will make life very comfortable for you and your family. A windfall is a crazy bit of unexpected good fortune.
slavish
abjectly submissive; characteristic of a slave or servant
swindler
If you know someone is a swindler, stay away from him. Swindlers are scammers who con people to make a buck.
transpose
If you transpose something, you change the order. You could transpose the phrases in that first sentence by writing, "You change the order if you transpose something."
sinuous
Sinuous means winding or curvy. If you get lost on a sinuous mountain path, you'll need a compass or a GPS to figure out which direction leads back to camp.
strident
Feminists are often characterized by people who don't like them as strident. Strident describes their voices, raised in anger, as loud and harsh. Being a strident feminist isn't very ladylike. But making less money than a man when you do the same work is worse.
tepid
Tepid means lukewarm or half-hearted. If the applause for your mime-on-a-unicycle performance was more tepid than enthusiastic, it might be time to find a new hobby.
turbid
If a liquid is dark and murky and you can't see through it, it's turbid. Usually used as a criticism — a turbid river is generally a polluted one, but then again a good pint of real ale should be turbid. Go figure.
unction
Unction is a specially-prepared substance meant to bless or heal — the use of special oils in a religious ceremony or the medicine you might put on your chest if you are congested.
sophistry
Sophistry is tricking someone by making a seemingly clever argument, such as telling your mom you must have candy before dinner because if you don't you'll die and then the protein and vitamins won't get eaten at all.
syllogism
A syllogism is a type of logical reasoning where the conclusion is gotten from two linked premises. Here's an example: An apple is a fruit. All fruit is good. Therefore apples are good.
shrew
Use the noun shrew — at your own risk — to refer to a woman who is argumentative, nagging, and ill tempered.
throes
Did your team just lose the Super Bowl or the World Series? You're probably in the throes of despair — experiencing intense feelings of suffering and agitation.
subversive
You might want to call someone subversive if they are sneakily trying to undermine something, from the social structure of your high school to an entire system of government.
unkempt
Unkempt literally means "not combed," but use it to describe anything with a sloppy appearance. Your hair probably looks unkempt when you roll out of bed in the morning. Keep it that way if you're going for the rock star look.
voracious
Voracious is an adjective used to describe a wolflike appetite. It might be a craving for food or for something else, such as power, but the word usually denotes an unflattering greediness.
welter
Use the noun welter to describe an enormous, messy pile, like the jumble of papers, coffee mugs, pens, and food wrappers on the desk of the messiest person in the office.
ungainly
Ungainly is the opposite of graceful, convenient or easy. A clumsy dancer boogies in an ungainly or awkward fashion.
sunder
Think of the word sunder as violently tearing something apart. A frequent line in a wedding ceremony is, "What God has joined together, let no man tear asunder." Keep that in mind, and you'll have the meaning of the word.
titter
A titter is an awkward laugh at something that you shouldn't be laughing at, like during dinner when Uncle Marvin makes a joke about your mother's new hairstyle. If you try to hide your laugh, it's probably a titter.
untenable
If something is untenable, you can't defend it or justify it. If your disagreement with your teacher puts you in an untenable position, you better just admit you made a mistake and get on with it.
wheedle
To wheedle is to sweet talk, or flatter someone in the hopes of getting something in return. You might try to wheedle a meter maid into not giving you a parking ticket. Good luck with that.
subpoena
A subpoena is a document that requires its recipient to appear in court as a witness. If you receive a subpoena, it doesn't mean you've done anything wrong; it just means you may have information that's needed by the court.
vociferous
Vociferous describes loudmouths, such as the vociferous mob at the soccer game.
subterfuge
If you want to surprise your mom with a sweatshirt, but don't know her size, it might take an act of subterfuge, like going through her closet, to find it out. Subterfuge is the use of tricky actions to hide, or get something.
virtuoso
A virtuoso is an incredibly talented musician. You can also be a virtuoso in non-musical fields.
temerity
Use the noun temerity to mean the quality of being unafraid of danger or punishment. If you have the temerity to jump off the bridge even after hearing about the risk of instant death, you truly are a nutcase.
sporadic
Sporadic is an adjective that you can use to refer to something that happens or appears often, but not constantly or regularly. The mailman comes every day but the plumber visits are sporadic--he comes as needed.
stanch
Use the verb stanch to describe stopping a liquid from spreading, like a bandage that stanches bleeding or thick towels that stanch the flow of water across the kitchen floor when you drop a full glass of water.
substantiate
To substantiate is to give support to a claim. We'd really like to believe in the Tooth Fairy; however, more evidence is needed to substantiate her existence (besides that quarter in your pocket).
waif
No matter how cold-hearted you are, it's tough not to feel sympathy for a waif — a neglected or orphaned child.
slovenly
Slovenly is what your great aunt Mehitabel might call you if you came to high tea without a necktie. It means "messy or unkempt," but is a word you probably won't hear messy or unkempt people using.
whittle
To whittle is to pare or carve away. Wood carvers whittle pieces of wood, removing bit by bit until what's left is a sailor with a yellow raincoat or a lone wolf howling at the moon.
winsome
If you are described as winsome, take it as a compliment. It means you are attractive or charming in an open and delightful way. It doesn't mean you win some and you lose some.
unwieldy
If you see an unwieldy person coming down the aisle of the bus with an unwieldy box, you may want to step aside because that's a double dose of clumsy. It's an awkward person carrying a box that is difficult to manage.
trepidation
When plain old "fear" isn't enough to get across a deep feeling of dread about something on the horizon, use the more formal word trepidation.
ubiquitous
It's everywhere! It's everywhere! When something seems like it's present in all places at the same time, reach for the adjective ubiquitous.
whet
To whet is to sharpen. You could whet a knife's blade with a whetting stone, or you could whet your appetite by having some Doritos.
viable
When something is viable, the adjective refers to something workable with the ability to grow and function properly.
usury
Usury means lending money at exorbitant interest rates. Credit-card companies charging annual interest rates of 29% are guilty of usury, as far as I'm concerned.
stench
When you pass a dump, you might hold your nose and say, "Oh, I can't handle the stench." A stench is a bad smell.
supercilious
Supercilious people think very highly of themselves, more highly than of others. Think of them as a "super silly ass," and you'll remember the basic sense of supercilious.
timorous
A timorous person is timid or shy, like your timorous friend who likes to hang out with close pals but gets nervous around big groups of new people.
viand
A viand is something really delicious. The grilled cheese sandwich at the diner near your house that's better than any other grilled cheese sandwich in a 400 mile radius? That's a viand.
vagary
A vagary is an unexpected and unpredictable change, and the word is usually used in the plural. You might know from experience that the vagaries of winter weather make planning a vacation in February a risky proposition.
testy
You might feel a bit testy before taking a test, but test and testy are unrelated. Feeling testy is like being peeved, annoyed, or irritated.
vortex
Think vortex and picture a tornado or whirlpool — swirling around, causing destruction.
substantive
When you talk about substantive change, you mean change that really makes a difference. After a substantive discussion, you will have an in depth understanding of what you are talking about.
specious
Use specious to describe an argument that seems to be good, correct, or logical, but is not so. We live on the earth, therefore the earth must be the center of the universe has been proven to be a specious theory of the solar system.
verity
If your friend tells you she saw a UFO yesterday afternoon, you might be inclined to question the verity, or truthfulness, of her statement. Everyone knows UFOs are only visible at night.
subservient
Subservient means "compliant," "obedient," "submissive," or having the qualities of a servant. Something that's subservient has been made useful, or put into the service of, something else.
surreptitious
When someone behaves in a surreptitious way, they're being secretive. They're doing something that they don't want to be seen doing.
unanimity
When there is unanimity, everyone agrees. When it comes to opinion, unanimity is the opposite of disagreement.
variegated
Something variegated has many different colors, as in the trees of autumn or the feathers of a peacock. Whenever you see "vari" at the beginning of a word, you know that the idea of difference or change is involved.
tactful
The adjective tactful describes being sensitive to other people's feeling so you don't anger or embarrass them. For example, if you know your friend's team just lost the championship, what's the tactful thing to do? Not ask, "How was the game?"
vacillate
Vacillate means to waver back and forth, unable to decide. You might vacillate between ordering waffles and pancakes at your favorite diner — it's hard to pick just one when both are so tasty!
tortuous
Tortuous means twisting or complicated. "James Bond drove his custom BMW 120 mph on the road that was tortuous in its twists and turns. He had to stop the evil madman's plan for world domination that was so tortuous even 007 could not understand it."
unequivocal
If there is no doubt about it, it's unequivocal. An unequivocal response to a marriage proposal? "Yes. Yes! A thousand times yes!"
unobtrusive
Use the adjective unobtrusive to describe something that doesn't attract much attention, like an unobtrusive waiter who doesn't interrupt diners to rattle off the nightly specials, or an unobtrusive stain on the floor that your parents haven't noticed.
spectral
When something is spectral, it has a ghostlike quality; it seems to vanish or disappear. You may have heard of ghosts referred to as "specters": that means that they're spectral.
tantalize
When you tantalize people, you torment them in a specific way — by showing them something they want but can't have. You could tantalize people with cavities and nut allergies by eating pecan pie in front of them.
vertebrate
animals having a bony or cartilaginous skeleton with a segmented spinal column and a large brain enclosed in a skull or cranium
vivacious
A vivacious person is lively and spirited: a vivacious dancer might do a back-flip off the wall and then jump into the arms of her partner.
variegate
make something more diverse and varied
urbane
Urbane people are sophisticated, polished, cultured, refined. Spend enough time in an urban setting--going to concerts, museums, spending time in crowds--and you'll be urbane too.
tractable
If your little brother quietly obeys your instructions and waits for you at the food court while you and your friends wander around the mall, he's probably a tractable child, meaning he's obedient, flexible, and responds well to directions.
virile
You'll often hear the word virile referring to a manly, powerful man, because the word means having physical strength and other typical masculine qualities.
trappings
Big house, shiny new car, a custom-made suit, an expensive watch, cool sunglasses... If you have these things, you have the trappings of success, which means you own things that give you the outward appearance of success.
transitory
If something is fleeting or lasts a short time, it is transitory. Your boss declared the company's restructuring to be transitory, and promised that the company would emerge stronger and better than ever.
skulk
Skulking is cowardly. It means hiding out, either because you're trying to pull something off in secret, or you're trying to get out of doing something you're supposed to be doing.
transcendental
Transcendental describes anything that has to do with the spiritual, non-physical world. You could describe the time you spend in the woods hiking as a physical and a transcendental experience.
unearth
To unearth something is to dig it up. You could unearth a coffin, or even a tee shirt buried in the bottom of a drawer.
travail
If you've had to bust your behind, burn the midnight oil, and shed blood, sweat, and tears to get where you are today, you could say you've endured significant travail. In other words, back-breakingly hard mental exertion or physical labor.
spurious
Something false or inauthentic is spurious. Don't trust spurious ideas and stories. Spurious statements often are lies, just as a spurious coin is a counterfeit coin — a fake.
vantage
A vantage is a really good place from which to survey a scene. You might find that the roof of the house offers an excellent vantage from which to drop water balloons on your kid brother's head.
vaunt
To vaunt is to brag and boast and flaunt and go on and on about how great something is. It's over-the-top showing off, and when you taunt and exaggerate your greatness, you vaunt to the point of no longer seeming so great.
stoic
Being stoic is being calm and almost without any emotion. When you're stoic, you don't show what you're feeling and you also accept whatever is happening.
taut
Taut means "tight, not slack." "The tightrope ought to be taut and not dangling down by the lion cage."
vanguard
If you are in the vanguard, you're up front. It could be that you are in the vanguard of an advancing army, or in the vanguard of any movement, trend, or occupation.
titanic
If two rival football teams played a close game that went into overtime, it could be could be said that winning it was a titanic struggle. This means it took a large amount of force and power to do so.
virulent
A virulent disease is one that's infectious, spreading and making lots of people sick, while a virulent rant is just a verbal attack, causing sickness of the emotional kind. Either way, something virulent puts a strain on the people who get it.
taciturn
Someone who is taciturn is reserved, not loud and talkative. The word itself refers to the trait of reticence, of seeming aloof and uncommunicative. A taciturn person might be snobby, naturally quiet, or just shy.
tiller
The tiller is what steers a boat — specifically, the handle attached to the rudder. Tillers are generally found on smaller boats because it would take too much force to steer larger ships with hand tillers.
wreak
To wreak is to cause something to happen, usually with a terrible consequence. You can make mischief, cause problems, or inflict pain, but to wreak damage suggests a deeper level of destruction.
transmute
Transmute is a verb meaning to change in appearance or form. For example, magical creatures can transmute into other beings. When you slay a dragon, don't be surprised if changes into a small, winged insect.
welt
If someone hits you hard with a thin stick, your skin might rise up in a welt. Ouch. A welt is a swollen bruise.
subaltern
A subaltern is someone with a low ranking in a social, political, or other hierarchy. It can also mean someone who has been marginalized or oppressed.
tempestuous
A tempest is a storm, so you can use the adjective tempestuous to describe anything stormy or volatile — from a tempestuous hurricane to a tempestuous romance.
ultimatum
An ultimatum is a final demand attached to a threat, like "If you don't do it, I'll never speak to you again." Ultimatums are serious business.
sully
To sully is to attack someone's good name and to try to ruin his reputation. If you spread false rumors that there's chicken stock in the vegetarian entree at Joe's Diner, you would sully Joe's good reputation.
underscore
To underscore is to draw special attention to a fact, idea, or situation. When you're involved in a debate, it's wise to underscore the points that best support your argument.
slough
When you slough, you get rid of the rough. To slough is to remove an outer layer, like filing dry skin from feet. You can slough away emotions too, like the heebie-jeebies you get thinking about dead skin from people's feet. Ew.
talisman
A talisman is a charm that is supposed to ward off evil or illness. Your rabbit's foot key chain may be your lucky talisman, but it wasn't so lucky for that rabbit, of course.
wean
To wean yourself from something is to gradually eliminate that thing from your life. You may want to wean yourself from watching too much TV, drinking two pots of coffee every morning, or obsessively reading the celebrity columns.
wallow
To wallow is to roll about in something, as a pig wallows in mud or a billionaire wallows in money.
trek
Want to go on a trek through the mountains? Make sure you have good shoes, drinking water, and snacks. A trek is a long and difficult journey.
urchin
That young child, dressed in dirty hand-me-downs and running rampant through city streets, is an urchin. Street urchins, as they are commonly called, have a reputation for getting into trouble.
spasmodic
A sudden fit or involuntary contraction of the muscles is called a spasm; thus spasmodic means to behave in such a way. Spasmodic is also commonly used to refer to a violent emotional outburst — for example, your parents might be spasmodic when they discover you're really majoring in partying, not medicine, at college.
suffuse
Use suffuse to describe things that spread until they fill a space, like the infectious laughter that becomes a roar on a particularly good night at the comedy club. You might say comedy suffuses the area.
squash
any of numerous annual trailing plants of the genus Cucurbita grown for their fleshy edible fruits - to compress with violence, out of natural shape or condition
whiff
A whiff can mean the hint of something you smell. When you drive past the sewage treatment plant and suddenly roll up your car windows, it's usually because you've gotten a whiff of the plant's special odor.
unseemly
Something that is inappropriate or unacceptable behavior is unseemly. It's a gentler, somewhat nicer word for "inappropriate" than its synonyms, the "in" words: "indecent, indecorous, indelicate, inelegant, inept" — well, you get the idea.
succor
Succor is relief or help. If you've just woken up in the midst of a lion's den, wearing nothing but raw meat pajamas — sounds like you could use some succor!
terse
Terse means brief, or using very few words. If your teacher tells you to make your writing in your essay style terse and to the point, he's saying use as few words as you can and be simple and clear.
unruly
Unruly means lacking in restraint or not submitting to authority. Spitballs, shouting kids, a shouting teacher--these are all signs of an unruly classroom. Often, one unruly student is all it takes.
sustenance
Sustenance comes from the word sustain, which means to continue. Sustenance is food or drink that allows you to continue to be alive. For many, prayer is a source of spiritual sustenance.
