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A composition that is usually short and has a literary theme is called an essay. You should probably start writing your essay on "To Kill a Mockingbird" sometime before the bus ride to school the day it is due. As a noun, an essay is also an attempt, especially a tentative initial one. Your essay to make friends at your new school would probably work better if you actually spoke to other students. As a verb, to essay is to make an attempt. If you essay to run for student council, you might lose to the girl who promises more recess, longer lunches, and less homework.

noun - A short literary composition on a single subject, usually presenting the personal view of the author.

noun - Something resembling such a composition: a photojournalistic essay.

noun - A testing or trial of the value or nature of a thing: an essay of the students' capabilities.

noun - An initial attempt or endeavor, especially a tentative attempt.

verb-transitive - To make an attempt at; try.

verb-transitive - To subject to a test.

hyponym - gamble, fight, verify, paper, lay on the line, give it a whirl, put on the line, chance, float, endeavour


The person who creates an organization or a company is known as the founder. Founder is also a verb meaning "fail miserably," which is something a company's founder hopes the company will never do. Choose Your Words:flounder / founderThese words have similar meanings with a slight though significant difference (particularly if you're the one doing the floundering/foundering).  
Continue reading...As a noun, founder means "the beginner or originator of something." You might talk about the founder of a nation, the founder of club, or the founder of a website. As a verb, founder can mean stumble, like when you trip and fall, but more generally it means "collapse or fall apart." A sports team might founder by slumping on a ten-game losing streak; a ship that sinks in a bad storm can be said to have foundered at sea.

verb-intransitive - To sink below the surface of the water: The ship struck a reef and foundered.

verb-intransitive - To cave in; sink: The platform swayed and then foundered.

verb-intransitive - To fail utterly; collapse: a marriage that soon foundered.

verb-intransitive - To stumble, especially to stumble and go lame. Used of horses.

verb-intransitive - To become ill from overeating. Used of livestock.

verb-intransitive - To be afflicted with laminitis. Used of horses.

verb-transitive - To cause to founder.

noun - See laminitis.

noun - One who establishes something or formulates the basis for something: the founder of a university; the founders of a new nation.

hyponym - flop, bell founder, go off, buckle, sink, slide down, crumple, break, implode, cofounder


A coda is a concluding segment of a piece of music, a dance, or a statement. It's usually short and adds a final embellishment beyond a natural ending point. Like this. Coda comes from the Italian word couda, and it's good to think of it as a tail tacked onto something that in and of itself is already a whole. If you tell a story about your crazy experience getting lost in the country and sleeping at a farmer's house, you might add, as a coda, that the farmer ended up visiting you too, a year later.

noun - Music The concluding passage of a movement or composition.

noun - A conclusion or closing part of a statement.

synonym - finale

cross-reference - chorus, onset, refrain

hypernym - conclusion, end, closing, ending, close

same-context - argument


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. To pronounce expatiate correctly, accent the second syllable: "ex-PAY-she-ate." When you expatiate, you add details, usually to something you are writing. The goal is to make your ideas clearer to readers, perhaps by offering an example to help them understand. Teachers can tell when you are expatiating and when you are just adding to what you've written, say, reach a certain length requirement. That's usually called "padding."

verb-intransitive - To speak or write at length: expatiated on the subject until everyone was bored.

verb-intransitive - To wander freely.

hyponym - specialize, expound, detail, specialise, exposit, exemplify, particularise, particularize, set forth, specify


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. Dissolution comes from the Latin word dissolutio, meaning "a dissolving of something." Dissolution looks very similar to "dissolve," so to help you remember the meaning, think about what happens if you put paper in water it breaks apart. A dissolution of a marriage is the same thing as divorce. Although it sounds like disillusion, if you try to use them interchangeably, your logic will fall apart.

noun - Decomposition into fragments or parts; disintegration.

noun - Indulgence in sensual pleasures; debauchery.

noun - Termination or extinction by disintegration or dispersion: The dissolution of the empire was remarkably swift.

noun - Extinction of life; death.

noun - Annulment or termination of a formal or legal bond, tie, or contract.

noun - Formal dismissal of an assembly or legislature.

noun - Reduction to a liquid form; liquefaction.

hyponym - lysis, fibrinolysis, splitsville, annulment, invalidation

synonym - melting, decomposition, ruin, death, separation


To obviate means to eliminate the need for something or to prevent something from happening. If you want to obviate the possibility of a roach infestation, clean your kitchen regularly. The prefix ob means "to go against." That makes sense when you look at the words obstruct and obstacle, but how about obstetrics? Why does the name of the branch of medicine dealing with birth have the same root as words that mean "stop" or "get in the way"? Because a midwife stands opposite to, or against, the woman giving birth.

verb-transitive - To anticipate and dispose of effectively; render unnecessary. See Synonyms at prevent.

hyponym - preclude, close out, rule out

form - obviating, obviated

synonym - anticipate, overcome

verb-form - obviating, obviates, obviated


The verb pique means to make someone angry or annoyed. But when something piques your interest or curiosity, here the verb pique just means to arouse, stimulate, or excite. Choose Your Words:peak / peek / piqueLet's look at three homophones: peak, peek, and pique. Peak is a topmost point, such as a mountain peak, or to reach that point.  
Continue reading...Both the noun and verb are pronounced "pk" and were borrowed from a French word meaning "a prick, irritation," from Old French, from piquer "to prick." So you can see how something that pricks you could make you both excited and angry. But it's frustratingenough to make you want to storm away from learning vocab. That storming away, by the by, might be called a "fit of pique."

noun - A state of vexation caused by a perceived slight or indignity; a feeling of wounded pride.

verb-transitive - To cause to feel resentment or indignation.

verb-transitive - To provoke; arouse: The portrait piqued her curiosity.

verb-transitive - To pride (oneself): He piqued himself on his stylish attire.

form - piquing, piqued

synonym - displease, fret, grudge, sting, nettle, spite, displeasure, stimulate


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. The purpose of this kind of poem is to express feelings rather than tell a story. Thomas Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard is a poem that reflects on the lives of common people buried in a church cemetery, and on the nature of human mortality. The noun elegy was borrowed in the 16th century from Middle French lgie, from Latin elega, from Greek elegeia, from elegos "mournful poem or song."

noun - A poem composed in elegiac couplets.

noun - A poem or song composed especially as a lament for a deceased person.

noun - Something resembling such a poem or song.

noun - Music A composition that is melancholy or pensive in tone.

form - elegiac

synonym - threnody, dirge

cross-reference - eulogy

hypernym - poem, verse form

same-context - ode, allegory, madrigal, sonnet


To renege is to go back on your word or fail to keep a promise. Not quite lying, reneging is more a sin of omission failing to do what you said you would. The Latin negre means "to deny," so by reneging on your word, you are denying someone whatever you promised them. In card games, you are said to renege if you play against the rules. To renege may be wrong, but it's not necessarily a punishable offense (unless you put that promise legally binding in writing). Still, it certainly doesn't make you look good!

verb-intransitive - To fail to carry out a promise or commitment: reneged on the contract at the last minute.

verb-intransitive - Games To fail to follow suit in cards when able and required by the rules to do so.

verb-transitive - To renounce; disown.

noun - The act of reneging.

synonym - revoke, disown, deny

verb-form - reneges, reneging, reneged

hypernym - revoke, mistake, reverse, vacate


If it reeks of humiliation or looks like the lowest of lows, then you can safely describe it as abject. The pronunciation of abject is up for debate: you can decide whether to stress the first or the second syllable. But what's more important is understanding how extreme this adjective is. Abject means absolutely miserable, the most unfortunate, with utter humiliation. You might have heard the phrase abject poverty, which is the absolute worst, most hopeless level of poverty you've ever seen.

adjective - Brought low in condition or status. See Synonyms at mean2.

adjective - Being of the most contemptible kind: abject cowardice.

adjective - Being of the most miserable kind; wretched: abject poverty.

equivalent - unfortunate, submissive, contemptible, hopeless

synonym - mean-spirited, lower, humiliating, hangdog, degrade, servile


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. You can see the word discord in discordant. Discord is tension felt between people who strongly disagree about something. So discordant describes experiencing discord, a lack of harmony. A discordant conversation at your dinner table may make some people upset they want everyone to get along. Discordant can also describe harsh and unpleasant sounds, like the blaring horns in city traffic.

adjective - Not being in accord; conflicting.

adjective - Disagreeable in sound; harsh or dissonant.

equivalent - factious, dissentious, discrepant, inharmonious, unharmonious, dissonant, divisive, at variance

synonym - disagreeing, opposing


Idolatry means the worship of images as if they were gods. Many religions prohibit idolatry, some even to the extent of forbidding any representational objects in houses of worship. Idol sits at the head of the word idolatry. If you worshipor even just look up toa person or a thing, you are said to idolize them. For some modern idolaters, money is their idol, while for others it is celebrities and for still others their jobs.

noun - Worship of idols.

noun - Blind or excessive devotion to something.

hyponym - gynaeolatry, bible-worship, symbolatry, verbolatry, anthropolatry, word-worship, worship of man, iconolatry, symbololatry, topolatry


When something is teeny tiny, it is minuscule. If your mother calls your miniskirt minuscule, it probably means she wants you to change into something a bit less revealing. In minuscule, you see the word, minus, which means lesser. The word minuscule has its roots in the Latin expression minuscula littera, a phrase used to describe the smaller letters in text. In the late 1800s, the use of the word expanded to mean very small in general so the definition of minuscule became less minuscule.

adjective - Very small; tiny. See Synonyms at small.

adjective - Of, relating to, or written in minuscule.

noun - A small cursive script developed from uncial between the seventh and ninth centuries and used in medieval manuscripts.

noun - A letter written in minuscule.

noun - A lowercase letter.

equivalent - lowercase, little, small

synonym - tiny, minute, lower-case, microscopic, small, minuscular

hypernym - cursive script


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. Choose Your Words:turbid / turgidTurbid can refer to something thick with suspended matter, while turgid means swollen or bombastic.  
Continue reading...Not to be confused with turgid, meaning swollen or inflated, though it almost always is. When applied to literary criticism, both words are highly critical and take on slightly different meanings turgid means "pompous or bombastic" and turbid tends to mean "confused or muddled." If a critic calls you both turbid and turgid, it might be time to think of another career.

adjective - Having sediment or foreign particles stirred up or suspended; muddy: turbid water.