simile
Use the noun simile when describing a comparison between two fundamentally different things, such as: "His voice was smooth, like butter in a warm pan."
thresh
beat the seeds out of a grain - give a thrashing to; beat hard
verdant
When something is green with plant life it's verdant, a word often used to idealize the countryside with its verdant pastures or verdant hills.
troth
A troth is a serious promise to be faithful, such as a pledge people make about getting married. If you and your girlfriend announce your troth at a family dinner, then that means you better be serious about your relationship.
solicitous
When you hear the word solicitous, think of your mom — attentive, caring and concerned. It's nice when your waiter gives you good service, but if he or she is solicitous, the hovering might annoy you.
stagnant
There is a tone to the word stagnant that sounds like what it is: lacking movement, stale, and inactive, especially with exaggerated pronunciation, "staaaagnant."
soliloquy
Ever see someone talking to himself while on a stage? That's what you call a soliloquy — a character's speech voicing his or her own thoughts as if to himself. Shakespeare's plays are full of soliloquies.
stringent
That teacher's demands are stringent — she wants the homework typed in her favorite font, on special paper, and each essay must be exactly 45 lines!
upbraid
No, upbraid isn't what girls get done at a salon before prom. When you upbraid people, you scold them, tell them off and criticize them. (You could, however, upbraid your stylist after a bad haircut.)
wry
A wry sense of humor is a sarcastic one. You were late for work, stepped into a mud puddle, and you forgot your lunch. If your co-worker asks how your morning is going, you can reply with a wry tone, "Perfectly perfect."
volition
When you do something voluntarily, you do it of your own volition, or will. Doing something willingly, or because you agree to it, is doing something of your own volition.
unearthly
Unearthly describes something supernatural — a person or object that seems to come from another world. Unearthly beings are usually mysterious and can sometimes be scary, like the aliens you might see in a science fiction movie.
synthetic
Something made of artificial material, not natural items, can be described as synthetic. Football stadiums have synthetic grass, just as many aging actresses have synthetic body parts.
squabble
A squabble is a fight but not necessarily a serious one. When we squabble, we have a little argument, probably about something not too important.
synthesis
Synthesis is a mixture, or a result that comes from adding things together. Add salt to water, and the synthesis is salt water. Mix flour, sugar, butter, and eggs together and bake them, and the synthesis is a cake.
unwitting
Use the adjective unwitting to describe someone who doesn't know certain important information, such as unwitting computer users who don't know that an online shopping site is tracking all their activity.
tribulation
Tribulation is suffering or trouble, usually resulting from oppression. The tribulations of a coal miner include a dangerous work environment, lung disease from black dust and a cramped, dark work space.
unison
The noun unison describes something that is synchronized or simultaneous, like when someone asks a question and you and your friend respond with the exact same answer at the same moment. When something is said in unison, two or more voices sound like one.
sloth
If you lounge around in your bathrobe watching TV and ordering out for pizza, you'll get called a sloth. A sloth is actually a slow-moving, tree-dwelling mammal, but it has become a synonym for 'lazybones.'
sparse
Something that's sparse is thin, not dense. If you're looking for the perfect place to build a tree house, a sparse forest is probably not your best bet.
sultry
Stifling, humid and downright oppressive, sultry is an adjective that has everything to do with sweltering heat and a definite need for a tall glass of iced tea.
tome
A tome is a large book. If you're pre-med, chances are you're going to have one heck of a tome for your biology class. Tome is often used to refer to a book that is not only really large but also unusually important.
transpire
Transpire is a fancy way of saying "happen." "What's transpiring?" — however — just doesn't have the same ring as "What's happening?"
voluble
Voluble describes someone who talks a lot, like your aunt who can't stop telling you to cut your hair or a political candidate who makes twenty speeches on the day before the election.
zenith
Zenith means the high point--it comes from astronomy, where it describes the highest point in an arc traveled by a star or a planet or another celestial body. The sun reaches its zenith when it is as high in the sky as it is going to go on that day.
stampede
Do you see hundreds of cattle thundering toward you? Then stop reading and get out of there! A stampede is coming.
tawny
A color adjective, tawny describes something that is a mix of yellow, orange, and brown colors. A lion has a beautiful tawny coat.
voluptuous
Voluptuous describes a woman that's large — but in all the right places. Voluptuous is a curvy compliment.
tenet
A tenet is a principle or belief honored by a person or, more often, a group of people. "Seek pleasure and avoid pain" is a basic tenet of Hedonism. "God exists" is a tenet of most major religions.
victuals
Victuals are anything that can be used as food. Even that plate of mystery meat that the lunch lady just gave you could be considered victuals.
veer
To veer is to make a sudden turn, like when a driver veers off the pavement, or a pleasant conversation veers off in a troubling direction.
sonorous
Used to describe sound or speech that is full, rich, and deep, sonorous is a great word for snoring, for bass voices, and for low notes on the tuba.
stupor
A person in a stupor is considered barely conscious or stunned; or, if you consult Led Zeppelin lyrics: dazed and confused.
thrifty
Being thrifty means being careful of your money and how you spend it. Think twice before you spend, but if you must shop, hitting the sales and using coupons are good ways to be thrifty.
vagrant
A vagrant is someone who is homeless and poor and may wander from place to place. In fiction a vagrant often is a criminal, but a real-life vagrant might just be a person who has lost a job and family and lives off the streets with help from charity.
thrall
When you're in thrall to someone, you are under their control in some way. If you're being held as a hostage, you're in thrall to your captor.
tenacious
Use tenacious to mean "not easily letting go or giving up," like a clingy child who has a tenacious grip on his mother's hand.
unravel
However tempting, don't pull that straggly thread hanging from your sleeve. You'll just unravel or totally undo that hand knitted sweater.
vicissitude
When you talk of the vicissitudes of life, you're referring to the difficult times that we all go through: sickness, job loss, and other unwelcome episodes. No one can escape the vicissitudes of life.
wily
Did you fall for that wily door to door salesman's pitch? He must be very slick and tricky to have convinced you to buy a set of new tires, considering you don't have a car.
sprightly
full of spirit and vitality
subjugate
If you say you won't be kept down by the man, you are saying that you won't let the man subjugate you. To subjugate is to repress someone, or to make them subservient to you.
versatile
To describe a person or thing that can adapt to do many things or serve many functions, consider the adjective versatile.
vigil
A vigil is when you stay alert to guard something, as when you keep vigil over your hen house when the foxes are out, or a vigil can be solemn — as when a candlelight vigil is held for victims of a tragedy.
sheaf
Those old love letters tied up with a ribbon at the back of your closet? Last week's newspapers bundled up for recycling? Each is a sheaf — a tied up bundle of something ready for storage or carrying.
supple
Something or someone that is supple bends and moves easily, like a contortionist at a circus sideshow. If you can wrap your legs around your neck, you most likely have a supple body.
uncouth
When you're at a fancy dinner party, if you burp after you eat, use your fingers to spread butter on your bread, and hang spoons from your nose, people will probably say you are uncouth, meaning vulgar and ill-mannered.
venue
A venue is the place where an event or meeting is happening. If you're going to see the best band ever, you should get to the venue early to get a good seat.
vouch
If you vouch for someone, you provide evidence or guarantee something on their behalf. If you vouch for your brother, you're saying he's a stand-up type of guy.
supplant
Kate was out sick for a month with mono, and when she came back to school, Jessie had supplanted her as the funny girl at the lunch table. Supplant means to take the place of.
unwonted
Unwonted is a pretty old-fashioned word now, meaning something unusual or out of the ordinary. Nowadays, unwonted is a pretty unwonted word itself.
transgression
A transgression is something that is against a command or law. Whether you are cheating on a test, or cheating on a spouse, you are committing transgressions that are not easily forgiven.
spurn
If you reject your mother's offer to buy you a pair of lederhosen with a snort and eye roll, you are spurning her generosity. To spurn means to reject with disdain.
surly
Surly describes behavior nobody wants to be around. Think of the irritable old guy who lives on your street and always seems to be simmering with some sullen nasty anger, whose every utterance he spits out with a rude snarl. He's the poster boy for surly.
tithe
To tithe is to make a contribution equal to one-tenth of your income, usually to a church or religious institution. You probably always tithe, even in years when your finances are very tight.
stratagem
A stratagem is a scheme or a clever plot. You can have a stratagem for winning a chess game, getting the girl (or boy), and avoiding a punishment. However, your opponents, crushes, and parents may have a trick or two of their own.
warble
To warble is to sing in an uneven, quavering voice. You won't win any singing contests if you warble the songs.
uncanny
If something is uncanny, it is so mysterious, strange, or unfamiliar that it seems supernatural. If you hear strange music echoing through your attic, you might refer to it as positively uncanny.
spat
You probably recognize the word spat from the phrase "lover's spat," which describes a minor squabble between a couple. The spat is usually over something as silly as which partner has to do the laundry, and the relationship usually recovers quickly, with no long-term harm done.
tacit
Something tacit is implied or understood without question. Holding hands might be a tacit acknowledgment that a boy and girl are dating.
trance
If your eyes are open but you're not fully awake and in control, you may be in trance. Someone might have hypnotized you, or just a glimpse of your latest heartthrob might send you into a trance.
subtlety
Subtlety is the quality of being understated, delicate, or nuanced. You can really appreciate the subtlety your gothic friend's art if you can distinguish among many different shades of black.
topple
To topple something is to knock it down. A house of cards can be toppled — so can a government.
transient
Use the adjective transient to describe something that always changes or moves around, like how a teenage girl can have a temporary crush on one boy one week and another boy the next week.
yore
If you know someone who dreams of a time long ago, when knights roamed the countryside and engaged in daring and romantic quests, you could say that person longs for "days of yore."
vestige
Vestige is an elegant word. It's all about shadows, and gives us a way to talk about traces or reminders of something that has disappeared or is disappearing.
trough
If you live on a farm, you already know that a trough is what animals eat out of. The word actually refers to the shape of the container, and can mean anything that is low and hollowed out--a math curve, a depression in the ground.
stigma
If something has a negative association attached to it, call this a stigma. Bed-wetting can lead to a social stigma for a six year old, while chewing tobacco might have the same effect for a sixty year old.
tart
A tart is small pie filled with fruit or custard, with no top crust, like the cherry tarts you bought at the bakery.
uniformity
Have you ever noticed that even though you and your friend have different history teachers, you are both learning the same thing? That is because of the uniformity, or sameness, of the curriculum. All teachers have to teach the same thing.
vindictive
It is no fun hanging out with vindictive people, who are forever out to get back at people they think have hurt them. If you forget to say hello to them one day in the hall, they will carry a grudge against you into next week.
wrangle
A long, hard, intense argument, especially over an issue with lots of details, is a wrangle. Politicians and lawyers frequently engage in wrangles. Usually it doesn't come to blows.
spectrum
A spectrum is a broad range of similar things or qualities. Like the wide spectrum of political beliefs in this country, ranging anywhere from super conservative to uber-liberal and everything in between.
studious
If you are studious, you study a lot and you probably even enjoy it. Your studious habits might bring you excellent grades and "your" table at the library.
stolid
A stolid person can't be moved to smile or show much sign of life, in much the same way as something solid, like a giant boulder, is immovable. Both are expressionless.
sprout
A sprout is a small growth on a plant — a little new bud. Other things can sprout too: kids are constantly sprouting (growing).
varnish
a coating that provides a hard, lustrous, transparent finish to a surface
wince
A wince is a facial or bodily expression of pain, disgust, or regret. Think of something you've done that was really, really embarrassing or dumb: now feel your face or take a look in the mirror as you wince at the uncomfortable memory.
stalwart
To be stalwart is to be loyal, no matter what, like your friend who remains a devoted fan of an actor she's admired since childhood, even if that was the last time the guy made a decent movie.
tentative
Choose the adjective, tentative to describe something you are unsure or hesitant about. On Monday, you can make tentative plans for the weekend but it's too early to commit to one party or another.
stupefy
Don't be embarrassed if the magician's tricks stupefy you. It means you're amazed. Who doesn't want to be stopped in his tracks sometimes?
tremor
A tremor is a trembling or shaking in a person or the Earth. If you're scared about speaking in public you might have a tremor in your voice — or wish that an earthquake tremor would open up the floor and swallow you first.
subsidiary
If a company belongs to another company, then the owned company is a subsidiary. When a large company bought your small business, you became a subsidiary. It still hurts to call them the parent company, since you publish novels and they make toilet paper.
vogue
If something is the latest vogue, it is the latest fashion. When your new hairstyle catches on, it's in vogue — or if it becomes unpopular, it's not.
vouchsafe
Vouchsafe is a verb meaning to offer something in a condescending way. You might vouchsafe to your brother the secret to your key lime pie recipe.
vagabond
A vagabond is someone who moves around a lot. Picture Boxcar Willie, bandana on a stick thrown over his shoulder, going wherever the breeze takes him.
transcendent
Transcendent describes something so excellent that it's beyond the range of human understanding.
slacken
To slacken is to loosen the tension on or tightness of something. If you slacken the clothesline any more, the clothes will be on the ground next time you hang out the wash.
sumptuous
Sumptuous could be used to describe a room appointed with the finest furniture, a lush orchestra playing a beautiful symphony, or a meal meant for a king. Sumptuous describes something that costs a lot and imparts sensory pleasure.
swerve
The noun swerve means a sudden turn off your path. As a verb, it means to move off your original route, possibly to avoid a collision. You can swerve either toward something or away from it.
whimsical
Whimsical means full of or characterized by whims, which are odd ideas that usually occur to you very suddenly. If you decide at the last minute to fly to Europe, you could say you went there on a whim.
vassal
If this were Medieval Europe, you would probably be a vassal — like most everyone else. Vassals were people who worked the vast plots of land that were held by lords, who though much fewer in number, held all the wealth and power.
staid
Something that is staid is dignified, respectable — possibly even boring, like a staid dinner party that is heavy on the important guests but light on the laughs.
tout
To tout means to praise, boast, or brag about. If you like to tout your skill as a skier, you tell people you can go down expert-level hills.
solace
If something eases your disappointment or grief, consider it a solace. If you're sad, you might find solace in music or in talking to your friends.
wan
Someone who is wan is visibly unwell and lacking in energy. If you've had the flu for over a week, and you finally get out of bed looking pale and tired, your mother might say that you look wan.
sordid
Describe a person's actions as sordid if they are so immoral or unethical that they seem dirty. Think of the worst parts of a bad soap opera!
undulate
Undulate describes a wave-like pattern. If a sound increases and decreases in pitch or volume like waves, you can say the sound is undulating. When searching for the lost boy, the rescuers' cries undulated through the forest.
succumb
Use the verb succumb to say that someone yields to something they've tried to fight off, such as despair, temptation, disease or injury.
subsistence
Subsistence means the minimal resources that are necessary for survival. If you work for subsistence, you'll probably receive food, water, and lodging (internet access not included).
valor
Do you hear trumpets? With the word valor, you should. It was custom-ordered for a knight in resplendent armor sitting atop his noble steed. "Onward to deeds of valor!," you imagine him saying, anticipating his own unfailing courage.
visage
Visage is a literary term for referring to someone's face or facial features. You may notice that some face creams use the word visage to try to sound fancier than they are.
whit
Whit means a small tiny part of--as dregs is to liquid, whit it to everything else. You might feel the last whit of your confidence depart when your teacher hands out the 32-page final exam.
whimsy
Whimsy is what a person who's a dreamer and out of step with the real world might have lots of. People who are full of whimsy are odd, but often fanciful and lovely, like Harry Potter's friend Luna Lovegood.
supplicate
If you don't get the grade you were hoping for on your paper, you could try to rewrite it, or you could meet with your teacher and supplicate. Your humble requests for an 'A' may or may not work.
stoke
To stoke is to poke a fire and fuel it so that it burns higher. It can also mean "incite"--a principal's impassive silence in the face of requests for more tater tots might stoke the flames of student anger.
totter
If you spin yourself around until you are dizzy, you will likely totter if you try to step forward. Totter is a verb that means "move unsteadily, as though you are about to fall down."
trickle
run or flow slowly, as in drops or in an unsteady stream
tarry
To tarry is to linger and take your time leaving. If you really like going to Sally's Diner for dessert, you might tarry over coffee and end up leaving after they've closed the kitchen.
tenacity
Most people will tell you that tenacity is a great quality to have, especially if you're trying something challenging that takes a while to complete.
sojourn
If you want a fancy way to say that you took a trip to the countryside, you might talk about your country sojourn. Sojourn is a literary word meaning "a temporary stay or visit" or "to live or stay somewhere for a short time."
whim
A whim is an odd or fanciful idea, something kooky you suddenly decide to do, like dress up like a chicken or drive to Vegas.
unprecedented
Something that is unprecedented is not known, experienced, or done before. If you've never gone on a family beach vacation but you're planning one now, you could refer to it as an unprecedented decision.
sundry
A woman emptying out her purse after many years might find an old stick of gum, a pair of broken sunglasses, a few movie tickets, and sundry items, meaning that that her purse was filled with a random collection of unrelated things.
wane
Things that wax and wane grow larger and smaller, like the moon. Things that wane simply grow smaller. "My initial enthusiasm for helping waned when I saw the pile of envelopes that needed licking."
taunt
A short list of people not to taunt: your big brother, cops, nightclub bouncers, dragons. Taunts are insulting comments, and, unless you are a really, really fast runner, keep them to yourself.
surmise
If you see the empty ice cream containers, the sprinkles littering the ground, a kicked can of Reddi-wip in the trash, you can surmise what has happened: Sundaes. To surmise is to form an opinion or make a guess about something.
tremulous
Something tremulous is shaky and quivering, usually from fear or lack of strength. If you're nervous at your first big job interview, your hands might be a little tremulous.
suitor
a man who courts a woman
stipulate
To stipulate something means to demand that it be part of an agreement. So when you make a contract or deal, you can stipulate that a certain condition must be met.
writhe
To writhe is to squirm and twist. Often you'll see the phrase "to writhe in agony." Writhe when you've just ingested some stomach-wrenching poison, or perhaps in response to red ant stings.
taper
To taper is to gradually grow smaller or more narrow or less intense. Taper is often used with the word "off." Part of the power of the Vietnam Memorial is in how the two walls appear to "taper off" into infinity.
sterile
A sterile person can't have kids, and a sterile environment is bland and boring. In both cases, sterile means lifeless.
volley
rapid simultaneous discharge of firearms
taint
Taint means to contaminate. If your water supply is tainted with arsenic, you should stop drinking it right away.
straggle
wander from a direct or straight course
solemnity
Put on a straight face when you think of the word solemnity; it is used for occasions that are all about seriousness and dignity.
thwart
A villain's worst nightmare is the superhero who always seems to thwart his efforts, preventing him from carrying out his plans to take over the world.
stanza
Stanzas are the building blocks of formal poetry, like paragraphs in a story or verses in a song. They usually have the same number of lines each time, and often use a rhyming pattern that repeats with each new stanza.
suppliant
Suppliant means someone who is asking humbly. You enter church as a suppliant, asking God to spare you from illness. You ask in a suppliant (humble) manner, because you know God is stern and demands total faith.
temperate
Temperate means mild, moderate. If you're a temperate person, you are calm, reasonable. If you live in a temperate climate it's warm and sunny, but not too hot.
sinister
People who are left-handed might feel unlucky having to use a desk designed for right-handers, but there probably wasn't any sinister, or evil, intent behind the design. Or was there?
vindicate
Vindicate means to justify, prove, or reinforce an idea — or to absolve from guilt. If your family thinks you hogged the last piece of pie on Thanksgiving, you'll be vindicated when your younger brother fesses up.
vie
To vie for something means to compete for it. Two teams may vie for the gold medal, but one will have to go home with silver.
skirmish
A skirmish is a small fight — more a dust-up than a full-out battle — and it can refer to a physical fight or just a battle of words. It is definitely confrontational, though.
superfluous
When something is so unnecessary that it could easily be done away with, like a fifth wheel on a car or a fifth person on a double date, call it superfluous.
supposition
A supposition is a guess or a hypothesis. Your supposition that your kids will automatically wash their hands before dinner is probably false. You'd best remind them to do it or risk dirty hands at dinner.
shun
If you purposely stay away from someone, you shun that person. A sensitive baker may ask why you are shunning her cookies.
susceptible
If you are susceptible to something such as infections or earaches, it means you are likely to become sick with these things.
wanton
Wanton describes something excessive, uncontrolled and sometimes even cruel. The principal sees a food fight as a wanton act of vandalism done with wanton disregard for the rules, but the kids might just see it as fun.
smother
To smother is to overwhelm or suffocate. If you've ever had a boyfriend or girlfriend who calls you twenty five times an hour to check up on you, then you know what it means to be smothered by someone.
writ
If you are ever served with a writ, then you better do what it says. A writ is a written document issuing a legal order.
usurp
If you take over your neighbor's backyard and claim his in-ground swimming pool as your own, you might seize control of, or usurp his yard, but he'll probably call the cops on you.
steadfast
Someone who is firm and determined in a belief or a position can be called steadfast in that view, like your mom when she thinks you really shouldn't wear that outfit.
surmount
If you surmount a challenge or difficult situation, you're not just getting over it. You're outdoing yourself, exceeding expectations, and overcoming the task at hand.
stealth
Stealth means to do something so quietly and carefully that no one notices, like the stealth of a kitten sneaking up on a mouse.
transcribe
If someone asks you to transcribe something, they want you to listen to it and write down what was said, word for word. Speeches, interviews, and trials are often transcribed for records.
vicar
A vicar is a member of the clergy who is not high-ranking but is still considered a holy representative of the church.
strew
When you strew something, you scatter it all over the place. At a wedding, for example, the flower child's job is to strew the path with petals.
tact
To talk carefully without hurting anyone's feelings, that's tact. Politicians have tact, which makes them good at speaking about sensitive matters without making fools of themselves. At least, sometimes they have tact.
yoke
Yoke also can mean the stick that connects two work animals together, or the act of connecting two things together as with a yoke. A classic tool of farmers for centuries, the yoke has also become a symbol of oppression — no one wants to live under the yoke of a tyrant's rule. Do not confuse yoke with yolk, the yellow part of an egg.
wary
Describe yourself as wary if you don't quite trust someone or something and want to proceed with caution. Be wary of risky things like wild mushrooms and Internet deals!
sly
When you're sly, you're crafty, cunning, tricky, and wily. Being sly is being deceitful, though not in the worst way.
trivia
Can you name the twenty-third vice-president? Do you know all the state birds? If so, you must be good at trivia: facts that are interesting but not necessarily important.
tribunal
A tribunal is like a court. If you've done something wrong and you get caught it's likely you'll be brought before a tribunal, although not all tribunals are there to determine guilt.
verge
Think of an edge, a border, a boundary, and you are thinking about the verge, the point where something begins or ends.
tedium
You can call the state of being really bored while doing something repetitive, tedium. You may loathe the tedium of eating dinner with the family — after all, what is more boring than talking to mom and dad, especially if you could be texting friends?
stifle
To stifle is to cut off, hold back, or smother. You may stifle your cough if you don't want to interrupt a lecture or you may stifle the competition if you fear losing.
wistful
Only one letter separates the two words, but "wishful" is having hope for something, and wistful is having sadness or melancholy about something. "Wist" isn't even a word that's used anymore, but you can still be wistful.
thrive
If something is thriving, it's doing well — so well you could call it "booming." A thriving retail business sees its products flying off the shelves.
stump
Stump can mean many things as a verb. The most common use is when someone — like a teacher — asks a question that no one can answer. That's a case of the teacher stumping the class. Also, politicians traveling through a district, making speeches are stumping, giving what are called stump speeches. Once in a while, to stump means the same thing as two similar words, stomp and stamp. If you're stumping, stomping, and stamping around, you're making a lot of noise with your feet.
trifling
If something is trifling it's really unimportant, of no consequence — "a trifling detail."

Everything is relative, of course, and what might appear trifling to one person may take on deep importance for another. Clues are classically trifling things. As Sherlock Holmes explains to Dr. Watson when faced with a seemingly minor detail: "It is, of course, a trifle, but there is nothing so important as trifles."
treatise
Our principal published her fifty-page "Treatise on Gum Chewing" days before she was carted away by men in white coats. Treatises are formal papers that treat a specific subject. Gum chewing shouldn't merit one.
Treatise is related to the verb treat, which means "deal with." A doctor treats a patient. A teacher treats the senator's child with kid gloves. Treatise means a written paper or exposition that deals with or treats a specific subject.
sovereignty
Sovereignty can describe the power of one state or thing over another or the freedom a state or thing has to control itself.
Look closely at the word sovereignty, and you will see it is all about who reigns, or rules. Although sovereignty is usually used in a political sense — particularly the power of nations, it can be used to describe personal control as well: If your mother insists upon your wearing wool hats in summertime, you might declare complete sovereignty over your wardrobe. The word is also occasionally used for the power of royalty, like a queen.
waver
To waver is to move back and forth, like when you waver, one minute thinking you'll stay home, planning to go meet your friends the next, until you finally make your decision.
wring
To wring something is to twist or squeeze it, usually out of its original shape. If you annoy someone enough, they might threaten to wring your neck.
venerable
To be venerable is to be admired and respected because of your status or age. You become venerable by achieving great things or just by living long enough.
throb
pulsate or pound with abnormal force - expand and contract rhythmically; beat rhythmically - tremble convulsively, as from fear or excitement
vile
Surely only an evil person could be so vile as to have made you so angry. Vile is something or someone so morally wrong or offensive as to be thoroughly disgusting.
vehement
You can use the adjective vehement to describe an extremely strong, powerful, or intense emotion or force. The teenager argued for a much later curfew in a vehement speech to her parents; her parents responded with an equally vehement "No way!"
worldly
You can use the adjective worldly to describe people who have knowledge of many topics or experience in many areas. You don't have to travel the globe to be worldly; reading and talking about many things with knowledge and enthusiasm is worldly too.
torrent
A torrent is a heavy rain, or the flooding or wildly-running streams it causes, like the torrent that soaks everyone unlucky enough to be out on the street at that moment.
sullen
A bad-tempered or gloomy person is sullen. Sullen people are down in the dumps.
If someone is dark, dour, glum, moody, morose, or sour, they're also sullen. Teenagers are often described as sullen, especially when they're being grumpy and silent. You often hear about "a sullen silence," which is when someone is quiet, but obviously in a lousy mood. If a sullen person is talking, they're probably not saying much, and they might not be doing much beyond grunting. A sullen person isn't much fun to be around.
statute
A statute is a formal law or rule. Whether it's enacted by a government, company, or other organization, a statute is typically written down.
temperament
While a mood can change, your temperament is your overall tone most of the time. Just like dogs, people have temperaments: some are aggressive; some are playful; and some are just happy to carry your slippers.
Just as a temperature gives a reading of how hot or cold something is, your temperament gives a reading of your disposition, or general outlook. Some folks with optimistic temperaments see that glass as half full; other more pessimistic folks see it as half empty. And there are still others who prefer to drink straight from the bottle.
traverse
The verb traverse means to travel across an extended area. "Her dream was to traverse the country by car, so she could meet new people and see all the kitschy sites — like the giant roadside tire in Michigan or the shoe house in Pennsylvania."
tumult
If a principal steps into a classroom and is greeted by a tumult of voices, with the teacher shouting for her kids' attention, he will not be pleased. A tumult is a state of noisy confusion.
tract
A tract is a connected group of parts in a body that work together to do one job. So your bladder and your kidneys are parts of your urinary tract.
wont
A wont is a custom or habit, like my wont to drink at least ten cups of coffee a day. (In this particular example, some people might call my wont an addiction.)
Wont is a tricky word, in terms of pronunciation; some people argue it sounds like want, while others insist it's pronounced like won't. Perhaps the confusion over pronunciation explains why this word is used relatively infrequently in everyday speech. It's most people's wont to use a synonym like custom or habit.
wither
Wither means to shrivel up or shrink. If you forget to water your plants for six weeks, they'll wither — they'll dry up and you probably won't be able to bring them back to life.
subordinate
Subordinate means putting one thing below another--a subordinate is someone who works for someone else, and to subordinate means to place or rank one thing below another. "We subordinate our desire for popcorn to our desire to keep watching the movie."
solicit
Solicit means to ask for. It is what those people on the street are doing, when they ask, "Do you have a moment to talk about the destruction of the planet?" They are soliciting donations for their cause.
surge
A surge is a sudden strong swelling, like a tsunami wave that engulfs the land. Although a surge offers a fluid image, anything can experience a sudden surge, including emotions, political support, or an angry mob.
shrewd
If you are shrewd in your spending, you can make a small salary go a long way. Use the adjective shrewd to describe a person or thing that is smart or clever in a practical sort of way.
tramp
Tramp means to walk or stomp heavily. Your midnight tramp to the kitchen for milk and cookies doesn't thrill your downstairs neighbors.

Tramp comes from the German trampen, for "stamp." If you walk heavily, people will say you tramp, but if you're going on a tramp, that means you're going for a long walk or hike. If someone calls you a tramp, they either mean you're a slut or a hobo — each meaning comes vagrant, or wanderer, and the low-life behaviors associated with vagrants.
tribute
A tribute is a sign of respect or admiration, an award to honor a person's accomplishments. A famous director receives a lifetime achievement award as a tribute to his many successful films.
sublime
In common use, sublime is an adjective meaning "awe-inspiringly grand, excellent, or impressive," like the best chocolate fudge sundae you've ever had.
venerate
To venerate is to worship, adore, be in awe of. You probably don't venerate your teacher or boss; however, you may act like you do!
throng
A throng is a crowd of people or animals. On the crowded platform, the throng of passengers attempted to push their way into the already overcrowded subway car.
When used as a noun, throng means a tightly packed crowd of people or animals. As a verb, it means to push together or squeeze into an area. The science fiction movie fans thronged into the auditorium when they heard their favorite actor had entered the building. The word comes to us from the Middle English term meaning "push" or "force one's way," which is exactly what you'd have to do if you got stuck inside a throng of people.
wax
The verb wax is most often found in the company of its opposite, "wane." To wax is to grow larger or increase, whereas wane means to grow smaller or decrease.

As the moon grows towards fullness, it waxes. It wanes, or diminishes in size, as the new moon approaches. This is the most common context for the verb wax, but it is also used to describe other phenomena that grow or increase, particularly those that are cyclical. Figuratively, if you wax eloquent, lyrical or poetic about something, you talk about it at great length and with growing enthusiasm. The noun wax refers to chemical compounds that can be shaped and molded, for example into candles, when warm.
virtual
The adjective virtual is used to describe something that exists in essence but not in actuality. You may have made a virtual friend on an online gaming site, but don't expect that person to meet you for coffee.
upright
in a vertical position; not sloping
subdue
To subdue is to hold back, put down, or defeat. A Doberman can be subdued with a bone, but subduing a yapping toy poodle can be a mail carrier's greatest daily challenge.
vulgar
Vulgar is a great word that combines a bunch of different meanings into one, chief among them: crude, crass, common, uncouth, sometimes raunchy. It depends on who's saying it and why.
From the Latin vulgus, meaning "the common people," vulgar is an adjective that can describe anything from the sexually explicit to the merely ugly and crass. Many people believe that there's an important difference between things that are sexually frank and things that are vulgar. "Erotica" can be very beautiful and even highbrow, while "pornography" is crude and vulgar. My friend Arnie loves the lights and glamour of Times Square, while Cintra finds all the bright-colored, corporate logos to be vulgar.
shudder
A shudder is an involuntary vibration, usually in your body, or the shaking itself. A cold breeze or an unpleasant memory might make you shudder.