adjective - Heavy, dark, or dense, as smoke or fog.

adjective - In a state of turmoil; muddled: turbid feelings.

equivalent - opaque

form - turbidity

synonym - unsettled, muddy, drumly, lutulent, Riley, thick, confused, roily


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. If someone smiles at you in a way that seems fake or empty, you could describe the smile as vacuous. An example of a vacuous comment would be a politician promising to make things better without explaining how. If something is vacuous, it's like a vacuum hollow, empty, devoid of substance.

adjective - Devoid of matter; empty.

adjective - Lacking intelligence; stupid.

adjective - Devoid of substance or meaning; inane: a vacuous comment.

adjective - Devoid of expression; vacant: "The narrow, swinelike eyes were open, no more vacuous in death than they had been in life ( Nicholas Proffitt).

adjective - Lacking serious purpose or occupation; idle. See Synonyms at empty.

equivalent - meaningless, incommunicative, uncommunicative, nonmeaningful, empty, foolish

form - vacuously, vacuousness, vacuity

synonym - vacant


If you assuage an unpleasant feeling, you make it go away. Assuaging your hunger by eating a bag of marshmallows may cause you other unpleasant feelings. The most common things that we assuage are fears, concerns, guilt, grief, anxiety, and anger. That makes a lot of sense these are all things we seek relief from. The word comes from Old French assouagier, from the Latin root suavis, "sweet" think of adding a bit of honey to something unpleasant. A word with a similar meaning is mollify.

verb-transitive - To make (something burdensome or painful) less intense or severe: assuage her grief. See Synonyms at relieve.

verb-transitive - To satisfy or appease (hunger or thirst, for example).

verb-transitive - To pacify or calm: assuage their chronic insecurity.

hyponym - soothe, comfort, ease

form - assuaging, assuager, assuaged, assuagement

synonym - calm, relieve, appease


Spooky, sneaky, powerful and strange, necromancy is the art of raising the spirits of the dead, either for their predictions about the future, or their ghostly help in making something happen. Necromancy, also called black magic, comes from the ancient Greek word for corpse necro and prophecy mancy. If you travel to the underworld to speak to the dead, then you have the power of necromancy, not to mention geomancy, the ability to read signs from the earth to find the necropolis, or city of the dead. As you might guess, necromancy isnt discussed much these days. But if youre reading about old witch trials, you might find accusations of necromancy abound.

noun - The practice of supposedly communicating with the spirits of the dead in order to predict the future.

noun - Black magic; sorcery.

noun - Magic qualities.

hyponym - witchery, obiism, bewitchment, enchantment, witchcraft, diabolism, Satanism, demonism

form - thread necromancy

synonym - conjuration


Indolent is an adjective meaning slow or lazy. It can take an indolent teenager hours to get out of bed on a weekend morning. Often it's noon before he finally comes shuffling down to breakfast in his pajamas. An indolent person is slow and lazy not the type of person you'd want running your corporation or competing with you in a relay race. Doctors use the word indolent to describe medical conditions that are slow to progress. If you're diagnosed with an illness, you'd prefer an indolent one over one that spreads quickly.

adjective - Disinclined to exert oneself; habitually lazy. See Synonyms at lazy.

adjective - Conducive to inactivity or laziness; lethargic: humid, indolent weather.

adjective - Causing little or no pain: an indolent tumor.

adjective - Slow to heal, grow, or develop; inactive: an indolent ulcer.

equivalent - idle, inactive

synonym - idler, easygoing, fat, otiose, sluggish, inert, inactive, idle


Extraneous means coming from or belonging to the outsideextraneous 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. In Latin, extra means outside, as in extraordinary "outside the ordinary," or extraterrestrial 'coming from outside earth.' (Bonus pointsding! ding!if you knew that terra is Latin for "earth.") The meaning of extraneous also extends to more abstract things that come from the outside: extraneous details are ones that don't matter.

adjective - Not constituting a vital element or part.

adjective - Inessential or unrelated to the topic or matter at hand; irrelevant. See Synonyms at irrelevant.

adjective - Coming from the outside: extraneous interference.

equivalent - adulterating, adulterant, extrinsic, irrelevant

form - extraneousness, extraneously

synonym - superfluous, intrusive, additional, extra


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. Sometimes doggerel has a non-critical meaning: plenty of popular comic poets (like Lewis Carroll or any limerick inventor) had no aim to make great art, just great light verse, and they succeeded brilliantly. They were masters of doggerel. But pity the earnest highbrow poet like the immortal Scotsman William McGonagall whose doggerel was so bad his audience frequently pelted him with eggs and rotting vegetables. Now his poetry was only fit for the dogs.

noun - Crudely or irregularly fashioned verse, often of a humorous or burlesque nature.

synonym - verse, trivial

hypernym - verse, rhyme

same-context - rigmarole, traditionary, Gaelic, Orphic, travesty, commendatory




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."This noun comes to us from Latin fervere, meaning "to boil, glow." In the English word fervor, the suffix or means "a condition or property of something." There is another or suffix that means "a person or thing that does the thing expressed by the verb." A corresponding adjective is fervent; synonyms of the noun and adjective are ardor and ardent.

noun - Great warmth and intensity of emotion. See Synonyms at passion.

noun - Intense heat.

hyponym - zeal, sensation, fever pitch

synonym - earnestness, ardor, passion, heat

etymologically-related-term - fervent, fervid, fever


Use the adjective analogous to describe something that is similar to something else and can be compared to another. Analogous things can be compared to each other, so a near synonym is the adjective comparable. Analogous is a term used in biology to refer to body parts that have a similar function but differ in structure, such as the wings of a bird and the wings of an airplane. Analogous is from Latin analogus, from Greek analogos, meaning "according to a proper ratio or proportion."

adjective - Similar or alike in such a way as to permit the drawing of an analogy.

adjective - Biology Similar in function but not in structure and evolutionary origin.

equivalent - similar

synonym - correlative, parallel, equivalent, corresponding, cognate, like, correspondent, similar

etymologically-related-term - analogue


Plaintive is an adjective for describing someone or something with a pleading, sorrowful, desperate tone. If you have ever heard the plaintive howl of a wolf, then you know what we are getting at here. A plaint, as in complaint, is an expression of sorrow or grief. This word has also been bent a little at the ends to become plaintiff, or complainantthe suffererin a lawsuit. So, whether you are hearing a plaintive tone in a courtroom, at a funeral, or in the wild (as in an animal's plaintive howl), you can be assured that someone or something desires something desperately.

adjective - Expressing sorrow; mournful or melancholy.

equivalent - sorrowful

synonym - repining, complaining, sad, lamenting, mournful

etymologically-related-term - plaintiff, plaint

same-context - doleful, piteous


If you can't change it, it's immutable. There are many things in life that are immutable; these unchangeable things include death, taxes, and the laws of physics. The adjective immutable has Latin roots that mean "not changeable." The Latin prefix for not is in, but the spelling changes when the prefix is put before the consonant m. It is im before a root word starting with m as in immutable. If you learn this rule, you'll know the immutable fact that immutable begins with i-m-m.

adjective - Not subject or susceptible to change.

synonym - unchangeable, unalterable

cross-reference - immutable accent

same-context - steadfast, infallible, undying, incorruptible, inflexible, indivisible, inviolable


Antediluvian means "before the flood" that is, the Biblical flood with Noah's ark. Generally, though, the word is used often humorously to describe something really, really old. In popular language, antediluvian is almost always used to exaggerate how comically, ridiculously old and out-of-date something is. You may laugh at your parents' antediluvian ideas of what's proper for going out on a date. And how about those antediluvian computers they still insist are fine! When the word was coined in the seventeenth century, however, it was meant literally. Back then, the science of reconstructing the Earth's history used the Bible as a frame of reference.

adjective - Extremely old and antiquated. See Synonyms at old.

adjective - Bible Occurring or belonging to the era before the Flood.

equivalent - old

synonym - antediluvial, prediluvial, prediluvian

etymologically-related-term - diluvial, deluge

hypernym - golden ager, old person, senior citizen, patriarch




The word iconoclastic is an adjective referring to a breaking of established rules or destruction of accepted beliefs. It might refer to an artist with an unorthodox style, or an iconoclastic attack, either physical or verbal, on a religious doctrine or image. Consider the Greek word eikn, or "image," coupled with -klasts, "one who breaks," and you get a good image of someone who is iconoclastic. An iconoclastic approach to religion involves tearing down the icons representing the church. While this was once done physically, through riots and mayhem, todays iconoclasts usually prefer using words. Not all iconoclasts are destructive, however. An iconoclastic approach to art and music has given rise to the development of new genres and styles through breaking the rules.

adjective - Characterized by attack on established beliefs or institutions; of or pertaining to iconoclasm.

equivalent - unorthodox, destructive

etymologically-related-term - iconoclast, iconoclasm

same-context - knights-errant, see-sawing, unsubdued, factious, quell, antiforeign


If the thrill is gone, you are blas. If you yawn on a roller coaster, then maybe you've had one too many rides. The adjective blase (most often spelled blas), describes someone who is bored with the pleasures of life because of frequent indulgence or exposure. When asked what she thought of the award ceremony, the actress yawned and replied, "It was blas. It was just like the last 15 award ceremonies I've been too."

adjective - alternative spelling of blas.