A shudder isn't always a bad thing. It can mean a pleasurable sensation or tingle that goes through your body, like a shudder of excitement you feel when you see your favorite star on the street. As a verb, shudder means to shake and shiver. Being really cold or seeing something that scares you — a ghost! — can make you shudder. The phrase "shudder to think" means just the thought of something upsets you enough to shudder.
substantial
Something substantial is large in size, number, or amount: If you want to say someone spent a lot of money without being too specific, you could say they spent a substantial amount of money.
sway
Back and forth...back and forth...back and forth...are you sea-sick yet? The sway, or rocking motion, of a boat is too much for many stomachs.
suppress
To suppress something means to curb, inhibit, or even stop it. If the sound of your boss moving in his chair sounds like gas, you're going to have to learn how to suppress your giggles.
vivid
Vivid is an adjective that describes a bold and bright color, an intense feeling, or an image in your mind that is so clear you can almost touch it.

Sometimes you have a vivid dream that feels so real that even when you wake up, you can't tell if the dream is really over. In that dream, perhaps there were flowers with deep, rich, and vivid colors that looked like they were painted. Vivid comes from the Latin vivere, which means "to live," and vivid memories do seem to live on.
woe
"O, woe is me!" This line is from Shakespeare. When Hamlet scorns Ophelia, she utters these words to express the grief and despair that will soon drive her to suicide.

Another famously dejected figure, Job, echoes this unhappy cry in the Old Testament when he contemplates his sad fate, "If I be wicked, woe unto me." Today, woe generally means problem or worry. You may experience financial woes, if you spend too much on your credit card. And study hard for your classes or in addition to your academic woes, you may get grounded by your parents. Sometimes woe is used in a slightly ironic way. If your friends tell you to forget about your woes and go out with them, they think your problems are not too serious.
wrath
Wrath is great anger that expresses itself in a desire to punish someone: Noah saw the flood as a sign of the wrath of God.
terminus
Consider terminus the end of the line. Whether it describes a train station, a goal, or an era — terminus refers to something's final point.
ultimate
The last in a series can be described as the ultimate. A cheeky kid, when asked what she wants to be when she grows up, might say, "I want to be an actress, a singer, and a veterinarian, but my ultimate goal is to be President of the United States."
trifle
A trifle is something that's totally unimportant. If your friend is freaking out over which shoes to buy and you call her dilemma a trifle, you're saying she shouldn't get so worked up over nothing.
subsequent
For something that comes after something else in time or order, choose the adjective subsequent. If the entire class fails an exam, the teacher will hopefully make subsequent ones a little easier.
wake
In the wake, or aftermath, of a death, it's traditional in many cultures to hold a wake, a vigil for the dead. There's a third meaning of wake, too, you know: it's the waves that a boat leaves behind as it slices through the water. And that's not all...
ward
A ward is a group of rooms or a section in a hospital or prison; in a hospital, different wards deal with different needs, like the psychiatric ward or maternity ward.
weary
Weary as an adjective means "very tired or worn out," like weary students who finished a long week of studying and taking tests.
vain
If you spend all day admiring yourself in reflective surfaces — mirrors, pools of water, the backs of spoons — people may think you are conceited or vain.
coterie
Have you noticed how so many of the best TV shows concentrate on a group of friends who seem to mesh together perfectly, to the exclusion of all others? This, then, is a coterie, an exclusive group with common interests.
countenance
The noun countenance means the face or its expression. If you're a great poker player, you probably have a calm countenance.

Countenance comes from a French word for "behavior," but it has become a fancy term for either the expression of a face or the face itself: "He had a puzzled countenance," or "what a charming countenance!"Countenance can also be a verb meaning to tolerate or approve. If someone does something offensive, tell them, "I'm afraid I can't countenance that."
countermand
When an officer in the military shouts, "Belay that order, Private!" that is a countermand. A countermand is an order that cancels or reverses an earlier command. Countermand is also used as a verb meaning "to cancel or revoke."
counterpart
If you leap tall buildings in a single bound for the Des Moines branch of your corporation, then your Metropolis counterpart might be Superman. That means you and Superman do similar jobs, but in different locations.
covert
Think soldiers in masks secretly infiltrating an enemy stronghold, a covert operation is one that no one but the president and a few generals know is happening.
Covert is the opposite of overt, which means obvious, something in full view. "The teachers weren't impressed by the students' overt attempt to derail the discussion. 'You aren't even pretending to try to like Shakespeare,' she complained."
covetous
To be covetous of something is to want it and to be a little jealous of anyone who has it. The advertising industry's goal is to make you covetous of the things that other people have — that way, you'll buy them.
coy
Take the adjective, coy, for a person who pretends to be shy but really isn't, or someone who could give a definite answer but won't. Coy behavior can be playful or just plain annoying.
cozen
To cozen is to mislead, defraud, or fool someone through lies. Cozen rhymes with dozen, and if you say you had two wrong answers on your math test, but you really had a dozen, you might be trying to cozen your parents.
crabbed
If your friend fell out of bed, spilled hot tea on his socks, and tripped in the snow, you might expect him to be crabbed. Crabbed describes someone who is grumpy, or irritable, or has a generally crotchety attitude.
crass
A crass comment is very stupid and shows that the speaker doesn't care about other people's feelings. In today's day and age, you don't have to wear black to a funeral, but to show up in clown pants is simply crass.
crave
To crave something is to have a great desire for it, as one might crave love, fame, or French fries.
craven
A craven man is no Superman or Spiderman, nor is he a firefighter or a soldier. A craven man is the opposite of those guys: he has not an ounce of courage.
credence
Credence means truthfulness, or believability. A video of a funnel cloud entering Central Park would give credence to rumors of a tornado in Manhattan.
credo
Credo is Latin for, literally, "I believe," and originally meant a particular religious belief. Now it has the far broader meaning of any system of principles that guide a person or group.
credulity
Did you know that if you say credulity ten times fast it starts to sound like orange? If you believe that, then you have a lot of credulity. Credulity means gullibility, or a willingness to believe anything.
creed
Without reading the long document about the group's beliefs — its creed — he knew he didn't fit in, because he just couldn't bow to the 12-foot statue of a rabbit, no matter what it symbolized.
crescendo
In a crescendo, the music is getting louder. There's often a crescendo in a large group of talking people, too.
crest
A crest is a showy tuft of feathers on the head of a bird. It's easy to identify a male cardinal by its bright red color and the tufted crest on its head.
crestfallen
If you are crestfallen, you are dark, depressed, and down in the dumps. You are in need of a pep talk, or at least a hug.
crevice
A crevice is a long, tight space often found on the face of a mountain or other geological formation. A crevice can be large or small, but because it is usually hard reach, it is a great hiding place for all things like reptiles, bugs, and lost climbers.
cringe
When you cringe, your body language shows you don't like what you see and hear. You close your eyes and grimace. You may even jerk your body away from the offensive sight or sound, like the old picture of you in an "awkward stage" that makes you cringe whenever you see it.
criterion
A criterion is a standard for judging something. If you are holding a cupcake competition, your number one criterion might be the smoothness of frosting.
crone
The haggard old woman who lives down the street in a ramshackle house, shaking her fist while chasing children out of her yard? You might call her a crone, if you're brave. (But be careful: the term is insulting.)
crotchety
The adjective crotchety describes someone who's difficult, irritable, and ornery. If you're crotchety, you complain and argue and are more or less miserable to be around.
crux
The essential point or problem is the crux. People are always trying to get to the crux of a matter or the crux of a problem, while others try to distract them.
crypt
A crypt is a vault for burying the dead, which is often underneath or part of a church building. Crypt rhymes with "gripped," and if you saw a corpse come out of a crypt, you would definitely be gripped with terror.
cryptic
"White bunny. Moon. Square." Do you understand what that means? Of course not! It's totally cryptic. Cryptic comments or messages are hard to understand because they seem to have a hidden meaning.
cubicle
A cubicle is a small space partitioned off within a larger space for a particular purpose — usually reading or studying. Or just surfing the Internet.
cull
To cull means to select or gather. If you decide to make a literary anthology, you must cull the best possible stories and then arrange them in a pleasing manner.
culmination
The culmination is the end point or final stage of something you've been working toward or something that's been building up. The culmination of your high school career, for example, should be graduation day — and probably not prom night.
culpable
If a child tells his mother he was not to blame for the cookie jar being broken, she could still find him culpable if he was the only one home. Culpable means to be at fault.
culprit
A culprit is a person who does something wrong, like committing a crime. When your wallet got stolen out of your pocket, there was a culprit to blame in the crowd.
culvert
A culvert is a drain — but not of the kinds that drain your bathtub or empties your bank account. A culvert is any kind of channel or tunnel that directs unwanted water away from roads and other corridors of travel.
cumbersome
You have to wrestle a bit with the longish word cumbersome; it's cumbersome, or kind of long and clumsy, to tumble out in a sentence. It's hard to use it gracefully.
cumulative
Cumulative is the total amount of something when it's all added together. Eating a single chocolate doughnut is fine, but the cumulative effect of eating them all day is that you'll probably feel sick.
cunning
In fairy tales, always watch out for the cunning fox or the cunning witch. Cunning means clever, in the sense of trickery. A cunning plan might involve setting traps for the innocent and pure at heart to fall into.
cupidity
Remember the saying "Greed is good"? It could just as easily be "Cupidity is good," though admittedly it doesn't roll off the tongue quite the same way. Cupidity means a burning desire to have more wealth than you need.
curator
If you are the curator of the school art show, you choose which pieces will be in it and decide how they will be displayed. A curator is someone who manages an art collection or exhibit.
curb
The hard thing about learning how to parallel park is trying to get the car close enough to the curb without hitting it. A curb is the edge of the sidewalk beside the road.
curfew
Curfew is a rule or law that sets a time that certain people have to be off the streets. A town may set a curfew for teenagers, for example, although many parents impose a stricter curfew for their own kids.
curmudgeon
Old, cranky, and more than a little stubborn, a curmudgeon is the crusty grey haired neighbor who refuses to hand out candy at Halloween and shoos away holiday carolers with a "bah humbug!"
cursive
Cursive is a style of writing in which all the letters in a word are connected. It's also known as script or longhand. When the third-grade students learned cursive writing, they were excited to find that they could write entire words without lifting their pencil from the paper.
cursory
No reason to get excited — cursory has nothing to do with bad language. Instead, it means not paying attention to details, like friends who are so busy studying for a test that they only give your new haircut a cursory glance.
curtail
To curtail something is slow it down, put restrictions on it, or stop it entirely. If I give up cake, I am curtailing my cake-eating.
cynical
If you think public officials are nothing but a bunch of greedy buffoons, you have a cynical attitude about politics.
A cynical person has a bleak outlook about others, always imagining that people are ruled by their worst instincts. H.L. Mencken was famous for saying cynical things like, "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public." The original Cynics were ancient Greek philosophers who never had a good word to say about anyone. The Greek word kynikos actually means "canine," maybe because all of that sneering seemed a little dog-like.
cynosure
something that provides guidance (as Polaris guides mariners) something that strongly attracts attention and admiration
debacle
Use debacle to refer to a violent disaster or a great failure. If the flower gardens come toppling down during prom, strangling some students and tripping others, you might call the evening a debacle.
denouement
You know that part of every movie after the big action scene, where things get explained, and the characters tie up loose ends? That's called the denouement, or the showing of how the plot eventually turns out.
dainty
Dainty means tiny, delicate, and lovely, so you could describe a little china tea set as dainty, and you could also call the tiny cakes on the little plates dainty.
dais
A speaker stands on a dais, or a platform, when giving a presentation. If you were speaking at the Coffee Lovers of America's conference, you'd step onto the dais so the audience could see you over their enormous cups o' joe.
dally
Dally means "to waste time." When you dally, you will cause a delay because of your dawdling.
damn
Damn is a common, somewhat naughty exclamation. In one sense it means to condemn or send someone to hell, as in "God damn it!" Other times it means "a little amount," as in "I don't give a damn about baseball."
dank
You can describe something that is unpleasantly cool, damp, and clammy as dank. If you have ever visited a cave or unfinished basement, you know how a dank place feels. Yuck.
dapper
A neatly and stylishly dressed man can be described as dapper. If you like to wear a well-made fedora, you appreciate clothes. Place a brightly colored feather in the brim and you're dapper.
dappled
Dappled is an adjective that means marked with spots or rounded patches. If you can picture Bambi's dappled rear, then you are on the right track.
dart
a sudden quick movement
daub
Whenever you smear something on a surface, you are daubing. Abstract Expressionists may have been able to daub a canvas with paint and sell it for millions, but you probably wouldn't be so lucky.
daunt
The Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz appeared at first to be easily daunted, but, in fact, he showed unusual courage. Still, his efforts to daunt Dorothy, the Scarecrow, and the Tin Man were less than successful.
dauntless
A dauntless person is someone who isn't easily frightened or intimidated. If your dance moves bring to mind a marionette being jerked around by a five-year-old but you jump on the dance floor anyway, you could be considered dauntless.
dawdle
There are lots of words that mean to move slowly. The point of dawdle is that one is moving too slowly, is falling behind, or is not properly focused on making progress.
daze
A daze is a type of confusion, when you have a lack of clarity. When you first wake up, you might be in a bit of a daze, shuffling about the house before your brain really starts working.
dazzle
brightness enough to blind partially and temporarily
deadpan
Use the word deadpan to describe someone who uses no expression when speaking, such as the deadpan way some comedians deliver even their funniest jokes — which can make them even funnier.
dearth
If there is a dearth of something, there is not enough of it. A dearth of affordable housing is bad, but a dearth of bed bugs is a blessing.
debar
prevent the occurrence of; prevent from happening
debase
To debase something is to make it corrupt or impure. If your lemonade stand sells "pure lemonade," you'd insist on using real lemons instead of a mix; using a mix would debase your product.
debauch
Debauch is an old word that speaks to an older time. It means to destroy the morals of someone. If you debauch a young girl, you introduce her to immoral activities. A debauch is also an excessive amount of eating or drinking.
debilitate
To debilitate something is to make it weaker. A bad flu may debilitate your powers of concentration, like the New Year's resolutions that temporarily debilitate bakeries' business.
debunk
When you debunk something you show it to be false. For over a century people have tried to debunk the notion of natural selection, but no one has succeeded. It's a very hard idea to debunk.
debutante
A debutante is usually a wealthy girl whose parents wish to introduce to society in a BIG way — in "a debutante ball" that looks like something out of a scene from "Gone with the Wind."
decadence
Whether in reference to chocolate cake for breakfast or wild all-night parties, decadence means extravagance, luxury, and self-indulgence with a sense of moral decline.
decant
The verb decant means "to pour." Kids moving water back and forth between two cups, your dad pouring a bucket of soapy water in the sink, or a wine expert emptying a bottle of wine into a fancy glass container — all of them are decanting liquids.
decapitate
When the bad-tempered Queen of Hearts cried "off with their heads!" in "Alice in Wonderland," she was ordering her henchmen to decapitate those who had offended her.
deciduous
Hemlock, blue spruce, and white pine are all evergreens. These trees have leaves throughout the year. Oak, maple, and elm are examples of deciduous trees. They lose their foliage in the fall and grow new leaves in the spring.
decimate
If something is drastically reduced or killed, especially in number, you can say it was decimated. "The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico decimated the wildlife along the coast."
decorous
Something that is decorous is dignified, proper, and in good taste, like your decorous great-aunt who always wears a dress — even when she's only headed to the grocery store.
decorum
Decorum is proper and polite behavior. If you let out a big belch at a fancy dinner party, you're not showing much decorum.
decrepit
That building falling down on the corner of your block? It's decrepit. So is the old man who lives there, if he is weak from age. Decrepit means broken down by hard use.
decrepitude
Many old buildings located in "ghost towns" in the Old West area of the United States are in a state of decrepitude. In other words, they are worn out and in disrepair.
defalcate
appropriate (as property entrusted to one's care) fraudulently to one's own use
defeatist
Having a defeatist attitude means that you give up before you've even started, like the runner who is so convinced he's going to lose the race that he doesn't even bother to go to the starting line.
deference
Sure you wear ripped jeans to school every day, but you don't wear them to your grandmother's house out of deference to her. When you show deference to someone, you make a gesture of respect.
defiance
Stand up when the powers that be order you to sit down, and you've given a fine example of defiance. It happens when someone or a group of someones openly flouts or challenges authority.
defile
When you defile something, you make it dirty or make it lose its purity. Think of fresh new snow covered in cigarette butts. The butts defile the winter wonderland.
definitive
A definitive answer is a final one. A definitive decision by a court of law is one that will not be changed. A definitive translation is one everyone turns to as correct. Definitive means authoritative, conclusive, final.
defoliate
Defoliate means to take the leaves or branches off of a tree or bush. When your mom asks you to defoliate the rose bushes, she wants you to trim them back.
defray
If your mother says she will defray the cost of your next move, say thank you. She means she will take on some of the expenses for you.
defrock
Defrock comes from frock, an old word for "dress." Priests, nuns, monks, and other church officials wear a frock to symbolize their job. If they leave the church, they are said to be defrocked: their gown is taken away.
deft
Deft means "showing cleverness and skill in handling things." What you want to see in football or basketball is some deft handling of the ball.
defunct
Defunct describes something that used to exist, but is now gone. A magazine that no longer publishes, like Sassy, the girl-power mag from the '90s, is defunct, for example.
degenerate
If something degenerates, it gets worse, like a food fight that degenerates to an all-out spaghetti-throwing war. Degenerate can also describe an immoral person — or the behavior of such a person.
deify
When you deify someone, you're paying the highest compliment: you're treating them like a god.
deign
Deign means to reluctantly agree to do something you consider beneath you. When threatened with the loss of her fortune, an heiress might deign to get a job, but she might look down her nose at the people she'd have to work with.
deleterious
If something is deleterious, it does harm or makes things worse. Smoking has obvious deleterious effects on your health, not to mention your social life.
deliberate
To deliberate means to carefully think or talk something through — it also means slow and measured, the pace of this kind of careful decision making. If you chose deliberately, you make a very conscious, well-thought-through choice.
delineate
Though you pronounce it duh-LIN-ee-ate, there is a "line" in the middle of delineate. This might help you remember that to delineate is to outline and define something in detail or with an actual marking of lines and boundaries.
delirium
Experiencing delirium? Then you're out of your mind and so excited you're hallucinating. Many things can cause delirium, including illness, high stress, and your team winning the World Series after 100 years of trying.
delude
To delude is to trick or fool, often in relation to yourself. If you delude yourself into thinking your mom's chocolate cake is low in fat, you'll be disappointed to find out it's made with two sticks of butter!
deluge
Feeling overwhelmed, like you're underwater? You might be experiencing a deluge — like when you've been given a deluge of homework over vacation: a dozen term papers, two dozen books to read, and a mile-high stack of math problems.
delve
The verb delve means to dig into, loosen, or investigate. She delved into her family's history and discovered an inventor, a checkers champion, and a circus equestrian in her ancestry.
demagogue
A demagogue is someone who becomes a leader largely because of skills as a speaker or who appeals to emotions and prejudices.
demean
To demean someone is to insult them. To demean is to degrade or put down a person or thing.
demerit
the quality of being inadequate or falling short of perfection
demoniac
Use the adjective demoniac to describe something or someone who seems to be possessed by a demon, like the demoniac rantings of the actors portraying scary creatures at the haunted house.
demotic
A demotic saying or expression is casual, colloquial, and used by the masses. Some forms of the Greek and Egyptian languages are also called demotic, which will be relevant to you when you get your PhD in Classics.
demur
Your mother asks you to pick up your room. You refuse: you demur. Your friend wants to go to the Death Metal Forever concert, but you hesitate: you demur. Whether you strongly object, politely disagree, or hesitate to agree, you demur.
demure
A demure woman or girl can be described as polite and a little shy. A demure outfit is a modest one--think high neckline and low hem.
denigrate
To denigrate is to say bad things — true or false — about a person or thing. Your reputation as a math whiz might be hurt if your jealous classmate manages to denigrate you, even though the accusations are unfounded.
denizen
A denizen is an inhabitant or frequenter of a particular place: a citizen of a country, a resident in a neighborhood, a maven of a museum, a regular at a bar, or, even, a plant that is naturalized in a region.
denotation
Denotation means the literal meaning of a word or name. Although Paris might make you think of romance, its denotation is simply the city of old tribe called the Parisii.
deplore
The verb deplore is used to express strong disapproval of something. If you really, really hate the way your mom makes meatloaf, then it's safe to say you deplore it.
depravity
Depravity goes beyond mere bad behavior — it is a total lack of morals, values, and even regard for other living things, like the depravity of a serial killer.
deprecate
To deprecate is to show disapproval or to make someone feel unimportant by speaking to them disrespectfully, like seniors who deprecate younger students just for fun.
depredation
The horrors of war include depredation — the plundering and ransacking of the defeated and their homes, the terrible, unrestrained preying on the conquered. The word depredation entails all of the pain humans inflict upon each other.
deputize
appoint as a substitute
derelict
If something has been abandoned, you can call it derelict. Even if a person has abandoned his responsibilities, you can say that he is derelict in his duties. But don't call a lost child derelict — unless, of course, he has neglected his chores.
dereliction
willful negligence
deride
The verb deride means to show a low opinion of someone or something. The jerk would deride the other kids on the bus by calling them names or pulling their hair until the driver decided to de-ride him by kicking him off the bus.
derision
If people are laughing at you, making fun of you, and acting as if you're worthless, they're treating you with derision. Derision is mean and attacking — it's a form of contempt.
derivation
Derivation is fancy word for the origin or root of something.
derivative
Alert: shifting parts of speech! As a noun, a derivative is kind of financial agreement or deal. As an adjective, though, derivative describes something that borrows heavily from something else that came before it.
derogatory
Something that's derogatory is insulting or disrespectful. If you make derogatory comments, that means you say things that are unflattering, unkind, or demeaning.
descry
If you spot something, you descry it. When you spy it, you descry it. It's a good verb to use when you catch a glimpse of a rare bird in the trees. Or when you finally spot Waldo in a "Where's Waldo?" book.
desecrate
To desecrate means to treat a sacred place or thing with violent disrespect. The news sometimes reports on vandals who have desecrated tombstones or places of worship.
deserts
an outcome (good or bad) that is well deserved
desiccate
The verb desiccate means to dry out, dry up and dehydrate. It's helpful to desiccate weeds but certainly not crops.
desolate
If you feel alone, left out, and devastated, you feel desolate. A deserted, empty, depressing place can be desolate too.
desperado
A desperado is an outlaw that you'd see in an old Western or in the Wild West. Think hip holsters, spinning guns, and a shoot-out, all with a bandanna pulled up hiding half of the face of the desperado.
despise
If the mere thought of a burrito with sour cream in it turns your stomach, you could say that you despise sour cream. You loathe it, abhor it, hate it, and think it's vile.
despoil
Despoil is to spoil, only worse. You may spoil a dinner party by being late, but we all despoil the earth with pollution and over-consumption.
despondent
If you are despondent, you are discouraged, very sad, and without hope. If you are depressed, you might describe your mood as despondent.
despot
A despot, is a cruel, all-controlling ruler. For example, a despot does not allow people to speak out against the leadership, nor really want them to have much freedom at all.
destitute
When you think of the word destitute, which means poor or lacking other necessities of life, think of someone who is in desperate straits. A very, very tight budget is poor. Living on the streets is destitute.
desultory
If you lack a definite plan or purpose and flit from one thing to another, your actions are desultory. Some people call such desultory wanderings spontaneous. Others call it "being lost."
detain
When you detain someone, you hold them back, slow them down, or stop them from moving on. If you are detained by the police, you may be late for the big football game, even if you were speeding to get there by the kickoff.
determinate
Do you have a determinate personal budget? Welcome to the club. So do most people, unless you happen to be Warren Buffet or Bill Gates. Anything determinate has a fixed limit to it.
deterrent
A deterrent makes you not want to do something. Let's say there's a giant pile of cookies being guarded by an angry dog — the dog is a deterrent.
detonation
A detonation is an explosion, usually done on purpose. Nuclear weapons cause massive detonations, and cities sometimes plan a careful detonation of an abandoned building in order to make room for a new structure.
detrimental
Detrimental is a formal way of saying "harmful." Anything detrimental hurts, hinders, or puts a damper on something. Detrimental things do damage.
deviate
If something turns off course or is diverted, it deviates from the expected or the norm. Deviating from explicit recipe directions is never a good idea, unless you want inedible food or a kitchen fire.
devious
Devious describes someone who tends to lie and to trick other people. Devious credit card companies lure younger and younger people into debt with offers of low interest rates and even just free t-shirts.
devise
To devise is to figure out a plan. Men twirling long mustaches might devise a plan to tie someone to the railroad tracks.
devoid
You're stranded in the ocean, miles from shore, clinging to a sinking boat, and you can't swim? Sorry to say, your situation is devoid of all hope.
devolve
You've probably heard about that organisms evolve over time. Well, life is complicated, and sometimes things devolve instead — to devolve is to get worse instead of better.
devout
To be devout is to be deeply devoted to one's religion or to another belief, cause, or way of life. If you're reading this, you're probably a devout believer in improving your vocabulary.
dexterous
If you're dexterous, you're good with your hands. To be dexterous is an essential trait for knitters and sleight-of-hand magicians.
diabolical
Diabolical means "evil." This is a strong word. Too much math homework might seem unfair, but it probably isn't diabolical.
dialectical
Dialectical describes how someone goes about finding the truth. If you're an investigative journalist, you probably use dialectical reasoning.
diaphanous
If a dress is so see-through that light shines through it revealing the goods beneath, it's diaphanous. Also known as "sheer," "transparent," or just plain "sexy," but diaphanous is so much classier.
diatribe
It's totally overwhelming when you ask someone a seemingly innocuous question, like "Do you like hot dogs?" and they unleash a diatribe about the evils of eating meat. A diatribe is an angry speech that strongly criticizes a person or thing.
dichotomy
A dichotomy is an idea or classification split in two. When you point out a dichotomy, you draw a clear distinction between two things.
dictum
"You are what you eat" is a dictum, and so is a law requiring you to curb your dog. A dictum is a formal pronouncement, a rule, or a statement that expresses a truth universally acknowledged.
didactic
When people are didactic, they're teaching or instructing. This word is often used negatively for when someone is acting too much like a teacher.
diffidence
The noun diffidence refers to a lack of self-confidence. Your diffidence might be the reason why you never say "hi" to the cute guy or gal in the elevator or why you never ask for a raise.
diffuse
Diffuse mean spread out, or the action of spreading out. If lots of people in school believe invisible angels are everywhere, you could say that opinion is diffuse. You might even think angels are diffuse as well.
dilapidated
Falling down and in total disrepair, something that's dilapidated is going to need a lot of fixing up.
dilate
To dilate something is to make it wider. When the light fades, the pupil of your eye will dilate, meaning it looks bigger.
dilatory
Something dilatory creates a delay. If you are a high school student, once in a while you might have used dilatory tactics if you forgot to do your homework.
dilettante
Though dilettante might sound like a nice French word, don't use it on your friend who thinks he can play the guitar after several short lessons. A dilettante is an amateur, often one who pretends to be very knowledgeable.
diligence
If you practice diligence, you are a hard and careful worker. Do you have the diligence to read all the collected works of Henry James? Of course not. Nobody has, but a couple of his early novels won't hurt.
diminution
When you "dim" a light, you reduce the brightness coming from the bulb. Diminution (not actually related to "dim") is the lessening of something to a smaller size or lower status, as a diminution of your "superpowers" when you wake up from a dream.
din
Walk into the average school cafeteria at lunchtime, and you'll get a good sense of what a din is — loud, confused, continuous, generally unpleasant, and often potentially headache-inducing noise.
dint
The word dint is used to indicate that something came about through a particular force or means. So if you make a lot of money, that's probably by dint of hard work.
diorama
If you use a shoebox and tiny toys to recreate the Battle of Normandy, you are creating a diorama, or three dimensional model, of the event.
dire
Dire refers to situations or events that cause great fear and worry. A dire calamity causes much suffering.

If a family is in dire need, they need immediate help. Dire predictions or warnings tell us that a disaster may happen in the future. If you are trapped between the burning building behind you and the high cliffs in front of you, you might describe yourself as being in dire straits.
disabuse
Disabuse means to free someone of a belief that is not true. Many teachers of health find that when they teach, they spend as much energy disabusing kids of false beliefs as they doing giving them the facts.
disaffected
The adjective disaffected describes someone who is dissatisfied or rebellious. Usually if you're disaffected, you're upset with people in authority. You and your fellow disaffected workers might become so upset about the lack of raises that you decided to boycott work.
disapprobation
If you show up for Thanksgiving dinner an hour late and covered in mud from a tag football game, your parents will give you a look of disapprobation. This means they seriously disapprove of your actions, despite the fact that you scored the winning touchdown.
disarray
If something is confused or disorganized, use the noun disarray, like the disarray that follows your little brother everywhere he goes because he spills everything and never puts away his toys.
disavowal
A disavowal is a strong denial of any knowledge about something. You might use it to get across the point that you have no idea how that window got broken.
disburse
If someone wants to disburse funds to you, stick around — it means they're going to give you money!
discernible
Discernible means noticeable. If your extra hours training are having no discernible influence on your basketball game, it means your game has not changed.
discerning
Discerning people pick up on subtle traits and are good judges of quality — they're the ones that can tell if your cupcakes are homemade from the finest ingredients or totally from a box mix.
disclaim
To disclaim is to deny, usually in order to avoid blame. If you push your brother and he trips and falls, you might disclaim responsibility for the action, saying he is just clumsy.
discombobulated
Walking through the door to your house only to find out all your friends have gathered to throw you a surprise party can leave you feeling happy though somewhat discombobulated. If something discombobulates you, it confuses and slightly pains you.
discomfit
To discomfit someone is to make them feel uncomfortable or upset. An easy way to discomfit another person is to use the age-old, childish trick of ignoring them. (Of course, we're sure you would never do that, right? Right?)
discompose
cause to lose one's composure
disconcert
To disconcert is to unsettle someone, make them feel confused and out of sorts. It's a mixture of to embarrass and to creep out.
disconsolate
If you are sad and can't be cheered up, you're disconsolate. Why are you disconsolate after scoring a touchdown? Oh . . . for the other team.
discord
Discord is the strife and tension that arises when two sides disagree on something, like the high pitched screaming of two kids fighting over the front seat of the car.
discordant
If you believe that movies should entertain, but your friend insists that movies should inspire, then the two of you hold discordant views on the purpose of movies. That means your opinions are in conflict.
discourse
If you use the word discourse, you are describing a formal and intense discussion or debate.
discrepancy
A discrepancy is a lack of agreement or balance. If there is a discrepancy between the money you earned and the number on your paycheck, you should complain to your boss.
discrete
Discrete means separate, or divided. A discrete unit is a separate component of something larger. A room is a discrete space within a house, just as the transmission is a discrete part of a car's engine.
discretion
If you have the freedom to decide something on your own, the decision is left to your discretion. You're in charge.
discursive
If people accuse you of rambling from topic to topic in your speech or writing, they may say you have a discursive style — with changes in subject that are hard to follow. But it's okay because unicorns are shiny.
disdain
If you feel that something isn't worthy of your consideration, you may disdain it (or treat it with disdain).
disembark
Use the verb disembark to describe leaving a ship, airplane or other type of vehicle, like making sure you haven't left anything in the plane's overhead compartment before you disembark.
disenfranchise
Enfranchise means to give someone the right to vote. Disenfranchise means to take it away. The U.S. has a shameful history of disenfranchising African-American citizens through bogus laws and outright intimidation.
disengage
To disengage means to "free or disentangle" yourself or some object from another person or object. No, it doesn't mean breaking off your engagement to your beloved — that's "chickening out."
disgorge
There's really no way to put this delicately. Disgorge is just a fancy word for "puke." You know... "Barf." "Spew." "Upchuck." Usually applied to birds or animals rather than people.
disgruntle
put into a bad mood or into bad humour
disheveled
The meaning of disheveled hasn't changed much from the 16th and 17th centuries, when it referred to disordered clothing or hair. If he were coming in from the snow, you could blame static and hat-hair for his disheveled look, but no, he just never uses a comb.
disingenuous
Use the adjective disingenuous to describe behavior that's not totally honest or sincere. It's disingenuous when people pretend to know less about something than they really do.