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!"Facetious is a useful word to describe something that's humorous, or meant to be humorous. If a joke falls flat, then you can back off from it by saying you're only being facetious. There are limits to this use of the word: if you stage an elaborate prank on your friend, making him run out into the street in his underwear because he thinks his house is on fire, calling the joke facetious will probably earn you a punch in the face.

adjective - Playfully jocular; humorous: facetious remarks.

equivalent - humourous, humorous

form - facetiously, facetiousness

synonym - merry, witty, funny, jocular, humorous, sportive


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. Anytime you draw up a legal agreement, you can stipulate a requirement that has to be met for that agreement to be complete. This stipulation might put some sort of limit on the agreement. For example, if you run a fencing company and offer a sale, you can stipulate that to get the sale price, the fence must be ordered by a certain date. Your customer, in turn, might stipulate that the work must be finished before the ground freezes.

verb-transitive - To lay down as a condition of an agreement; require by contract.

verb-transitive - To specify or arrange in an agreement: stipulate a date of payment and a price.

verb-transitive - To guarantee or promise (something) in an agreement.

verb-intransitive - To make an express demand or provision in an agreement.

verb-intransitive - To form an agreement.

adjective - Having stipules.

hyponym - provide

form - stipulated, stipulating, stipulative, stipulation

synonym - arrange, condition, contract, bespeak, provided


Eugenics is the idea that you can engineer a better human population by breeding for certain genes. Since such a program would entail ranking human beings and the desirability of their genes, eugenics is widely considered unethical. The term eugenics was coined in 1883 by Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin, and it comes from the Greek roots eu- "good" and genos "birth." Galton believed that the human race could be improved by encouraging people who have "good" genes to marry early and have lots of children, and discouraging people with "bad" genes from procreating at all. Nazi Germany provided a horrifying example of such a program at work, and eugenics is now seen as abhorrent.

noun - The study of hereditary improvement of the human race by controlled selective breeding.

hypernym - bioscience, life science


Use the word gauche when you want to call something tacky, graceless, tactless, rude, boorish, or awkward and foolish. Have you just pointed out someone's misuse of this word? Oh dear, how gauche!Gauche was used for a long time to refer to things that were just so wrong, it almost hurt to talk about them, like publicly asking someone why they dont like you. That is so gauche, it could induce a cringe! Gauche is almost a gauche word, as it is comes from a French word meaning left (as opposed to right). It would be gauche to call left-handed people tacky!

adjective - Lacking social polish; tactless.

equivalent - inelegant

synonym - twisted, warped, unpolished, winding, graceless, gawky, awkward, crude, unsophisticated


Something that's Implausible is farfetched or unlikely. If it's 3pm and you still have to study for three exams and write an essay before midnight, its implausible that youll also have time to watch a movie. The adjective implausible breaks down into im, meaning not, and "plausible," meaning likely. So it simply means "not likely." Implausible ideas or stories usually get high marks for creativity, but they're just too crazy to be believable. But as philosopher Rene Descartes noted, One cannot conceive anything so strange and so implausible that it has not already been said by one philosopher or another.

adjective - Difficult to believe; not plausible.

equivalent - unconvincing, unbelievable, unlikely, improbable

same-context - stagey, suggestible, unproved, untrustworthy, inconclusive, dissimilar


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. Tenet is pronounced "tenit." The word evolved from the Latin tenere "to hold." The noun tenet is an opinion or doctrine one holds. It usually refers to a philosophy or a religion, but it doesn't have to for instance, Eastern medicine has different tenets from Western medicine. One of the central tenets of succeeding in the workplace is that a good offense is the best defense.

noun - An opinion, doctrine, or principle held as being true by a person or especially by an organization. See Synonyms at doctrine.

hyponym - article of faith, credendum

synonym - position, principle, dogma, opinion, doctrine, creed

hypernym - church doctrine, gospel


If something's exact it means it's precise and completely accurate as opposed to a guess, an estimate or an approximation. Exact also has the meaning of taking something from someone, often money, and generally only given up with reluctance under the threat of force. The Mob might exact a shakedown from unfortunate businessmen, for example. The word comes from the Latin exactus "exact or accurate," a form of the verb exigere meaning "to force out or demand," like the Mob demanding its money.

adjective - Strictly and completely in accord with fact; not deviating from truth or reality: an exact account; an exact replica; your exact words.

adjective - Characterized by accurate measurements or inferences with small margins of error; not approximate: an exact figure; an exact science.

adjective - Characterized by strict adherence to standards or rules: an exact speaker.

verb-transitive - To force the payment or yielding of; extort: exact tribute from a conquered people.

verb-transitive - To demand and obtain by or as if by force or authority: a harsh leader who exacts obedience. See Synonyms at demand.

hyponym - call, command, call in

equivalent - direct, photographic, verbatim, correct, mathematical, rigorous, strict


Gainsay, a verb, means "contradict" or "speak out against." When you challenge authority, you gainsay, as in teachers don't like it when unruly students gainsay them. Gainsay comes from an Old English word that means "contradict" or "say against," as in, no one dared gainsay the principal, who is well-known for giving detention to students who so much as frown at him. If you know someone who constantly corrects others, tells them that they're wrong, and says, "That's not true," more than anyone else, you have first-hand experience with the art of the gainsay.

verb-transitive - To declare false; deny. See Synonyms at deny.

verb-transitive - To oppose, especially by contradiction.

hyponym - call

form - gainsaying, gainsaid, gainsayer

synonym - dispute, deny, contradict, controvert, forbid

verb-form - gainsays


A dupe is a furry, ceremonial hat occasionally worn during ancient pagan rituals... or not. Dupe actually means trick or deceive. Were sorry we tried to dupe you into believing the wrong definition. Dupe can also refer to the victim of a trick or hoax, and used in this sense it sometimes conveys the idea that the victim is easily fooled. Dupe comes from the French word for a type of bird called the hoopoe, which has an extravagant crest and a reputation for being dim-witted. (And no, that's not another attempt to dupe you; it's the truth!)

noun - An easily deceived person.

noun - A person who functions as the tool of another person or power.

verb-transitive - To deceive (an unwary person). See Synonyms at deceive.

hyponym - laughingstock, fall guy, pull the leg of, goat, mark, lamb, soft touch, sitting duck, fool, kid


The meaning of physiognomy means the look of your face. When traveling in Italy, you may be struck by the wide eyes and pleasing physiognomy of the Italian people you meet. The reason physiognomy sounds like it should be something you study in school right after biology, geometry, and astronomy is that people used to think that it was a science by which you could tell someone's character through their facial features. If you've ever read any Nancy Drew stories, you will know how this plays outanyone with "shifty eyes" is not to be trusted.

noun - The art of judging human character from facial features.

noun - Divination based on facial features.

noun - Facial features, especially when regarded as revealing character.

noun - Aspect and character of an inanimate or abstract entity: the physiognomy of New England.

hyponym - pudding-face, pudding face

synonym - countenance

etymologically-related-term - physiognomist

hypernym - face, human face

same-context - mesmerism, stature, mien, demeanour


Perhaps if you are a superhero, you can tackle an insuperable problem one that is considered impossible to overcome. Insuperable is an adjective that is often paired with nouns like difficulty, obstacle, and barrier. An insuperable difficulty is not just difficult; its impossible. And an insuperable obstacle is not like a hurdle on a running track that slows you down a little; it stops you entirely. The opposite of insuperable is, of course, superable, though its less commonly used than its negative counterpart.

adjective - Impossible to overcome; insurmountable: insuperable odds.

equivalent - unconquerable, insurmountable, unsurmountable

form - insuperableness

synonym - unconquerable, impassable, invincible, insurmountable

etymologically-related-term - insuperability

cross-reference - unconquerable


If you are guileless, you are not a liar; you are innocent, and you might be a touch on the gullible side. To be guileless is to be without guile. Guile is "deceit, duplicity and trickery." The young and uninitiated are the ones we call guileless, and they are the ones who often get stung by the more heartless among us. You might recall being a guileless freshman trying out for the school play, and being told by a veteran performer that it would be best to come to the audition for Our Town in a chicken costume, so you did.

adjective - Free of guile; artless. See Synonyms at naive.

equivalent - square, straight

synonym - simpl, artless, nave

same-context - innocent, amiable, childlike, truthful, unaffected


A vendetta is blood feud, a quest for revenge. In Corsica, a vendetta will separate families for generations, with members of one family murdering those of the other, all to satisfy an ancient grudge. If a friend of yours breaks into your locker and fills it with crumpled up newspaper, you will not be able to hold your head up until you have carried out a vendetta. Perhaps you can tie his shoes together during French class without his noticing?

noun - A feud between two families or clans that arises out of a slaying and is perpetuated by retaliatory acts of revenge; a blood feud.

noun - A bitter, destructive feud.

hypernym - feud

same-context - moglie, giovane, Meryl, slayings


To laud someone doesn't mean to give them knighthood, but to praise them extravagantly usually in a very public manner. Being lauded, of course, can have the same tonic effect as having been made a lord. Fun fact: the word laud is related to the drug laudanum, a potent combo of alcohol and opium first invented in the sixteenth century. Its creator, the alchemist Parcelsus, clearly knowing the effect it had on people, took its name from the Latin word laudere, meaning "to praise." Not surprisingly, it remained one of the world's most lauded drugs until its use became strictly controlled in the early twentieth century.

verb-transitive - To give praise to; glorify. See Synonyms at praise.

noun - Praise; glorification.

noun - A hymn or song of praise.

noun - Ecclesiastical The service of prayers following the matins and constituting with them the first of the seven canonical hours.

noun - The time appointed for this service.

hyponym - ensky, crack up, hymn, canonise, canonize

form - lauded, lauding

synonym - honor, glory, praise


When something is viable, the adjective refers to something workable with the ability to grow and function properly. The adjective viable refers to something able to function properly and even grow. It is made up of the Latin roots vita which means "life," and the ending -able which means "to be possible." In terms of science or botany, when a plant is viable it can live and flourish in an environment such as a cactus in the desert. Consider also the Wright brothers, who were the first to develop a viable airplane after many tries and spectacular failures.

adjective - Capable of living, developing, or germinating under favorable conditions.

adjective - Capable of living outside the uterus. Used of a fetus or newborn.

adjective - Capable of success or continuing effectiveness; practicable: a viable plan; a viable national economy. See Synonyms at possible.

equivalent - possible, alive, live

form - viability

etymologically-related-term - vital, survive, vivid, devive, revive

same-context - specialize


If you are gullible, the joke is on you because you are easily fooled. It is thought that gullible might be derived from the verb gull, meaning "to swallow." This would be a funny coincidence as gullible describes an overly trusting person who tends to swallow the stories he hears whole. The related word, gull, can be used as a noun "don't be such a gull!" or as a verb "you can't gull me into believing that!"

adjective - Easily deceived or duped.

equivalent - naive, naf, unwary

form - gullibility, gullibly

synonym - naif, fleeceable, green, nave

same-context - artless


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 cars engine. Choose Your Words:discreet / discreteDiscreet and discrete are doublets of each other. That is, they come from the same ultimate source, although they took different paths from it.  
Continue reading...Don't confuse discrete meaning separate, or divided, or distinct, with its close cousin discreet, which means "with discretion," or "appropriately private." They come from the same word root, and each basically means to keep something apart. Billionaire Bruce Wayne, for example, is very discreet about his secret life as Batman. You could say Batman is a discrete part of Bruce Waynes identity.