disinter
To "inter" a body is to bury it or place it in a mausoleum, so to disinter someone is to take the body out again — usually to find out how they died, to make sure it's really who we think it is, or to move the body to a new burial site.
disjunction
A disjunction is a broken connection. If you expect to be a doctor but you haven't taken any science courses since high school biology, you would have a disjunction between your expectations and your training.
dislodge
To dislodge is to remove something. When you're choking, you need to dislodge the food from your throat.
disparate
The trunk of some people's cars may contain items as disparate as old clothes, rotting food, and possibly a missing relative. Disparate things are very different from each other.
disparity
If there is a disparity between how great you think you are at tennis, and how you actually play, you are probably surprised by how often you lose. Disparity is the condition of being unequal, and a disparity is a noticeable difference.
dispassionate
Dispassionate describes someone who is not getting carried away by—or maybe not even having—feelings. It's something you'd want to see in a surgeon, who keeps cool under pressure, but not in a romantic partner.
dispel
To dispel is to get rid of something that's bothering or threatening you, regardless of whether that's warts, worries, or wild dogs.
dispense
To dispense means to give out or distribute something. A school nurse can dispense students' medication and we all can dispense advice.
disperse
To make a crowd at a party disperse, you could take away the food, turn off the music and ask for volunteers to clean up. Disperse is to spread out people or things, making them move in different directions.
dispirited
Dispirited means being down in the dumps or depressed. Losing his girlfriend and job on the same day could make someone dispirited — feeling gloomy and absolutely miserable.
disport
Visitors to an elementary school during recess may be surprised by the way the kids disport themselves. Disport means to play in a carefree way or to amuse yourself in a lighthearted fashion.
disproportion
If you don't think you got a fair share of cake at a birthday party, there might have been a disproportion in the way the cake was served. A disproportion is a lack of balance or equality.
disputatious
If you're always looking for a fight, consider yourself disputatious. However, disputatious is more appropriate for the head of the debate team rather than the playground bully.
disquietude
Sometimes, maybe for no reason at all, you might become agitated with a feeling of restless agitation. This feeling is a sense of disquietude, an edgy feeling that something in your universe is out of order.
disquisition
Disquisition is a long and elaborate word to describe a long and elaborate analysis of a given topic. If you launch into a disquisition about toe jam at a party, you'll soon be talking to a wall.
dissection
Dissection is the process of separating something into pieces. Whether the dissection involves taking a poem apart line-by-line to learn its meaning or cutting open a frog to study its insides, in both cases you're pulling out the parts that make up a whole to better understand it.
dissemble
To dissemble is to hide under a false appearance, to deceive. "When confronted about their human rights record, the Chinese government typically dissembles."
disseminate
Disseminate means to spread information, knowledge, opinions widely. Semin- derives from the Latin word for seed; the idea with disseminate is that information travels like seeds sown by a farmer.
dissension
You can use the noun dissension for situations where people just can't agree or get along. There is often dissension between labor unions and governments vying for funds, or even between siblings — vying for attention.
dissent
To dissent is to publicly disagree with an official opinion or decision. Dissent is also a noun referring to public disagreement.
dissertation
A dissertation is a long piece of writing that uses research to bring to light an original idea. Don't go to grad school unless you're prepared to write, say, a 300-page dissertation on some topic.
dissident
If you are a dissident, you are a person who is rebelling against a government. Dissidents can do their work peacefully or with violence.
dissimulate
Your wife gave you socks for Christmas and you smiled happily and kissed her? You, my friend, know how to dissimulate — that is, cover up your true feelings. Unless you happen to really, really like socks.
dissipate
Dissipate means "disperse" or "fade away" — as a bad smell will dissipate (usually) if you wait long enough.
dissolution
The dissolution of a relationship means that it's broken up or ended. The dissolution of your band means you better get started on your solo album.
dissonance
Disagreeable sounds can be called dissonance. You know it's dissonance if you have the strong desire to cover your ears with your hands.
dissuade
When you dissuade someone, you convince that person not to do something: "When Caroline saw Peter's broken leg, she tried to dissuade him going on the ski trip."
distend
A soda and pizza binge might make your stomach distend, meaning your stomach will swell as a result of pressure from the inside.
distraught
If you are upset, you are distraught. If you want to explain why you are pulling your hair out, just utter "Leave me alone; I'm distraught" It'll work.
diurnal
If it's 9:00 at night and your mom wants you to do the dishes, you could try to put it off until the next day by politely pointing out that you are a diurnal animal. That means you get most of your activities done during the day.
docile
If someone is docile, he is easily taught or handled. If you suddenly became a trouble-maker in class, your teachers would long for the days when you were sweet and docile.
docket
If someone asks you what's on your docket for the day, she really just wants to know what you're doing today. Likewise, if someone complains that he has a full docket, he's saying that he is very busy.
doddering
Doddering means "physically or mentally impaired due to old age," like a doddering person who can no longer live alone without assistance from family members or a visiting nurse.
doff
Use the verb doff to describe removing something. You probably always doff your cap before the playing of "The Star-Spangled Banner."
dogged
In the old Looney Tunes cartoons, Wile E. Coyote's pursuit of the Road Runner is dogged. He simply will not give up. The Road Runner is dogged by the Coyote, who will not stop chasing him.
doggerel
We're not sure why poor dogs always seem to get used to describe something really dreadful, but it's the case with doggerel — meaning irregularly rhyming, really bad poetry, usually comic in tone and fit only for dogs.
dogmatic
Someone who is dogmatic has arrogant attitudes based on unproved theories. If you dogmatically assert that the moon is made of green cheese, you'll just get laughed at.
doldrums
Doldrums aren't drums that you can play like the tom-toms. Rather people use this noun to describe a period of time that is boring, depressing, or characterized by inactivity.
dolorous
Dolorous is not a woman's name (that's Dolores), it is an adjective that describes someone showing great sadness. If your friend Dolores is crying about a lost puppy, you could call her dolorous Dolores.
dolt
Dolt refers a person who isn't very smart. You might be called a dolt if you do something dumb, like stand outside your car complaining that you locked your keys inside — even though the window is wide open.
dominant
Dominant means to be in control. In a wolf pack, one male wolf fights the others, wins, and is considered the dominant, or alpha male. The other wolves in the pack do what he tells them.
dormant
That old dog was dormant for so long he was confused for a furry doormat, but a doormat is likely to stay dormant, or inactive, because it is lifeless: that old dog has some life in him yet.
dormer
Almost like a picture in a pop-up book, a dormer is a peaked extension, with a window, that rises up from the roof of a house. The word dormer often refers to the window itself.
dotage
The noun dotage describes the mental decline that many elderly people eventually experience. Those in their dotage sometimes act silly or forgetful.
dote
Who doesn't love to be doted on? Showered with love and affection, smothered by attention and compliments — sounds like the life.
dour
Dour describes something sullen, gloomy, or persistent. You might look dour on your way to picking up your last check from the job you just got fired from, and people should get out of your way.
douse
Use the verb douse to describe covering something with water or other liquid. When you're camping, you douse the campfire with water when you're done with it.
dowdy
Someone dowdy dresses badly and has a shabby, unstylish appearance. If you can't remember the last time you went shopping, beware, you may be dowdy.
downcast
If you're feeling sad, gloomy, blue, low, grim, depressed, or melancholy, you probably don't care if there could possibly any more synonyms for the way you feel. Rest assured that there are, and one of them is downcast.
dowry
In some cultures, the bride or her family pays a certain amount of money or property to the groom when a couple is married. This payment is called a dowry.
doze
Are you sleepy? Maybe you need to doze a little. To doze is to sleep lightly or to take a nap.
Draconian
Use the word Draconian (or lowercase draconian) to describe laws or rules that are really harsh and repressive.
draft
Draft means to draw, both in the sense of sketching an image onto paper, but also in terms of pulling--a draft horse draws or pulls a wagon, a draft of beer is drawn through the spigot on a keg.
draught
If you're chilly, you might close a window that's letting in a draught. Draught is the British spelling of the word draft.
dregs
Those little grains of tea or coffee left at the bottom of the cup are known as the dregs. The dregs are the least wanted portion, or the residue.
dribble
flowing in drops; the formation and falling of drops of liquid - the propulsion of a ball by repeated taps or kicks
drivel
Drivel is useless, boring information. If you drivel, you talk stupidly or actually drool. Your parent might think the articles in your favorite fashion magazine are drivel.
droll
Need a mental picture for the word droll? Think of one of those cute-homely troll dolls — blend those two words together — "doll" and "troll" — and you get droll, a description of a figure that is adorably strange and whimsically cute.
drone
A drone is a male bee whose only job — and only purpose in life — is to fertilize the Queen Bee's eggs. That's why some workers who do their jobs robotically, not trying to innovate but just get through each day, are sometimes, and negatively, called drones.
drudge
a laborer who is obliged to do menial work
dross
Things that are a total loss — really worthless or damaging — are dross. You could call that gunk between your teeth that comes out when you floss, dross. No one wants it, and it's harmful if it stays.
drudgery
If you've ever had to do the laundry, wash the dishes, make the meals, change the bedding, vacuum the house, and clean the bathrooms day after day, you've experienced drudgery. Drudgery is hard, mindless, backbreaking work.
dubious
Choose the adjective dubious for something you have doubts about or you suspect is not true. That bridge you just "bought" might be of dubious value.
ductile
If you can bend or shape a substance, it is ductile. Play-Dough is ductile. Wooden blocks are not.
dulcet
Use the adjective dulcet to describe a sound that is soothing and soft, like "the dulcet harmonies in a 70s pop song" or "the dulcet tones of a harp."
duress
Let's hope you're never denied food and sleep and forced to sign a confession, but if you are, that's called being under duress. Threats and harsh treatment meant to make you do something you don't want to do is duress.
dutiful
Are you a dutiful person? If you are, then you do as you're told, out of a feeling of duty and obligation. Dutiful children know this means cleaning one's room, taking out the trash, and no talking back!
dwindle
What do love, money, and the earth all have in common? All can dwindle, or shrink away, if we don't handle them properly.
ebb
When something ebbs, it is declining, falling, or flowing away. The best time to look for sea creatures in tidal pools is when the tide is on the ebb — meaning it has receded from the shore.
ebullient
More than chipper, more than happy, more than delighted is ebullient — meaning bubbling over with joy and delight.
eccentric
You're most likely to encounter the adjective eccentric in a description of an unusual or quirky person — like a scatter-brained aunt who leaves her life savings to her cat.
ecclesiastic
If you're an ecclesiastic, you probably spend a lot of time in church. The word ecclesiastic describes a member of the clergy, typically someone associated with a Christian church.
eclectic
She listens to hip-hop, Gregorian chant, and folk music from the '60s. He's been seen wearing a handmade tuxedo jacket over a thrift-store flannel shirt. They both have eclectic tastes.
ecstasy
If you've ever been so happy that the rest of the world seemed to disappear, you've felt ecstasy — a feeling or state of intensely beautiful bliss.
edict
If your mom orders you to clean your room, that's an order. If the king asks you to do it, that's an edict — an official order from some higher up.
edify
To edify is to help someone understand, whether it is books that edify those who want to learn a new language, or the explanations that hang beside paintings at a museum that edify visitors who aren't familiar with the artist.
eerie
Eerie means spooky, creepy or suggestively supernatural. If it's eerie, it's sure to make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
efface
If something is erased or rubbed out, it has been effaced. Teachers get annoyed to find that someone has effaced the blackboard — even the part clearly marked, "Do Not Erase!"
effectuate
producing or capable of producing an intended result or having a striking effect
effeminate
The word effeminate is used to describe a man or a boy with characteristics that are more often associated with females. You were once teased for your effeminate, high-pitched voice, but now you're a world-renowned singer.
effervescence
Soda has effervescence. How can you tell? Just look for bubbles. Things that bubble have effervescence.
effete
Effete is a disapproving term meaning decadent and self-indulgent, even useless. The stereotype of the rugged Westerner is just as false as the one of the effete East Coast liberal.
efficacy
The degree to which a method or medicine brings about a specific result is its efficacy. You might not like to eat it, but you can't question the efficacy of broccoli as a health benefit.
effigy
In modern usage, effigy most often refers to a likeness, such as a dummy, that is hanged, burned, or otherwise abused when protesting the despised person's actions.
effluvium
Effluvium is a smelly gas, vapor, or an exhalation. You wouldn't want to breathe in the effluvium from a cargo ship or you might become ill. Stick to sailing.
effulgent
Something effulgent radiates light. On a clear day the sun can be quite effulgent. You might need a pair of shades.
effusion
An effusion is an explosion of something, usually words, ideas, or emotions. Judy Garland regularly inspired an effusion of cheers from her enraptured audiences. The ovations were "effusive."
egregious
Something that is egregious stands out, but not in a good way — it means "really bad or offensive," like a tattoo on a man misspelling his girlfriend's name.
egress
If you want to leave a place, you need a means of egress, or a way to exit, such as a door or window. It was a beautiful old house, but without enough ways of egress, they needed outdoor fire-stairs for reaching the upper floors.
elated
If you're elated you aren't just happy — you're over the moon, absolutely excited and bursting with pride. Like the way you feel after winning a scholarship to an Ivy league school or mastering a back handspring.
elegy
An elegy is a sad poem, usually written to praise and express sorrow for someone who is dead. Although a speech at a funeral is a eulogy, you might later compose an elegy to someone you have loved and lost to the grave.
elicit
When you elicit, you're bringing out a response of some sort. A good comedian elicits a lot of laughs.
elixir
Miraculous, magical, and maybe a little mysterious, an elixir is a sweet substance or solution that cures the problem at hand.
ellipsis
An ellipsis is punctuation that is used to show where words have been left out. The ellipsis is usually formed by three periods (four if the ellipsis comes at the end of a sentence).
elliptical
The word elliptical is derived from the oval shape known as an ellipse. Many comets have an elliptical orbit around the Sun that brings them closer at some times and farther away at others.
elope
When you elope, you run away with the person you love. Usually, you elope to get married without anyone knowing in advance.
eloquence
Eloquence is powerful, moving, magnificent use of language. Simply put, if you have eloquence, then you're one smooth talker.
elucidate
If you elucidate something, you explain it very clearly. If you don't understand fractions, a visit to the pie shop may elucidate the subject for you.
elusive
Things that are elusive hard to find, pin down, or remember. They slip right out of your grasp.
elysian
The adjective elysian describes a blissful state, like the one most people hope to enjoy on a Hawaiian vacation.