adjective - Constituting a separate thing. See Synonyms at distinct.

adjective - Consisting of unconnected distinct parts.

adjective - Mathematics Defined for a finite or countable set of values; not continuous.

equivalent - separate

form - discreteness, discrete variable

synonym - separate, disjunctive, discontinuous, disjunct, distinct

cross-reference - discrete degrees

same-context - optical


Something can be described as invidious when it is resentful, discriminatory or envious, as in: "Fred was angered by the invidious gossip about his divorce being spread by his ex-wife's allies."Choose Your Words:insidious / invidiousIt's easy to see why insidious and invidious are easily confused. With just one letter separating them, both of which are pronounced at the front of the mouth, you can easily mishear a speaker. What's more, both are negative terms.  
Continue reading...The adjective invidious is used to describe an act, thought, opinion or critique that is full of ill will or prejudice. It comes from a Latin word that means "hostile." When the captain of a cheerleading squad says nasty things about an opposing cheer captain's new party dress, those are invidious comments.

adjective - Tending to rouse ill will, animosity, or resentment: invidious accusations.

adjective - Containing or implying a slight; discriminatory: invidious distinctions.

adjective - Envious.

equivalent - unfavourable, unfavorable

synonym - envious, desirable, offensive, enviable, hateful, malignant

etymologically-related-term - invidiously, invidiousness


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. Choose Your Words:turbid / turgidTurbid can refer to something thick with suspended matter, while turgid means swollen or bombastic.  
Continue reading...Turgid comes from the Latin word turgidus, meaning "swollen, inflated." Turgid can be used in a figurative sense to describe things that are overblown. That might remind you of some people's egos! If a famous singer wants to showcase his incredible vocal range and his love of yodeling in a single song, the result may well be turgid, something so swollen with notes and styles that it seems ready to burst.

adjective - Excessively ornate or complex in style or language; grandiloquent: turgid prose.

adjective - Swollen or distended, as from a fluid; bloated: a turgid bladder; turgid veins.

equivalent - unhealthy, rhetorical

synonym - pompous, bombastic, grandiose, bloated, swelled, inflated, swollen, distended


Use the verb burgeon to describe something that is growing, expanding, and flourishing. If you have a green thumb, in the spring your flower gardens will burgeon in a cacophony of color. If you don't have a green thumb, your collection of plastic plants will burgeon. Although burgeon means to grow and flourish, it doesn't necessarily have to apply only to plants. Your town can have >burgeoning downtown development. Your tiny retirement account can burgeon into an excellent emergency fund if you invest even a small amount each month. You may have a burgeoning career as a villain if you overthrow a planet by using your mind-controlling ray gun on the populace.

verb-intransitive - To put forth new buds, leaves, or greenery; sprout.

verb-intransitive - To begin to grow or blossom.

verb-intransitive - To grow or develop rapidly.

synonym - green, grow, expand, sprout, germinate, bud, blossom

verb-form - burgeoned, burgeoning, burgeons


A cloister is an enclosed garden, usually surrounded by covered walkways. Because such spaces are often featured in buildings that house religious orders, cloister can be used to mean "monastery" or "convent."In enclosed religious orders, monks and nuns withdraw from society to devote themselves to prayer and contemplation. In order to provide them with access to the outdoors while protecting them from contact with the secular world, the cloister became a common element of convents and monasteries. When used as a verb, cloister generally loses its religious connotation and means "to seclude" or "isolate." Don't get a lunch detention or you'll be cloistered in the classroom while all the other kids are running around outside.

noun - A covered walk with an open colonnade on one side, running along the walls of buildings that face a quadrangle.

noun - A place, especially a monastery or convent, devoted to religious seclusion.

noun - Life in a monastery or convent.

noun - A secluded, quiet place.

verb-transitive - To shut away from the world in or as if in a cloister; seclude.

verb-transitive - To furnish (a building) with a cloister.

hyponym - convent, priory, monastery

form - cloistered, cloistral, cloistering, cloisterer

synonym - enter religion, convent, priory


A rubric is a heading or a category in a chart, or a rule of conduct. A teacher's grading rubrics may include participation, homework completion, tests, quizzes, and papers. A rubric can also mean a rule or a procedure. If you use "might makes right" as the rubric for the formation of a list of classroom rules, you'll have a different-feeling classroom culture than if your rubric is "everyone deserves respect."

noun - A class or category: "This mission is sometimes discussed under the rubric of 'horizontal escalation' . . . from conventional to nuclear war ( Jack Beatty).

noun - A title; a name.

noun - A part of a manuscript or book, such as a title, heading, or initial letter, that appears in decorative red lettering or is otherwise distinguished from the rest of the text.

noun - A title or heading of a statute or chapter in a code of law.

noun - Ecclesiastical A direction in a missal, hymnal, or other liturgical book.

noun - An authoritative rule or direction.

noun - A short commentary or explanation covering a broad subject.

noun - Red ocher.

adjective - Red or reddish.

adjective - Written in red.

equivalent - rubrical

synonym - rubricate, class, redden

etymologically-related-term - rubricate

cross-reference - rubric lakes, ornaments rubric

hypernym - title, category, direction


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. As an adjective, you can use the word thespian to describe something that is related to drama. If you enjoy theater, you can say you enjoy thespian pursuits. Many high school drama clubs offer Thespian status to club members who earn a certain number of points by acting in shows or working on backstage tech for them. Note that the word thespian is sometimes capitalized because it is taken from a person's name.

adjective - Of or relating to drama; dramatic: thespian talents.

adjective - Of or relating to Thespis.

noun - An actor or actress.

hyponym - Olivier, douglas elton fairbanks, Jolson, dustin hoffman, lee strasberg, principal, bela ferenc blasko, stand-by, edward g. robinson, asa yoelson


The verb plummet means "to drop sharply," like eagles that plummet toward earth, seeking prey, or school attendance that plummets when there is a flu outbreak. To correctly pronounce plummet, say "PLUH-met." This verb describes something that drops sharply or quickly, like a roller coaster that plummets down a hill, temperatures that plummet overnight, or sales of roses and candy that plummet after Valentine's Day. If something plummets, this doesn't mean it will stay down or low forever, just that it has experienced a sharp drop.

noun - See plumb bob.

noun - Something that weighs down or oppresses; a burden.

verb-intransitive - To fall straight down; plunge.

verb-intransitive - To decline suddenly and steeply: Stock prices plummeted.

synonym - weight, drop, Bob, fall, plumb, dive, lead

verb-form - plummeting, plummeted, plummetted


To describe a person or a solution that takes a realistic approach, consider the adjective pragmatic. The four-year-old who wants a unicorn for her birthday isn't being very pragmatic. The opposite of idealistic is pragmatic, a word that describes a philosophy of "doing what works best." From Greek pragma "deed," the word has historically described philosophers and politicians who were concerned more with real-world application of ideas than with abstract notions. A pragmatic person is sensible, grounded, and practical and doesn't expect a birthday celebration filled with magical creatures.

adjective - Dealing or concerned with facts or actual occurrences; practical.

adjective - Philosophy Of or relating to pragmatism.

adjective - Relating to or being the study of cause and effect in historical or political events with emphasis on the practical lessons to be learned from them.

adjective - Archaic Active; busy.

adjective - Archaic Active in an officious or meddlesome way.

adjective - Archaic Dogmatic; dictatorial.

noun - A pragmatic sanction.

noun - Archaic A meddler; a busybody.

equivalent - realistic, practical, pragmatical

form - pragmatically, pragma

synonym - realistic, utilitarian, practical, philosophical, down-to-earth


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."A simile (pronounced SIM-uh-lee) is a comparison that usually uses the words "like" or "as": "Me without a mic is like a beat without a snare," rapped Lauryn Hill in the song "How Many Mics." The word comes from similus, a Latin word meaning "the same." A simile is different from a metaphor, in which the comparison is less explicit, as in Shakespeare's line "All the world's a stage."

noun - A figure of speech in which two essentially unlike things are compared, often in a phrase introduced by like or as, as in "How like the winter hath my absence been or "So are you to my thoughts as food to life (Shakespeare).

synonym - similitude, comparison

cross-reference - English similes, metaphor

hypernym - figure, trope, image, figure of speech

same-context - visum, res


Have you ever cut out a bunch of pictures from magazines and pasted them together to make a big picture? If you have, you have made a collage. Collage came to English through French from the Greek word for glue, kolla, about 100 years ago. A collage is not only made from magazine pictures. In the world of fine art, it refers to a work made with various small objects sometimes with paint sometimes without. The word can also be used to mean a collection of different things. If it's very loud in your house, you might come home to a collage of sounds from the dog, the TV, your mom on the phone and your brother on the guitar. Years after you graduate, high school might just seem like a collage of memories.

noun - An artistic composition of materials and objects pasted over a surface, often with unifying lines and color.

noun - A work, such as a literary piece, composed of both borrowed and original material.

noun - The art of creating such compositions.

noun - An assemblage of diverse elements: a collage of conflicting memories.

verb-transitive - To paste (diverse materials) over a surface, thereby creating an artistic product.

verb-intransitive - To create such an artistic product.

hyponym - photomontage

synonym - montage

verb-form - collaging, collages, collaged

cross-reference - montage

hypernym - aggregation, picture, paste-up, icon


A recluse lives alone, works alone, eats alone, and generally stays away from other people. Anti-social old hermits are recluses, as are a lot of students during exam time. In the early 13th century, a recluse was a person who shut out the world to go meditate on religious issues. But nowadays recluses can think about whatever they want while they're sitting in solitude they're simply people who shy away from social interaction and live secluded lives. Or think of the Brown Recluse spider, who likes to hide out in dark old boots or undisturbed corners of the basement.

noun - A person who withdraws from the world to live in seclusion and often in solitude.

adjective - Withdrawn from the world; reclusive.

hyponym - St. John the Baptist, John the Baptist

equivalent - unsocial

form - brown recluse, recluse spider

synonym - solitary, seclude, reclusive, hermit

hypernym - lone hand


That seductive gleam on that Porsche behind the dealer's window? It's called a burnish, a gloss only achieved by loads of polishing. Likewise, you can burnish resume, by polishing it until it's perfect. A caution about usage: burnish in the physical sense is usually reserved for inanimate objects a woman will not be happy to hear that her appearance is "burnished to perfection." But your car will thank you. Also, one of the most common non-physical things to be burnished? A reputation. People are forever burnishing them and its opposite, besmirching them (i. e., making them dirty).

verb-transitive - To make smooth or glossy by or as if by rubbing; polish.

verb-transitive - To rub with a tool that serves especially to smooth or polish.

noun - A smooth glossy finish or appearance; luster.

hyponym - French polish, glaze

form - burnishing, burnished

synonym - brightness, polis, brighten, gloss, luster, polish


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. In geometry, a tangent is a line that touches a curve in one spot but doesn't intersect it anywhere else. Tangential means something that goes off in one direction that way and doesn't return. People can feel tangentialas though they're inessential and not relevant to a larger group.

adjective - Of, relating to, or moving along or in the direction of a tangent.

adjective - Merely touching or slightly connected.

adjective - Only superficially relevant; divergent: a tangential remark.

equivalent - irrelevant

cross-reference - tangential cordinates, simple tangential strain, conic tangential, tangential plane

same-context - northeasterly, transversal, 2-level, upward, rotational


A query is a question, or the search for a piece of information. The Latin root quaere means "to ask" and it's the basis of the words inquiry, question, quest, request, and query. Query often fits the bill when referring to Internet searches, polite professional discourse, and subtle pleas. You could query as to the whereabouts of the lavatory, but you'd sound a bit prim and be better off asking "Where's the toilet?" If your job entails dealing with annoying questions and complaints, you could make it sound better by proclaiming, "I respond to customer queries."

noun - A question; an inquiry.

noun - A doubt in the mind; a mental reservation.

noun - A notation, usually a question mark, calling attention to an item in order to question its validity or accuracy.

verb-transitive - To express doubt or uncertainty about; question: query someone's motives.

verb-transitive - To put a question to (a person). See Synonyms at ask.

verb-transitive - To mark (an item) with a notation in order to question its validity or accuracy.

hyponym - inquire, interpellate, examine, enquire, wonder, debrief, sound out, pump, checkout, feel out


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!Sordid comes from the Latin word sordes "dirt." Something that is filthy or run down such as a neighborhood or someone's living conditions can be called sordid, but it is usually used figuratively to mean immoral or dishonest. If you want to hear the sordid details of someone's actions, it's because they were extremely dishonest or sexually immoral and also because they were supposed to be kept a secret.

adjective - Filthy or dirty; foul.

adjective - Depressingly squalid; wretched: sordid shantytowns.

adjective - Morally degraded: "The sordid details of his orgies stank under his very nostrils ( James Joyce). See Synonyms at mean2.

adjective - Exceedingly mercenary; grasping.

equivalent - acquisitive, dirty, disreputable, soiled, unclean, corrupt

form - sordidity, sordidly, sordidness

synonym - selfish


If you disapprove of the overly submissive way someone is acting like the teacher's pet or a celebrity's assistant call them by the formal adjective obsequious. There are many words in the English language for a person or an action that is overly obedient and submissive. Obsequious is a more formal adjective, whereas fawning or servile belong to standard language use. An obsequious person can be called a bootlicker, a brownnoser or a toady. You can also say that someone gives an obsequious bow, a gesture that means, "your wish is my command."

adjective - Full of or exhibiting servile compliance; fawning.

equivalent - servile, insincere

synonym - truckling, yielding, slavish, subservient, abject, pickthank, supple, sycophantic



noun - Self-restraint; moderation.

noun - Voluntary control over urinary and fecal discharge.

noun - Partial or complete abstention from sexual activity. See Synonyms at abstinence.

equivalent - continency

synonym - continuity, self-control, self-command, self-restraint

etymologically-related-term - continent

hypernym - self-denial, control, restraint, self-discipline


A skeptic is a doubter. The one who can't be convinced. The guy who's ready to poke holes in the most brilliant argument you've ever made. For every great idea, there are probably 100 skeptics waiting to shoot it down. These are the naysayers that didn't think rock music would last, questioned the usefulness of seat belts, and even wondered if the internet would catch on. Coming from the Greek word skeptikos, which means "thoughtful or inquiring," it's no surprise that a skeptic is someone who asks a lot of questions and isn't easily convinced, even by the smartest answers.

noun - One who instinctively or habitually doubts, questions, or disagrees with assertions or generally accepted conclusions.

noun - One inclined to skepticism in religious matters.

noun - Philosophy An adherent of a school of skepticism.

noun - Philosophy A member of an ancient Greek school of skepticism, especially that of Pyrrho of Elis (360?-272? B.C.).

hyponym - doubting thomas, pessimist

equivalent - skeptical

synonym - unbeliever, doubter, minimifidian, infidel, freethinker, pyrrhonist

etymologically-related-term - skeptical


It takes a bit of planning to forestall something, meaning stop it from happening. To forestall the effects of aging, exercise and take care of your health all your life. You can break the word forestall into parts to figure out its meaning. The prefix fore is one you've seen in words like forewarn, which means "to warn in advance." And you probably know that stall means "delay." So to forestall is to stall in advance, or put another way, to try to prevent or put off something you don't want to happen.

verb-transitive - To delay, hinder, or prevent by taking precautionary measures beforehand. See Synonyms at prevent.

verb-transitive - To deal with or think of beforehand; anticipate.

verb-transitive - To prevent or hinder normal sales in (a market) by buying up merchandise, discouraging persons from bringing their goods to market, or encouraging an increase in prices in goods already on sale.

hyponym - queer, stop, ward off, save, stymy, bilk, scotch, block, deflect, fend off


You may have heard it said that the fastest way to a persons heart is through his stomach. So, if you need to please or impress someone, regale them that is, treat them to lavish food and drink. While food is reliable way to regale someone, regale can also involve providing forms of entertainment such as music or storytelling. Regale is akin to the word gala, meaning a festive party, and gallant, which can mean spirited and adventurous (though gallant can also mean noble and brave). If you regale someone with a gala attended by partygoers who are gallant, in either sense of the word, everyone should have a pretty good time.

verb-transitive - To provide with great enjoyment; entertain. See Synonyms at amuse.

verb-transitive - To entertain sumptuously with food and drink; provide a feast for.

verb-intransitive - To feast.

noun - A great feast.

noun - A choice food; a delicacy.

noun - Refreshment.

hyponym - wine, feast, feed, alcoholize

form - regaling, regaled

synonym - feast, banquet, entertain, gratify



noun - A funeral rite or ceremony. Often used in the plural.

synonym - obsequiousness


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. Exacerbate is related to the adjective acrid, often used to describe sharp-smelling smoke. Think of exacerbate then as a sharp or bitter thing that makes something worse. A drought will exacerbate a country's food shortage. Worsen, intensify, aggravate and compound are similar, but exacerbate has the sense of an irritant being added in to make something bad even worse.

verb-transitive - To increase the severity, violence, or bitterness of; aggravate: a speech that exacerbated racial tensions; a heavy rainfall that exacerbated the flood problems.

hyponym - degrade, inflame, irritate, cheapen

form - exacerbatingly, exacerbation, exacerbated, exacerbating

synonym - exasperate, irritate


Insinuate means you imply or suggest something that may or may not be true. If you say things seemed to go wrong about the time your brother took over, you insinuate that he had something to do with the decline. There's another way to insinuate. Suppose you're in line to get into a popular dance club when a celebrity appears, surrounded by a big entourage. If you strike up a conversation with one of the entourage, you may be able to insinuate that you're part of the group and go in with them. Don't feel bad people have been doing it at least since the 1520s, when insinuate evolved from the Latin word insinuare, meaning "wind one's way into."

verb-transitive - To introduce or otherwise convey (a thought, for example) gradually and insidiously. See Synonyms at suggest.

verb-transitive - To introduce or insert (oneself) by subtle and artful means.

verb-intransitive - To make insinuations.

form - insinuating, insinuated

synonym - instill, intimate, introduce, hint, suggest, insert, ingratiate

etymologically-related-term - insinuation


Watch out when a situation becomes volatile it is likely to change for the worse suddenly. You fight and then make up with your partner often if you two have a volatile relationship. Volatile from Latin volatilis "fleeting, transitory" always gives the sense of sudden, radical change. Think of it as the opposite of stable. A person who is volatile loses his or her temper suddenly and violently. A volatile political situation could erupt into civil war. When the stock market is volatile, it fluctuates greatly. And in scientific language, a volatile oil evaporates quickly.

adjective - Chemistry Evaporating readily at normal temperatures and pressures.

adjective - Chemistry That can be readily vaporized.

adjective - Tending to vary often or widely, as in price: the ups and downs of volatile stocks.

adjective - Inconstant; fickle: a flirt's volatile affections.

adjective - Lighthearted; flighty: in a volatile mood.

adjective - Ephemeral; fleeting.

adjective - Tending to violence; explosive: a volatile situation with troops and rioters eager for a confrontation.

adjective - Flying or capable of flying; volant.

equivalent - evaporable, vaporizable, inconstant, unstable, vaporific, changeful, vapourisable, volatilisable, volatilizable, vapourific


If something is pristine it's immaculately clean or has never been used. So please check your shoes before walking on a pristine white carpet. A long, long time ago pristine was used to describe primitive or ancient things. It wasnt until 1899 that the word grew to mean "unspoiled" or "pure." Ecologists strive to preserve pristine rain forests, just as vacationers are always looking for a pristine strip of beach to lounge on. A new car should arrive to you in pristine condition, and hopefully you'll do your best to keep it that way.

adjective - Remaining in a pure state; uncorrupted by civilization.

adjective - Remaining free from dirt or decay; clean: pristine mountain snow.

adjective - Of, relating to, or typical of the earliest time or condition; primitive or original.

equivalent - pure, clean

synonym - old, original, primitive, primeval

same-context - unblemished, dazzle, unclouded, unbroken


The word commensurate has to do with things that are similar in size and therefore appropriate. Many people think the death penalty is a commensurate punishment for murder. In other words, the penalty fits the crime. When things are commensurate, they're fair, appropriate, and the right size. If you got a ticket for jaywalking, you shouldn't get ten years in prison that penalty is not commensurate with the crime. The word commensurate is usually followed by with or to; one thing is commensurate with or to another.

adjective - Of the same size, extent, or duration as another.

adjective - Corresponding in size or degree; proportionate: a salary commensurate with my performance.

adjective - Measurable by a common standard; commensurable.