Elysium
Finished your exams? Summer stretches in front of you? You're in a state of Elysium, a condition of absolute contentment.
emaciated
Someone who is dangerously skinny and skeletal-looking can be described as emaciated. It's probably how you'd start to look after a few weeks in the wilderness with only berries and bugs for dinner.
emanate
When you use the word emanate, you're usually talking about lights, sounds or unseen forces coming out of a specific source. If you hear creepy sounds emanating from an old house, that might mean it's haunted.
emasculate
When you emasculate something, you take away its strength. The elimination of foreign language classes at your local high school could emasculate, or terribly weaken, the school's academic reputation.
embark
When you embark on something, you are starting it — and it's exciting. You might embark on a new career or embark on a trip to the Galapagos Islands. You wouldn't embark on a trip to the grocery store.
embed
The verb embed means to implant something or someone — like to embed a stone into a garden pathway or to embed a journalist in a military unit.
embellish
The word "bell" shows up in the middle of embellish, and bells are something that decorate, or embellish something, making it more attractive. If you embellish speech, though, it can get ugly if you add a lot of details that aren't true.
embitter
cause to be bitter or resentful
emblazon
Emblazon means to inscribe conspicuously. If you are a knight and you are decorating your shield with your coat of arms, you are emblazoning it.
embody
To embody a role is to fill it completely. If a high schooler seems to embody the character of Macbeth, his performance might make the audience forget they're watching a dorky 15-year-old with braces.
emboss
Emboss means to carve with a design. A silver tray might be embossed with your initials and wedding date. You might give your teacher a plaque with "World's Best Teacher" embossed under their name.
embroider
To embroider means to decorate with needlework. Picture your great grandmother's pillowcases or Hester Prynne's famous scarlet letter "A" — both of those objects are probably embroidered.
embroil
To embroil is to drag someone in to a mess. If you're embroiled, you're in ... DEEP. It's far worse, far messier, and generally far more long-term, than simply being "involved" with something. Nothing good can come of being embroiled.
emend
When you emend a piece of writing, you correct or revise it. If you are asked to emend a report, that just means you need to go through it and make revisions.
emetic
An emetic is a medicine or potion that makes you vomit, which you might be given if you've taken poison or some other harmful substance.
eminent
Anyone highly regarded or prominent is eminent. People that are eminent are giants in their field.
emissary
When presidents can't attend state funerals, they send an emissary to pay their respects. An emissary performs a specific job on someone else's behalf.
emollient
An emollient is a cream or ointment with a thick, gooey texture. When your hands are dry and cracked in the winter, you probably apply an emollient to make them softer.
emolument
Not many workers think of their paychecks as emolument, but they certainly could. Emolument is another way to describe the money you receive for working.
empathy
Use empathy if you're looking for a noun meaning "the ability to identify with another's feelings."
emulate
When you emulate someone, you imitate them, especially with the idea of matching their success.
enact
You often hear that Congress is going to enact a new statute, which means that they will make it into a law. But enact also means to perform, like in a play. (Makes you wonder if the lawmakers are actors!)
enamored
Being enamored of something or with someone goes far beyond liking them, and it's even more flowery than love. Enamored means smitten with, or totally infatuated. Someone enamored with another will perhaps even swoon. A man who's in love sends the object of his affection a dozen roses, but if he is enamored with her, he covers her entire front lawn with a blanket of rose petals.
encomiastic
If you were about to give a speech and the person introducing you gave an encomiastic introduction, it would probably make you blush, since encomiastic means full of praise.
encroachment
An encroachment is a something that intrudes and has the power to influence whatever it encounters. Someone might consider text messages an encroachment of impersonal technology on true, heartfelt interactions.
encumber
To encumber is to weigh someone or something down with a physical or psychological burden. You may find yourself encumbered by a heavy backpack or with anxieties. Either way, it's a heavy load to bear!
endear
make attractive or lovable
endearment
Next time you cringe when a family member calls you by your childhood nickname in public, remember, Snoopy, it's just a term of endearment — meant to show affection, not make you miserably embarrassed.
endemic
If you want to underscore just how commonly found and present something is within a particular place, try the word endemic. Tight pants are endemic in my lunch room!
endue
You probably hope that your years of ballet classes will endue you with the ability to dance like Baryshnikov. In other words, you're dreaming that all of those arabesques and pirouettes will provide you with the dancing talent you wish for.
engage
Engage means to bind, catch, or involve. If your sink is stopped up, engage, or hire, a plumber to fix it. Otherwise the smell of rotten food in the garbage disposal will engage your attention (in a bad way).
engaged
Engaged means fully occupied or having your full attention. An engaged reader really focuses on the words and maybe even jots down questions or comments in the pages' margins.
engender
Engender is a fancy way of saying "to make happen," like when you engender the spirit of teamwork and cooperation by encouraging others and doing your share of the group's work.
engross
Engross is a verb that means to consume all of your attention or time. Once you engross yourself in the culture of high salaries and unlimited spending accounts, it's hard to go back to cooking at a sandwich shop.
engulf
Engulf is a verb that means being completely surrounded, soaked, or covered. Fire, snow, smoke, flood waters, or even violence are a few things that could engulf you.
enigma
Take the noun, enigma, for something that is a puzzle or a mystery. Why do you have to learn difficult words like this? That is an enigma.
enjoin
To enjoin is to issue an urgent and official order. If the government tells loggers to stop cutting down trees, they are enjoining the loggers to stop.
enliven
make lively
enmity
Enmity means intense hostility. If you're a football fanatic, you feel enmity for your opposing team.
ennui
The French word ennui describes a feeling that combines tiredness and boredom. Ennui is one version of "the blahs."
enormity
An enormity is something extreme or huge, almost beyond comprehension. If you call having to paint the house all by yourself an enormity, your friends might take pity on you and show up with brushes and rollers.
enrapture
To enrapture someone is cast an irresistible spell over them, to make them feel "rapture." I was enraptured by her gorgeous voice and stunning way of interpreting a song.
ensconce
If you ensconce yourself somewhere, you settle in for quite a while, such as when you're home with the flu and ensconce yourself on the couch with the remote control, tissues, your phone, and a big glass of orange juice.
ensue
If something happens after something else, it will ensue, meaning it will follow after or be the result. When a sneeze comes out, and he hears the "Achoo!," a "Bless you" or "Gesundheit" soon will ensue.
entail
Entail means what something involves. "The job entailed us standing in the snow for hours dressed as giant, human hot dogs. It entailed far too much humiliation to justify the $3.55 an hour we were paid."
enthrall
Whether it's a thrilling action-adventure film, a collection of Valentino shoes, or that enigmatic girl you see on the subway, when something is so fascinating that it holds all your attention, it is said to enthrall.
entice
Let's say your friend wants to go to the movies and you don't want to. Your friend might try to entice you by offering to buy you popcorn and a soda. Entice means to persuade with promises of something.
entity
If your little sister turns her lemonade stand into a lemonade empire, she might incorporate is as a company. Under the law, it would be considered an entity, or a separate being for purposes of government control.
entreat
To entreat is to ask for something that is really important, like when you say "I entreat you to never, ever tell my father what happened tonight."
enumerate
To enumerate is to list or count off one by one. Before you ask for a raise, you better be able enumerate all the reasons why you deserve more money.
enunciate
Can't get your point across? Maybe you just need to speak more clearly or articulate your thoughts better — in short, enunciate.
epaulet
An epaulet is a decoration that is attached to the shoulders of a uniform. If you are a guard at Buckingham Palace, you have pretty nice epaulets on your uniform, but they aren't as amazing as that hat.
ephemeral
Something that is fleeting or short-lived is ephemeral, like a fly that lives for one day or text messages flitting from cellphone to cellphone.
epic
An epic is a long poem or other work of art celebrating heroic feats. After you sail around the world for seven years, fighting corruption and planting vegetable gardens, some poet will surely write the epic of your adventures.
epicure
We call a person who truly loves food—food at the highest levels—an epicure. Occasionally, you might find the word epicure used for a person who loves something else, but an epicure is usually someone who delights in fine food.
epigram
An epigram is a short, clever remark. One of Oscar Wilde's many memorable epigrams is "I can resist everything but temptation."
epilogue
If you like to read the end of a book first, then maybe the epilogue is for you. The epilogue is a short piece that wraps up the end of a story.
episodic
If you have an episodic interest in professional sports, you pay attention to sports from time to time, but you're not a regular fan. The adjective episodic is often used to mean "occasional" or "every once in a while."
epitaph
Epitaph is an inscription on a gravestone. Famous for his comedic jabs at the City of Brotherly Love, writer W.C. Fields once said he wanted "I'd rather be living in Philadelphia" as the epitaph on his tombstone.
epithet
The noun epithet is a descriptive nickname, such as "Richard the Lionhearted," or "Tommy the Terrible." Taking a turn for the worse, it can also be a word or phrase that offends.
equable
The adjective equable means "not easily irritated" or "steady," like someone's equable manner that makes everyone instantly feel comfortable.
equanimity
If you take the news of your brother's death with equanimity, it means you take it calmly without breaking down. Equanimity refers to emotional calmness and balance in times of stress.
equinox
The equinox is one of the two times in a year when the sun crosses the plane of the earth's equator, and day and night are of equal length. "During the spring equinox you can balance eggs on end, because of the equal balance between night and day."
equipoise
Looking for a really fancy way to say "balance" or "equilibrium"? Then stand up straight and try equipoise on for size.
equitable
If you work on a group project in class, you want an equitable share of the credit, you want as much credit as you deserve for your work. Equitable distribution means each party gets the share of something that they deserve.
equity
Equity is the state or quality of being fair. In classrooms, it's important to establish equity as any hint of unfairness turns everyone against the teacher.
equivocal
Try to remember that uncertain means equivocal and certain means unequivocal. That's a tricky movement the un- is making, and a lot of people get stumped.
equivocate
When you are unwilling to make a decision and almost intentionally go back and forth between two choices, you are equivocating. When politicians equivocate, they are often afraid of upsetting, and thus alienating, voters with their decisions.
errant
Something or someone described as errant has gone astray or done wrong by going in an unexpected direction. An errant bird might end up in northern Canada while his friends fly to southern Mexico for the winter.
erratic
The adjective erratic describes things that are unpredictable, unusual, and that deviate from the norm. An erratic quarterback might completely confuse his receivers waiting for a pass.
erudite
If you call someone erudite, that means they show great learning. After you've earned your second Ph.D., you will be truly erudite.
escapade
An escapade is an adventure, tinged with a hint of danger. A road trip could be an escapade, or a few weeks making a living as a professional gambler, or posing as your twin sister and taking a test for her in math.
eschew
If you eschew something, you deliberately avoid it. If you live the bohemian life in the city, then most likely you eschew the suburbs.
esoteric
Pssst... do you know the secret handshake? If you haven't been brought into the inner circle of those with special knowledge, esoteric things will remain a mystery to you.
espionage
It's no secret: espionage is the act of organized spying, usually with the goal of uncovering sensitive military or political information.
estimable
deserving of respect or high regard - may be computed or estimated
estranged
The adjective estranged suggests a loss of affection, a turning away from someone. When a couple separates, we often refer to them as estranged — or no longer together.
ethereal
Ethereal is something airy and insubstantial, such as a ghostly figure at the top of the stairs. It might also be something delicate and light, like a translucent fabric, or a singer's delicate voice.
ethos
Ethos, a noun, is the fundamental set of beliefs that you, or a society, or group live by. A free spirit might live by the ethos of "anything goes."
eugenic
Eugenic is the idea that self-selecting genetic characteristics, such as hair or eye color, can improve a race. The Nazis' eugenic plans to create a "master race" of blonde, blue-eyed people marked one of the darkest periods in the twentieth century.
eulogistic
A speech, presentation, or writing that pays tribute to someone's lifetime achievements can be described as eulogistic, such as the eulogistic video that was shown at the legendary coach's retirement party.
euphemism
Pardon me, but when a polite term is substituted for a blunt, offensive one, you should call it a euphemism.
euphony
Shakespeare's language is a good example of euphony: pleasant, musical sounds in harmony, as with "To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow / Creeps in this petty pace from day to day."
euphoria
Use euphoria to describe a feeling of great happiness and well-being, but know that euphoria often more than that--it's unusually, crazy happy, over the top.
euthanasia
Euthanasia is the act of causing a person or animal's death, without inflicting pain, to end suffering, like when a veterinarian performs euthanasia on a dog that is in great pain and has no chance of recovery.
evanescent
A beautiful sunset, a rainbow, a wonderful dream right before your alarm clock goes off — all of these could be described as evanescent, which means "fleeting" or "temporary."
evasive
To be evasive is to avoid something, whether it's a touchy subject or the person who's "it" in a game of tag.
evenhanded
Evenhanded means fair to all sides. If your essay is evenhanded, it should look at both sides of an argument, without showing preference for one side or the other.
evince
The verb evince means to show or express clearly; to make plain. Evidence can evince the innocence of the accused, and tears can evince the grief of the mourning.
evocative
Use the adjective evocative when you want to describe something that reminds you of something else. If your mom baked a lot when you were a kid, the smell of cookies in the oven is probably evocative of your childhood.
evoke
The verb evoke most commonly means to bring a feeling, memory, or picture into the mind. When you visit your old elementary school, the smells, sounds, and colors there can evoke memories from the past.
exacerbate
For a formal-sounding verb that means to make worse, try exacerbate. If you're in trouble, complaining about it will only exacerbate the problem.
exalt
You might like your manager, but if you exalt her, it means you really put her on a pedestal and treat her like royalty.
excerpt
a passage selected from a larger work
- Instead of sharing all 147 lines of your favorite poem in class, you might want to read an excerpt, that is, just a part of the verses, so no one dozes off.
exchequer
Exchequer is a British term for the guy in the government who is in charge of the money: the treasurer. Sometimes it refers to the office in which all the money is kept, the treasury itself.
excise
An excise tax is a special tax levied on specific products sold within a country. To excise something can also mean to get rid of it. Say, wouldn't it be nice if they would excise the excise taxes?
exclaim
The verb exclaim is from the Latin word exclamare, which means "to cry out." The English meaning is similar, to cry out, but with the added element of a strong emotion such as fear, joy, surprise.
excoriate
When it comes to "telling someone off," excoriate is reserved for the most severe cases. So, before you excoriate your little sister for borrowing your favorite jacket without permission, consider whether she truly deserves such harsh treatment.
exculpate
To exculpate means to find someone not guilty of criminal charges. If you've been wrongly convicted of robbery, you better hope a judge will exculpate you, unless you want to go to jail because you've heard prison food is amazing.
execrable
unequivocally detestable / Execrable is often used as a harshly critical term in the arts, when a reviewer really wants to throw the book at something. Not surprisingly, the word comes from a Latin word meaning "to utter a curse; to hate or abhor." Tough words for bad art. Perhaps part of the power and nastiness of execrable lies in the word's similarity to excrement — but that's a vocabulary word we're not touching in this entry!
execrate
Just when you thought you knew every word in the book for hate, here's a new one: execrate. The word means to despise or also to curse.
execute
To execute means to carry out in full or perform. If you execute all the difficult steps of the dance perfectly, you will make your instructor proud.
exegesis
If your teacher gives an explanation of a difficult text you are reading, she is giving you an exegesis on it. An exegesis is a critical look at a text.
exemplary
Exemplary people excel at what they do and are excellent examples to others. Something exemplary is so good that it is an example for others to follow.
exemplify
If you exemplify something, you're the perfect example of it. Say you wear frilly shirts, knee-high boots, and black eye-make-up — you exemplify the fashion world's obsession with pirates.
exertion
Exertion is effort. Exercise requires physical exertion. Listening to great jazz requires mental exertion. What kind of exertion does jazzercise require? Perhaps too much.
exhale
give out (breath or an odor)
exhilarating
Something exhilarating is so exciting it makes you a little giddy. "Snowboarding that black-diamond trail was exhilarating!"
exhort
French roots for the word exhort mean "thoroughly encourage," so to exhort is to fill up with encouragement! "When he heard the crowd exhort him with stomping and cheers, he knew that he could finish the marathon."
exhume
When you see your mysterious neighbor digging around in his backyard, you may wonder if he's trying to exhume something. Chances are he's only digging up potatoes — when you exhume something, it means you're digging up a corpse.
exigency
Think of a mix of excitement and emergency, and you have exigency, a sudden, urgent crisis. The very word conjures up danger and intrigue that demand a cool head and an immediate effort at a solution.
exiguous
If I had more than an exiguous amount of space here, I'd be able to tell you more about the fact that exiguous means a tiny amount.
Exiguous is one of those words that comes in handy when you're really trying to draw attention to the fact that there's very little of something. Otherwise you could just say "tiny," "small," "niggling," or even "scanty." Without more than the exiguous scraps of information currently available, there's simply no way to know who left the offending pile in the hallway, let alone when. If you expect more than just exiguous payment in return, you're going to have to do more than an exiguous amount of work.
existential
Existential can also relate to existence in a more concrete way. For instance, the objections of your mother-in-law may pose an existential threat to the continuation of your Friday night card game.

If something is existential, it has to do with human existence. If you wrestle with big questions involving the meaning of life, you may be having an existential crisis.
exodus
If the fire alarm goes off in your building, be sure to join the exodus of people who are heading outside to the parking lot. This is a departure of a large number of people.
exonerate
To exonerate someone is to declare him not guilty of criminal charges. This word is pretty much only used in reference to proceedings in a court of law. A word with a similar meaning that might be familiar is "acquit."
exorbitant
Use the adjective exorbitant when you want to describe something that is really just too much! You'll often hear people griping about exorbitant bank fees or exorbitant interest rates.
exorcise
To exorcise is to cast out a devil or evil spirit, using prayer and other religious tools. You're probably familiar with the name of the person who does this: an exorcist. Don't try to exorcise a demon yourself. Call an exorcist.
exotic
Something so unusual that it must be from some unfamiliar place is exotic. An exotic pet might be a panda, instead of a hamster. An exotic trip might be a journey to the Galapagos Islands, instead of to Orlando's Sea World.
Animals and people, or sensory things like food and smells, are often called exotic when they are from far-away lands.
expatiate
The verb expatiate means "to add details to in order to clear up." If your story is confusing to everyone who hears it, certain key parts must be missing. Better expatiate so that people can understand it.
expatriate
An expatriate is someone who lives in another country by choice. If you leave your split-level ranch in Ohio and move to a writers' commune in Paris for good, you've become an expatriate.
expedient
The adjective expedient describes something that provides an easy way to achieve a goal or result, but it's not necessarily a moral solution.
expiate
In the fairy tale, the baker must expiate his father's sins by bringing the witch three ingredients for a magic potion: a cow, a cape and a slipper. Expiate means to make amends or atone for a wrong you or someone else has committed.
expletive
An expletive is a swear word, a curse you let out when you are startled or mad. You probably already know a lot of expletives, but you don't need to see them here, no way in heck.
explicate
To explicate is to explain or interpret something, maybe putting it in plain terms to make it more comprehensible for others. It might help to remember that it begins with "ex-," like the word explain, which is similar in meaning.
explicit
Anything explicit is very clear, whether it's instructions or a dirty movie.
exploit
An exploit is a heroic act or notable deed. The King Arthur legends are full of stories of the exploits of the Knights of the Round Table, including Sir Lancelot and King Arthur himself.
expository
The first few minutes of a first date typically consist of expository chit-chat, meaning that that's when people fill each other in on the basics: where they're from, what they studied in school, and what they want to be when they grow up. It's background info.
expostulation
Expostulation is an expression of protest, not a rant exactly, but often lengthy. If you have parents, you might be more familiar with the term "lecture," an expostulation on the why you should never do the things you actually want to do.
expound
If given recipe directions that include "some sugar," "some onions," and "some flour" as ingredients, you might ask the cook to expound by adding measurements of how much of each to use. When you expound, you explain or provide details.
expropriate
Use the verb expropriate to describe the act of taking people's property, usually by a government. If you really like your neighbor's house, you may wish you could expropriate the property.
expunge
To expunge is to cross out or eliminate. After Nicholas proved he had been in school on the day in question, the absence was expunged from his record.
expurgate
To expurgate is to censor. Usually, people talk about expurgating bad words from something written or on TV.
exquisite
Use exquisite to mean finely or delicately made or done. When you say someone has exquisite taste, you mean that they are able to make fine distinctions.
extant
Use the adjective extant to describe old things that are still around, like your extant diary from third grade or the only extant piece of pottery from certain craftspeople who lived hundreds of years ago.
extemporaneous
Extemporaneous means spoken without preparation. The orator's performance was impressive, but only after we learn that his speech was extemporaneous did we realize the true depth of his talent.
extenuate
To extenuate is to make less of something or try to minimize its importance. The fact that you walked your little sister to school because she missed the bus might extenuate your teacher's response when you show up late.
extirpate
The verb extirpate originally literally meant "to weed out by the roots." Now you'd use it when you want to get rid of something completely as if pulling it up by the root.
extol
If you have a crush on a guy who likes your best friend, it can be very depressing to listen to him extol your friend's virtues, while you just nod and smile. If you extol something, you praise it very highly.
extort
To extort is to use information or the threat of violence to acquire cash or something else. Extortion is a classic shakedown, a gouge, a squeeze.
extradition
A legal word, extradition means sending someone back to the country or state where they've been accused of a crime. Getting countries to agree on the terms of extradition can take years.
extraneous
Extraneous means coming from or belonging to the outside—extraneous noise is what you hear when you're in a theater and a train passes by, extraneous wires bring your cable connection into the house.
extrapolation
An extrapolation is kind of like an educated guess or a hypothesis. When you make an extrapolation, you take facts and observations about a present or known situation and use them to make a prediction about what might eventually happen.
extricate
If you need to be untangled, set free or otherwise released from something or someone, you need to be extricated.
release from entanglement of difficulty
extrinsic
Extrinsic means not connected to the essential nature of something. New cleats are extrinsic to making the soccer team. How you play is what gets you on the team, whether your cleats are old or new.
extrovert
An extrovert is a friendly person who enjoys talking to and being with other people. Extroverts love parties, talking on the phone, meeting new people.
extrude
If you force material through an opening to give it form or shape, you are extruding the material. You can use a pasta maker to extrude the pasta dough in various shapes — from spaghetti to linguine to macaroni.- form or shape by forcing through an opening
exuberance
Use exuberance to describe joyful enthusiasm and liveliness. You appreciate the natural exuberance of small children, but you prefer to enjoy it from a distance.
exude
To exude is to give off small amounts, usually of liquids or gases, through small openings, such as pores. Think of how you exude sweat after a workout.
exult
Sometimes you might feel so happy about something you could just burst. This is the time to exult, or rejoice, and you might show your great happiness by laughing, dancing, and shouting with pure joy.
facade
A facade is the front of a building, or a kind of front people put up emotionally. If you're mad but acting happy, you're putting up a facade.
facet
A facet is one side or aspect of something. If you're thinking about quitting your day job to become a circus performer, you should first consider every facet of what your new life would be like.
facetious
Someone who is facetious is only joking: "I was being facetious when I told my mother I want Brussels sprouts with every meal, but she took me seriously!"
facile
If someone does something easily, or shows ease, it is described as facile in a good way, but if someone takes the easy way out and shows a lack of thought or care, it is facile in a bad way.
facsimile
A facsimile is a copy or reproduction of something. Many parents hope their children will be facsimiles of themselves; many children have other plans in mind.
faction
Fractions are smaller parts of whole numbers: one-quarter, one-tenth, one-half, and a faction is a smaller portion of a larger group that breaks away from it. A faction might take a fraction of the people from a large group and start a new group.
factious
The idea behind factious is that of dissent, but in a rather angry way. To say that the Confederacy was a factious group of states would be to understate the case. They wanted out of the Union, and they were willing to go to war to get their way.
factitious
If you create a "diamond" out of plastic, then you've created a factitious diamond, meaning that it's a phony.
factotum
If you're running late and still need to iron your clothes and make breakfast, but can't find your shoes, you may wish you had a factotum, or a servant who does a variety of odd jobs for their employer.
fallacious
Something fallacious is a mistake that comes from too little information or unsound sources. Predictions that the whole state of California will snap off from the rest of North America and float away have proven to be fallacious — for now, anyway.
fallible
As humans we are all fallible, because fallible means likely to make errors or fail. Nobody's perfect, after all.
fallow
Something that is fallow is left unused. If you're smart but lazy, someone might say you have a fallow mind.
We use the word to talk about any unused resource, it started as a work about land.
falter
Falter means to hesitate, stumble, or waver, and everything from faith to voices can do it. So if you want to keep your bride or groom happy, it's best not to falter when it's your turn to say "I do."
fanaticism
Fanaticism occurs when someone is unwilling or unable to accept a differing point of view. You can use the word to describe the endless war between fans of the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees.
fancied
formed or conceived by the imagination
fancier
Someone crazy about something can be called a fancier. If you join a club to promote the well-being of pheasants, someone might describe you as "a pheasant fancier." That just means you like pheasants a lot.
fanciful
Turn fanciful around and you get "full of fancy," which gives you the gist of the meaning. The adjective refers to something not quite real, usually something with a whimsical or even dreamlike quality.
fanfare
Fanfare is a loud, proud burst of something to get attention. If you open up a carpet store with one of those sky-sweeping lights, lots of balloons, and a brass band, you're doing it with great fanfare.
farfetched
highly imaginative but unlikely
farce
A farce is a broad satire or comedy, though now it's used to describe something that is supposed to be serious but has turned ridiculous. If a defendant is not treated fairly, his lawyer might say that the trial is a farce.
fastidious
If you want to describe a person who insists on perfection or pays much attention to food, clothing and cleanliness, the right word is fastidious.
fatalism
People who exhibit fatalism appear powerless to shape their own future: they believe only in fate. I sense the fatalism in you, but you CAN change things!
fatuous
Fatuous means lacking intelligence. When your mother outlaws calling your brother stupid, use fatuous instead.
fawning
Use fawning to describe someone who's over the top in the flattery department. Like a fawning admirer who just won't stop complimenting your looks, showering you with gifts and otherwise kissing the ground you walk on.
faze
If nothing can faze you, you are unflappable. Nothing bothers you, or gets you off your game. To faze is to disrupt or disturb.
feasible
If something is feasible, then you can do it without too much difficulty. When someone asks "Is it feasible?" the person is asking if you'll be able to get something done.
febrile
Febrile is an adjective that means "related to fever." It can be used in a medical sense when someone is sick and running a temperature, or to mean a state of excitement or energy.
fecundity
Fecundity means fruitfulness and fertility, the ability to produce abundant healthy growth or offspring.
feebleminded
retarded in intellectual development
feign
For a more formal way to say pretend to or imitate, choose the verb feign. You might feign indifference when you hear about some gossip, but you're probably dying to know.
feint
Did you ever tell your parents you were going off to school, grabbed your book bag, and headed out the door... only to spend the rest of the day hanging out with your friends? Well, that was a feint, a super sneaky move designed to fool someone.
felicitous
Felicitous describes something that's really pleasant. If someone behaves in a felicitous manner, she's being agreeable and appropriate. You know, the way you should behave when your great aunt offers you those stale candies.
felicity
Felicity is a state of happiness or the quality of joy. Sitting on the roof with a telescope and iced tea on a clear, starry night is one way to find perfect felicity — a happy place.
feral
When animal control finds a feral dog, they have to handle it very carefully because the animal is so wild that it's probably afraid of humans and likely to bite.
ferment
The word ferment means a commotion or excitement. Consider that the fermentation that turns juice or grain into alcohol is the result of the agitated development of bacteria, and then you can better appreciate the word's meaning.
ferocious
The adjective ferocious means more than merely angry or active. If you can imagine the wildest, most savage animal ready to rip your arms off and shred the muscles, you would be imagining a ferocious beast.
ferret
You may be familiar with ferrets, those adorable little mammals that look like cheap minks. Well, the verb to ferret means to act like a ferret: to dig for something until you find it.
fervent
Use fervent to describe a person or thing that shows very strong feelings or enthusiasm. If you have a fervent desire to become an actress, you'll stop at nothing to realize your dream.
fervid
Fervid can be used to describe something that is physically hot such as "a fervid day in August," but it is more often used to describe heated emotions like anger, love, or desire.
fervor
Use fervor to describe an intensity of emotion or expression. Fans of the Los Angeles Dodgers show so much fervor that they "bleed Dodger blue."
fester
To fester is to grow and spread, not in a good way. When a cut gets infected it starts to fester and smell bad. Emotional wounds stink too, like when you hold on to anger or pain until it starts to fester and explodes.
fetid
If you want to understand the true meaning of fetid, leave your sweaty gym clothes in your locker for a few days. Fetid is a fancy way of saying that something smells really bad.
fetter
A fetter is a shackle or chain that is attached to someone's ankles. To fetter someone is to restrict their movement, either literally or metaphorically. You might feel fettered by your parents' rules, even without the chains.
fiasco
A fiasco is a disaster. It's not a natural disaster — like an earthquake or a volcano; a fiasco is usually the result of human failure.
fickle
People who are fickle change their minds so much you can't rely on them. If your best friend suddenly decides that she doesn't like you one week, and then the next week she wants to hang out again, she's being fickle.
fictitious
Fictitious means made up, or imaginary. No matter how real Scarlett O'Hara might seem in "Gone With the Wind," she's a fictitious character invented by author Margaret Mitchell.
fiend
A fiend is a person or monster who has evil plans in their mind. They may try to steal your soul, or perhaps just want to hurt your feelings. Either way, fiends never mean you well.
figment
When something is a figment of your imagination, it means that you made it up. It's something that might seem real, but is really not.
figurine
A figurine is a small carved or molded statue, especially one in the shape of a person. If you have an extensive collection of figurines, you need to keep them high up and safe so your kids don't break them.
filch
You can filch money, time, and stuff, but I wouldn't recommend it. Filching is stealing, as in "You filched my cookies!"
filial
If you describe something as filial, you're saying it's offspring-related. Depending on who your parents are, your filial duties might include taking out the trash, or washing dishes, or ruling empires.
filibuster
As a verb, filibuster means "to obstruct legislation by talking at great length." As a noun, it can refer to that oppositional speech. "The Senator prevented a vote on the bill by reading the dictionary from aardvark to zyzzyva."
filigree
Ancient handmade jewelry is often known for its filigree, which is a noun describing delicate ornamental work made of some type of metal.
filth
any substance considered disgustingly foul or unpleasant
finesse
Having finesse means you can handle difficult situations with diplomacy and tact, like the finesse it takes to help two friends work out their differences — without taking sides or alienating either one.
finicky
You reject any vegetable that isn't yellow. You like basmati rice, but detest jasmine, Arborio, and brown. You dine at one restaurant, and you always order the same meal. You are a finicky eater — that is, you are quite particular about food.
Fastidious, fussy, picky, persnickety: these are all synonyms for finicky, and they all suggest someone with extremely exacting tastes and habits, someone almost impossible to please. Finicky can also be used to describe something that demands a great deal of care and attention to detai
fitful
An adjective that sounds a little like what it means, fitful means stopping and starting, on-again off-again, switching suddenly. I had a fitful night's sleep: I woke up several times throughout the night.
flaccid
If something is limp, loose, droopy, and wrinkly, you can call it flaccid, which rhymes with "acid." Think elephant skin, soggy asparagus, and the type of feeble handshakes frowned on in job interviews.
flagrant
Something flagrant is bad — so bad you can't ignore it. A flagrant foul in sports might send you to the bench, and a flagrant violation of the law might send you to the slammer.
flail
To flail means to wave around wildly. If you are stranded on a deserted island and you see a ship in the distance, it's a good idea to flail your arms in the air to get the captain's attention.
flamboyant
Flamboyant means elaborate and ostentatious. When you think of flamboyant, think of Las Vegas showgirls: feathers, sequins, three-inch heels, enough make-up to disguise any irregularity.
flaunt
Flaunt is "to display proudly or show off," like when you flaunt your new Italian leather jacket by wearing it to the beach and pretending you're cold to make sure everyone sees it.
flay
Nasty word, flay. It means to peel or beat the skin of a person or animal, and not necessarily a dead one, either. Nowadays it more commonly means to criticize harshly someone or something, usually in public, leaving them raw and wounded.
fleck
A fleck is a small patch that is different from it rest, standing out from the background, like flecks of green in your blue eyes or flecks of light shining on the ground under a tree.
fledgling
A fledgling is a fuzzy baby bird just learning to fly, or someone (like a baby bird) who's brand new at doing something. Awww.
flippant
When a parent scolds a teenager for missing a curfew or blowing off a test and the teen snaps back, "Whatever," you could say the teen is being flippant. His reply was casual to the point of sarcasm and disrespect.
flit
A flit is a quick movement. You might flit around a crowded party, greeting everyone briefly with some light-hearted chatter and moving on quickly.
florid
When people are red-cheeked with good health they are florid. Spending most of the year in the college library can give you a colorless, weary face, but after a mountain vacation, you'll be florid with the reddish color that comes from exercise and living well.
flotsam
Flotsam is the floating wreckage of a ship. You'll often hear it used with jetsam which is floating objects that have been thrown from a ship, usually to lighten it before it sinks.
flounder
To flounder is to be unsteady or uncertain. It's probably from the Dutch word floddern, "to flop about," or it's a mix of founder ("to fail") and blunder ("do something clumsy"). If you flounder in the ocean, you need a surfer dude to scoop you up. You don't have to be in water, though; you can flounder any time you're a little wobbly — like after a long hike or during the last hour of the SATs. Either way, when you flounder, you wish you were a flat fish at the bottom of the sea.