equivalent - coextensive, conterminous, commensurable, proportionate, coterminous

form - commensurated, commensurating

synonym - adequate, adjust, commensurable


A maverick is a rebel, someone who shows a lot of independence. A maverick on a motorcycle might blaze his own trail, or show a maverick touch in a rough sport by wearing a helmet with the word "Mom" inside a heart. Samuel A. Maverick owned a lot of cattle, and he let them roam around Texas without a brand, or identification mark, seared into their skins. Samuel was a maverick for going against the common practice of tracking his animals, and his last name became part of the English language as both an adjective and a noun in the 19th century. Someone who acts very independently is a maverick, and individual actions that stand out are maverick, as in "her maverick jumping style on the ice was both wild and delicate."

noun - An unbranded range animal, especially a calf that has become separated from its mother, traditionally considered the property of the first person who brands it.

noun - One that refuses to abide by the dictates of or resists adherence to a group; a dissenter.

adjective - Being independent in thought and action or exhibiting such independence: maverick politicians; a maverick decision.

equivalent - unconventional

synonym - nonconformist, lone gunman, individualist, rebel

cross-reference - heteroclite

hypernym - nonconformist, recusant, calf

same-context - misfit


To prate means to talk on and on about something. While it may be interesting to hear about other peoples vacations, when they prate about them until the wee hours, it becomes intolerable. There are more than a few instances where the famous have discouraged prating. Nursing great Clara Barton discouraged prating about moral influences when she encouraged a cigarette and a good, stiff glass of whiskey for Civil War soldiers. Herman Melville warned against mocking a lovers wounded heart, saying the stabbed man knows steel; prate not to him that it is only a ticking feather.

verb-intransitive - To talk idly and at length; chatter.

verb-transitive - To utter idly or to little purpose.

noun - Empty, foolish, or trivial talk; idle chatter.

hyponym - babble, blether, blather, smatter, blither

form - prattle, prattler, pratingly, prating, prated


An itinerary is your travel plan where you will go and when you will be there. If you make plans to fly to Paris from Beijing or take a train to Chicago from Mexico City, you will need an itinerary. That means you will have a plan that displays how you will get from point to point in your travels and when you will be at each point. This word comes from the Middle English itinerarius and is defined as being "about a journey." Itineraries can be really useful because if you give your mother yours, she will always know where you are!

noun - A route or proposed route of a journey.

noun - An account or record of a journey.

noun - A guidebook for travelers.

adjective - Of or relating to a journey or route.

adjective - Traveling from place to place; itinerant.

hyponym - celestial orbit, traffic pattern, flyway, direction, way, round, fairway, crosscut, feeder line, line of flight


Someone sentient is able to feel things, or sense them. Sentient usually occurs in phrases like "sentient beings" and "sentient creatures," making it clear that things that dont have life dont have feelings. Explain that to a pet rock. Sentient comes from the Latin sentient-, "feeling," and it describes things that are alive, able to feel and perceive, and show awareness or responsiveness. Having senses makes something sentient, or able to smell, communicate, touch, see, or hear. Whether or not plants and living things other than animals and people are sentient depends on whom you ask.

adjective - Having sense perception; conscious: "The living knew themselves just sentient puppets on God's stage ( T.E. Lawrence).

adjective - Experiencing sensation or feeling.

equivalent - sensate, conscious

synonym - sensible, sensate, feeling, sensive, sensitive

cross-reference - conscious, sentient soul

same-context - sane


Abscond is to escape into hiding, often taking something along. As a kid, you may have absconded from your lemonade stand with the coffee can of cash in hand, and your bewildered sister still filling cups for your customers. Abscond is generally used to describe someone running from law or capture, and the word abscond has been in use since the early sixteenth century running away and hiding being nothing new. Dogs who get off the leash and dart into the woods are not necessarily absconding; they are simply making a break for it. On the other hand, the Ponzi schemer who went to live in the South of France with his client's money? He absconded.

verb-intransitive - To leave quickly and secretly and hide oneself, often to avoid arrest or prosecution.

hyponym - levant

form - absconding, absconded

synonym - hide, depart, conceal

verb-form - absconding, absconded, absconds

hypernym - flee


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. The vowel sound in stanch most frequently sounds like on: "stonch." Stanch can also be pronounced to rhyme with branch. Though it's a verb mostly commonly associated with keeping blood from flowing from a wound, the origin is likely the Latin word stagnum, meaning "pond, pool." This word is related to stagnate, describing water that has no movement.

verb-transitive - To stop or check the flow of (blood or tears, for example).

verb-transitive - To stop the flow of blood from (a wound).

verb-transitive - To stop, check, or allay: "My anxiety is stanched; I am at peace ( Scott Turow). See Usage Note at staunch1.

adjective - Variant of staunch1. See Usage Note at staunch1.

form - stanching, stanched

synonym - loyal, steadfast, constant, check, firm, prop, courageous, private


A mendacious person is one who tells lies habitually and intentionally. Don't get stuck at the water cooler or bus stop next to someone you consider mendacious!People may tell "white lies" if they forgot your birthday or really don't like your new haircut, but if you catch someone intentionally manipulating you with a falsehood, that person is just plain mendacious. So think of the most deceptive, insincere, perfidious, duplicitous, false person you've ever met, and then add the word mendacious to that list.

adjective - Lying; untruthful: a mendacious child.

adjective - False; untrue: a mendacious statement. See Synonyms at dishonest.

equivalent - false, untruthful

synonym - lying, false, counterfeit

same-context - covetous, illusive, insincere, crafty, untrue



adjective - Full of mettle; spirited and plucky. See Synonyms at brave.

equivalent - brave, courageous, spirited

synonym - fiery, energetic, courageous

same-context - restive, country-bred, foam-flecked, barebacked


If you want to keep cookies crisp for a long time, store them in a jar with a hermetic, or airtight, seal. Hermetic means sealed so that no air can get in. The word can be used metaphorically as well. A child who is completely protected from the outside world might be said to come from a hermetic environment. The word comes from the name of the Greek god, Hermes Trismegistus, who was a magician and alchemist and was credited with creating the process for making a completely airtight glass tube, a god-like feat if there ever was one.

adjective - Completely sealed, especially against the escape or entry of air.

adjective - Impervious to outside interference or influence: the hermetic confines of an isolated life.

adjective - Mythology Of or relating to Hermes Trismegistus or the works ascribed to him.

adjective - Having to do with the occult sciences, especially alchemy; magical.

equivalent - hermetical, tight

form - hermetical, hermeticity, hermetically sealed, hermetic seal

synonym - chemic

cross-reference - hermetic column, hermetic medicine, hermetic art


If you're prone to picking fights, making snarky comments, and being frustratingly stubborn, you're fractious. And odds are you're not invited to too many parties. Someone who is fractious is cranky, rebellious and inclined to cause problems. Tempers and children are commonly described as such. In To Kill A Mockingbird, author Harper Lee uses the word to describe the trouble-making Calpurnia: "She had always been too hard on me, she had at last seen the error of her fractious ways, she was sorry and too stubborn to say so."

adjective - Inclined to make trouble; unruly.

adjective - Having a peevish nature; cranky.

equivalent - difficult, disobedient, hard, ill-natured

form - fractiously, fractiousness

synonym - snappish, ugly, waspish, peevish


A preamble is a brief introduction to a speech, like the Preamble to the Constitution that starts out "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect ordain and establish this Constitution."Preamble comes from the Latin praeambulus which means "walking before." And that's what a preamble does it "walks" before a speech, often explaining what's coming. It's like the White Rabbit introducing the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland. Since it goes before a speech, think of it as a pre-ramble. A preamble is usually used for formal documents; you wouldn't include one in a text to your best friend.

noun - A preliminary statement, especially the introduction to a formal document that serves to explain its purpose.

noun - An introductory occurrence or fact; a preliminary.

synonym - preface, introduction

hypernym - preface, premise, introduce, introduction, precede

same-context - preface, contravention, stipulation


If you adulterate something, you mess it up. You may not want to adulterate the beauty of freshly fallen snow by shoveling it, but how else are you going to get to work?The verb adulterate comes from the Latin word adulterare, which means to falsify, or to corrupt. Whenever something original, pure, fresh, or wholesome is marred, polluted, defaced, or otherwise made inferior, it has been adulterated. Your grandfather may, for instance, believe that bartenders adulterate the name Martini by applying it to combinations of vodka, chocolate or anything other than a mixture of five parts gin to one part dry vermouth, on the rocks, with a twist.

verb-transitive - To make impure by adding extraneous, improper, or inferior ingredients.

adjective - Spurious; adulterated.

adjective - Adulterous.

hyponym - water down, doctor up, sophisticate, doctor

equivalent - impure

form - adulteration, adulterating, adulterant, adulterated

synonym - lace


A connoisseur is a person who, through study and interest, has a fine appreciation for something, like the connoisseur who can identify the clarinet player on a jazz recording by the sound of his inhalations alone. A connoisseur is an authority in his field, someone who has expert knowledge and training, especially in the arts. A connoisseur may also be someone with an extremely developed sense of taste, like the connoisseur who can identify rare wine by a flavor others can't even detect. Then again, some people call themselves connoisseurs of just about anything they like pizza, old vinyl albums, even cartoons because they know so much about it.

noun - A person with expert knowledge or training, especially in the fine arts.

noun - A person of informed and discriminating taste: a connoisseur of fine wines.

hyponym - aesthete, esthete, wine lover

synonym - epicure, expert, virtuosa, virtuoso, judge, cognoscente, lapidary


You've heard the old saying "Pride comes before the fall?" Well, you could just as easily say pride is a precursor to the fall. A precursor is something that happens before something else. You don't have to be a dead languages scholar to guess that this word springs from a Latin source praecursor, "to run before." A precursor is usually related to what it precedes. It's a catalyst or a harbinger, leading to what follows or providing a clue that it's going to happen. Binging on holiday candy is a precursor to tummy aches and promises to exercise more. Draconian policies in unstable nations are often a precursor to rebellion.

noun - One that precedes and indicates, suggests, or announces someone or something to come: Colonial opposition to unfair taxation by the British was a precursor of the Revolution.

noun - One that precedes another; a forerunner or predecessor: The new principal's precursor was an eminent educator.

noun - A biochemical substance, such as an intermediate compound in a chain of enzymatic reactions, from which a more stable or definitive product is formed: a precursor of insulin.

hyponym - predecessor

synonym - predecessor, sign, omen, forerunner, messenger, harbinger

hypernym - person, mortal, individual


Feeling a little saucy? Perhaps a bit provocative but in a good way? Then it's safe to say your personality is a little piquant. Coming to us from the French word piquer, which means "to prick," something that's piquant certainly piques your interest. Someone who's piquant engages you with charm and wit. A story that's filled with piquant details has plenty of juicy, provocative points. And grandma's homemade gravy? It's certainly zesty and piquant, even with all the lumps.

adjective - Pleasantly pungent or tart in taste; spicy.

adjective - Appealingly provocative: a piquant wit.

adjective - Charming, interesting, or attractive: a piquant face.

adjective - Archaic Causing hurt feelings; stinging.

equivalent - tasty, attractive, stimulating

synonym - tart, sharp, pungent, stimulating

same-context - captivate, vivacious, whimsical




If you figure out the etiology of your friend's incessant hiccups, she'll be incredibly grateful, because etiology means "the cause of a disease or condition."The noun etiology is usually used by doctors and researchers who study disease and other medical topics. It means "origin" when you use it to describe illness or medical disorders, and it also refers to the study of the way things are caused. This second definition of etiology includes the study of disease, but you can use it to talk about the origins of anything at all.

noun - The study of causes or origins.

noun - The branch of medicine that deals with the causes or origins of disease.

noun - Assignment of a cause, an origin, or a reason for something.

noun - The cause or origin of a disease or disorder as determined by medical diagnosis.

hypernym - cause, philosophy

same-context - causation, symptomatology, pathology, prevalence, diagnosis, epidemiology, pathogenesis, ethyl



adjective - alternative form of Machiavellian.


The adjective equable means "not easily irritated" or "steady," like someone's equable manner that makes everyone instantly feel comfortable. To correctly pronounce equable, accent the first syllable: "EK-wah-bul." It comes from the Latin word aequabilis, meaning "equal, consistent, uniform." An equable person isn't moody. You wouldn't expect him or her to fly into a rage one minute and be humming a happy tune the next. Instead, someone who is equable takes things in stride the good, the bad, and the ugly, with a smile and the occasional reminder that "this too shall pass."

adjective - Unvarying; steady.

adjective - Free from extremes.

adjective - Not easily disturbed; serene: an equable temper.

equivalent - good-natured, temperate

synonym - tranquil, constant, smooth, uniform, unvarying, even, even-tempered, imperturbable


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. From the Latin vnitre which comes from vnus, meaning "vain" or "empty" vaunt is a verb for taking praise too far or talking something up too much. Even if it's earned or deserved bragging, vaunting about something gets old and loses it impact. Other times, vaunt, as a noun, is a sure sign that a hard sell is going on someone is talking big but can't deliver.

verb-transitive - To speak boastfully of; brag about.

verb-intransitive - To speak boastfully; brag. See Synonyms at boast1.

noun - A boastful remark.

noun - Speech of extravagant self-praise.

hyponym - crow, puff, gloat, triumph

form - vaunted, vaunting, vaunter

synonym - boast, brag, rejoice


If something is caused by a physical or mental disease, it is pathological, like someone whose need to wash the floor every evening is part of a pathological compulsion for cleanliness, or a growth on someone's elbow that turned out to be a pathological. Pathological comes from a Greek word, pathologikos, which means treating of diseases pathos means "suffering." Anyone who studies or works with diseases, from their causes to their symptoms, identifies how the disease affects its victims, in other words, its pathological effects. Remember that this is a medical distinction. If a person has, for example, obsessive-compulsive disorder, his or her repetitive actions are pathological.

adjective - Of or relating to pathology.

adjective - Relating to or caused by disease.

adjective - Of, relating to, or manifesting behavior that is habitual, maladaptive, and compulsive: a pathological liar.

equivalent - psychoneurotic, unhealthy, neurotic

form - pathologically

synonym - pathologic, morbid, morbific

cross-reference - pathological anatomy

same-context - psychotic, congenital


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. To correctly pronounce tutelary, say "TOO-tuh-leh-ree." Tutelary comes from the Latin word tutus, meaning "watch over." You see this root in words like tutor and tutorial, which also involve watching over, though in a more specific sense that applies primarily to instructing. Tutelary's suffix -ary means "having to do with." So something that is tutelary has to do with keeping watch, like the tutelary presence of a parent supervising a child, or even a tutelary god in an ancient society.

adjective - Being or serving as a guardian or protector: tutelary gods.

adjective - Of or relating to a guardian or guardianship.

noun - One that serves as a guardian or protector.

equivalent - protective

etymologically-related-term - tutelage, tutor

same-context - heaven-born, benignant, avenge, titulary, torch-bearing, beneficent, eponymous


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. Note the similarity between tractable and tractor. Both come from the Latin word tractare, which originally meant "to drag about." You can think of a tractable person as someone who can be dragged about easily, like a plow being dragged by a tractor.

adjective - Easily managed or controlled; governable.

adjective - Easily handled or worked; malleable.

equivalent - tamable, malleable, tameable, docile, ductile, teachable, susceptible

synonym - palpable, governable, adaptable


A punctilious person pays attention to details. Are you always precisely on time? Is your room perfectly neat? Do you never forget a birthday or a library book's due date? Then you are one of the punctilious people. The adjective punctilious, pronounced "punk-TIL-ee-us," is related to the Italian word puntiglio, meaning "fine point." For someone who is punctilious no point is too fine, no detail too small, to be overlooked. The word is often used to describe people, but it can be used more broadly to apply to observations, behavior, or anything else that is characterized by close attention to detail.

adjective - Strictly attentive to minute details of form in action or conduct. See Synonyms at meticulous.

adjective - Precise; scrupulous.

equivalent - precise

form - punctiliously, punctiliousness

synonym - meticulous, formal, scrupulous, precise

etymologically-related-term - point, punctuate, punctual


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. Welter can also be a verb the items in the pile on the messy desk welter every time someone tries to pull something out. This means they roll and get tossed around. Maybe the person isn't as messy as you think. Possibly his projects keep him so weltered meaning "deeply involved" that he doesn't have the time or energy to deal with the mess.

noun - A confused mass; a jumble: a welter of papers and magazines.

noun - Confusion; turmoil.

verb-intransitive - To wallow, roll, or toss about, as in mud or high seas.

verb-intransitive - To lie soaked in a liquid.

verb-intransitive - To roll and surge, as the sea.

hyponym - rummage

form - welter-weight, weltered, weltering

synonym - wilt, filth, wallow, wither, slough, tumble


Something that abates becomes fewer or less intense. Your enthusiasm for skiing might abate after falling off a ski lift and getting a mouthful of snow. Abate comes from the Old French verb abattre, "to beat down," and means to reduce or become less intense or numerous. As an intransitive verb, it is often used with something physically, emotionally, or figuratively violent, as in "the flood of fan mail began to abate." Using it transitively, if you take measures to abate pollution or noise, you reduce them. Pronounce abate with the stress on the second syllable (uh-BATE).

verb-transitive - To reduce in amount, degree, or intensity; lessen. See Synonyms at decrease.

verb-transitive - To deduct from an amount; subtract.

verb-transitive - Law To put an end to.

verb-transitive - Law To make void.

verb-intransitive - To fall off in degree or intensity; subside.

verb-intransitive - Law To become void.

equivalent - to abate in lands

form - abatement, abater, abate of, unabated, abated, abatable, abating

synonym - depress, fall through


A miscreant is a person who is badwho lies, breaks the law, yells at small puppies. It's a somewhat old-fashioned word, popular with old ladies shocked at having their purses stolen at the opera. Miscreant, like lout, lecher, good-for-nothing they're the words proper people use to condemn the improper. Improper people consult an entirely different thesaurus of condemnation, perhaps familiar to you but not possible to quote from in this PG-rated word blurb.

noun - An evildoer; a villain.

noun - An infidel; a heretic.

hyponym - deviate, degenerate, wretch, pervert, black sheep, scapegrace, deviant

synonym - troublemaker, misbeliever, depraved


In a plutocracy, the people are ruled by the wealthy few. We know that's not true of our democracy. "One person, one vote" is how our system works. There's no plutocracy here. Rich people theoretically have no more power than do the poor. Whenever you see cracy, you know you're dealing with a form of rulership or government. The first part of the word comes from the Greek ploutos, meaning wealth. Put them together, and you get plutocracy, a government ruled by the rich. How does this differ from, say, an aristocracy? Well, the truth is that it isn't very different. Members of the aristocracy tend to be rich, but their money tends to be "old money." In a pure plutocracy, even the overnight billionaire can be a ruler.

noun - Government by the wealthy.

noun - A wealthy class that controls a government.

noun - A government or state in which the wealthy rule.

etymologically-related-term - plutodemocracy

hypernym - form of government, political system

same-context - scoliosis, reformism, deregulation, consumerism, plutocrat, fellow-countryman, upperclass


If you call someone erudite, that means they show great learning. After you've earned your second Ph. D., you will be truly erudite. Erudite is from Latin verb erudire, "to teach," which comes from rudis for "raw, unskilled, ignorant" (the source of our word rude). If you bring someone out of a raw state, you educate them, so someone who is erudite is very educated indeed (and perhaps a bit of a showoff). You can say either ER-oo-dite or ER-yoo-dite; the second one, being a bit harder to say, can seem a bit more erudite.

adjective - Characterized by erudition; learned. See Synonyms at learned.

equivalent - scholarly

synonym - learned, learne

etymologically-related-term - erudition, eruditely

same-context - scholarly, well-informed, studious, readable, astute


A clique is an exclusive group of people or friends. Before Rudolph pulled Santa's sled through the fog, the clique of flying reindeer never let him play their reindeer games. In high school, the exclusive nature of cliques causes a lot of hurt feelings. Clique carries this less than nice feeling with it wherever it goes, whether it be a set of elites who surround a government official, a group of popular kids who don't let others join their group or the closed circle of people at the office who always make sure they get the best jobs.

noun - A small exclusive group of friends or associates.

verb-intransitive - Informal To form, associate in, or act as a clique.

hyponym - rogues' gallery, hard core, Bloomsbury Group, kitchen cabinet, Bohemia, galere, faction, military junta, brain trust, Mafia


Paragon applies to someone who is a model of perfection in some quality or trait. We link paragon with other words that follow it, such as "paragon of virtue" or "paragon of patience."A paragon means someone or something that is the very best. The English noun paragon comes from the Italian word paragone, which is a touchstone, a black stone that is used to tell the quality of gold. You rub the gold on the touchstone and you can find out how good the gold is. You are hoping that it is the paragon of "goldness."

noun - A model of excellence or perfection of a kind; a peerless example: a paragon of virtue.

noun - An unflawed diamond weighing at least 100 carats.

noun - A very large spherical pearl.

noun - Printing A type size of 20 points.

verb-transitive - To compare; parallel.

verb-transitive - To equal; match.

hyponym - gold standard, jimdandy, jimhickey, crackerjack, class act, humdinger

synonym - parallel, model, queen, rival


Fatuous means lacking intelligence. When your mother outlaws calling your brother stupid, use fatuous instead. Fatuous derives from the Latin fatuus meaning "foolish." It sounds like it should have something to do with being fat, but it actually has no relation to size. Back in Old English times, when the word fat was emerging, food was a lot more scarce than it is today, and the word fat meant simply plump or well-fed. Times have changed, and now that we have more food than we know what to do with, fat people are thought to lack self control, which makes them seem foolish, or even fatuous, which is hardly the case.

adjective - Foolish or silly, especially in a smug or self-satisfied way: "'Don't you like the poor lonely bachelor?' he yammered in a fatuous way ( Sinclair Lewis). See Synonyms at foolish.

equivalent - foolish

synonym - puerile, silly, fatuitous, childish, imbecilic, insipid, deranged, inane, stupid


To plumb a body of water, you measure its depth. To plumb a house, you connect all of its pipes. To make carpentry plumb, you get it exactly vertical. Originally, the verb plumb only meant to measure the depth of water. These days, if you plumb the depths of something, you go in deep for knowledge and experience: your Heidegger seminar may plumb the depths of German Existentialism like Jacques Cousteau plumbed the depths of the ocean.

noun - A weight on the end of a line, used to determine water depth.

noun - A weight on the end of a line, used especially by masons and carpenters to establish a true vertical.

adverb - In a vertical or perpendicular line.

adverb - Informal Directly; squarely: fell plumb in the middle of the puddle.

adverb - Informal Utterly; completely: plumb worn out. See Note at right.

adjective - Exactly vertical. See Synonyms at vertical.

adjective - Informal Utter; absolute; sheer: a plumb fool.

verb-transitive - To determine the depth of with a plumb; sound.

verb-transitive - To test the verticality or alignment of with a plumb.

verb-transitive - To straighten or make perpendicular: plumb up the wall.

verb-transitive - To examine closely or deeply; probe: "Shallow ideas are plumbed and discarded ( Gilbert Highet).

verb-transitive - To seal with lead.

verb-intransitive - To work as a plumber.

idiom - out of Not vertical.

equivalent - vertical, perpendicular

form - plumb line, plumb bob, out of plumb, plumbing, plumb rule, off plumb, plumbed

synonym - plummet


Limn is a verb that means to represent or portray. It is most often used to describe the act of drawing or painting a portrait, but it can also refer to describing or outlining a scene or event. The verb limn evolved from the Latin luminre, "to illuminate." The word referred originally to coloring (illuminating) manuscripts. The sense of "portray" or "depict" did not come into use until the late 16th century, but that meaning is close to the original, since someone who paints a portrait usually illuminates something about the subject's character. The word is less often used of written description, as in "Her reviews tended to limn the worst aspects of the performance, ignoring the best."

verb-transitive - To describe.

verb-transitive - To depict by painting or drawing. See Synonyms at represent.

hyponym - contour, lipstick

form - limner, limning, limned

synonym - depict, describe

verb-form - limning, limned, limns


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. Use the verb extirpate when you mean to destroy completely or get rid of completely. You can try to extirpate all the bedbugs that came home with you from your vacation, but you will probably be afraid that some resisted the exterminator to munch on you later.

verb-transitive - To pull up by the roots.

verb-transitive - To destroy totally; exterminate. See Synonyms at abolish.

verb-transitive - To remove by surgery.

hyponym - stub

form - extirpated, extirpating

synonym - exterminate, excise, weed, deracinate, weed out, uproot, root out


Sanction has two nearly opposite meanings: to sanction can be to approve of something, but it can also mean to punish, or speak harshly to. Likewise, a sanction can be a punishment or approval. Very confusingthe person who invented this word should be publicly sanctioned!See if you can guess the meaning of sanction in the following contexts. Before invading Iraq, the US and its allies first imposed sanctions on the country, refusing to supply the country with much-needed trade items. Did you guess sanction=punishment? You were right! But by trading with China at the same time, the US quietly sanctioned that nation's known instances of human rights abuses. Did you guess sanction=approval? You're right again!

noun - Authoritative permission or approval that makes a course of action valid. See Synonyms at permission.

noun - Support or encouragement, as from public opinion or established custom.

noun - A consideration, influence, or principle that dictates an ethical choice.

noun - A law or decree.

noun - The penalty for noncompliance specified in a law or decree.

noun - A penalty, specified or in the form of moral pressure, that acts to ensure compliance or conformity.

noun - A coercive measure adopted usually by several nations acting together against a nation violating international law.

verb-transitive - To give official authorization or approval to: "The president, we are told, has sanctioned greed at the cost of compassion ( David Rankin).

verb-transitive - To encourage or tolerate by indicating approval. See Synonyms at approve.

verb-transitive - To penalize, especially for violating a moral principle or international law.

hyponym - support, back, endorse, plunk for, OK, plump for, okay, name, nihil obstat, visa


Use the adjective aberrant to describe unusual conduct. Sitting in a bathtub and singing show tunes all day long might be considered aberrant behavior. Choose Your Words:abhorrent / aberrantIf you find something thoroughly disgusting, absolutely terrible, do you find it abhorrent or aberrant?  
Continue reading...For conduct that departs from the norm, aberrant is at hand to describe it if you want to set a formal, or even scientific tone to the discussion. You can put the accent on either the first syllable (AB-er-ent) or the second (uh-BER-ent); both pronunciations are acceptable. The Latin root aberrare means "to go astray," from the prefix ab- "off, away" plus errare "to wander." Other descendants of errare in English, like error and errant, have that double -r- and also refer to something that's either not wanted or not expected.

adjective - Deviating from the proper or expected course.

adjective - Deviating from what is normal; untrue to type.

noun - One that is aberrant.

equivalent - unnatural, abnormal

form - aberrancy, aberration, aberrance, aberrantly, aberrational

synonym - abnormal, wandering, unusual


Plasticity means "changeability" or "moldability" clay has a lot of plasticity, but a rock has almost none. It helps to think of plastic when learning what plasticity means. See how plastic can be molded into all sorts of things, and even when it's in a totally solid form, it's not hard like stone? Plasticity refers to things that can still change their shape or function. The brain is something with high plasticity: if you have a brain injury, other parts of the brain can change to pick up the slack. Anything that is capable of evolving or being reshaped has plasticity.

noun - The quality or state of being plastic.

noun - the property of a solid body whereby it undergoes a permanent change in shape or size when subjected to a stress exceeding a particular value (the yield value)

hyponym - ductility, flexibleness, ductileness, flexibility

etymologically-related-term - elasticity

cross-reference - latent plasticity

hypernym - physical property

same-context - elasticity, connectivity, stimulators


Disagreeable sounds can be called dissonance. You know it's dissonance if you have the strong desire to cover your ears with your hands. Racket, noise, dissonance all can describe sounds that are not pleasant. While some musicians purposely add a little dissonance into their melodies to create an unexpected sound, others, like someone who just started drum lessons, creates dissonance by accident. Dissonance can also be a conflict between people or opinions, like the dissonance you feel when you want to do something but your parents say "no."

noun - A harsh, disagreeable combination of sounds; discord.

noun - Lack of agreement, consistency, or harmony; conflict: "In Vietnam, reality fell away and dissonance between claim and fact filled the void ( Michael Janeway).

noun - Music A combination of tones contextually considered to suggest unrelieved tension and require resolution.

hyponym - cacophony, disharmony, disunity, discordance, divide, inharmoniousness, discord

form - dissonant, cognitive dissonance

synonym - incongruity


When you concoct something, you mix up different ingredients. If you want to become a mad scientist or a wizard, you'll have to learn how to concoct strange potions. If the word concoction makes you think of steaming caldrons or liquids bubbling in test tubes, youll be amused to know that it comes from a Latin word for digestion. Yum! On summer days, children sometimes concoct imaginative stews from grass, leaves and dirt. They may also concoct lies to explain why they tried feeding such concoctions to their little sister.

verb-transitive - To prepare by mixing ingredients, as in cooking.

verb-transitive - To devise, using skill and intelligence; contrive: concoct a mystery story.

hyponym - idealize, idealise, invent, manufacture, makeup, cook up, fabricate

form - concocter, concoctive, concocted


To codify is to arrange information in a logical order that others can follow. Legislators may try to codify, or gather and organize, all laws related to a particular issue to make it easier to understand. When you look at the word codify you can probably guess that it's related to the word code. Warriors live by a code. Building inspectors check that a building and its systems are up to code. Hockey players use "the code" to determine when and why to fight on the ice. All of these codes are clear to the people who use them because someone in the past made an effort to codify the various rules into an organized system.

verb-transitive - To reduce to a code: codify laws.

verb-transitive - To arrange or systematize.

form - codifiability, codifier, codified, codification, codifying

synonym - systematize, digest

etymologically-related-term - codex, code

verb-form - codifies


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."Some synonyms for exhort include stimulate, excite, and urge on. Words and shouts can exhort, and this is especially true when the recipient of those chants fears coming up short with an effort. Exhortations may make the difference between winning or losing and marching on or giving up. A sergeant might exhort his troops after a defeat just as a dad can exhort his daughter after a missed note during a piano recital.

verb-transitive - To urge by strong, often stirring argument, admonition, advice, or appeal: exhorted the troops to hold the line.

verb-intransitive - To make urgent appeal.

hyponym - bear on, rush, hurry, preach, advocate, cheerlead, push

form - exhortation, exhorted, exhorting


If only the world were populated entirely with complaisant people! Complaisant means willing to do something to please others, and complaisant people or animals are wonderful to be around. Don't confuse complaisant with its near-homonym complacent. Both derive from the Latin complacere "to please," but while complaisant means willing to do something to please another, complacent means smug and self-satisfied, something that you want to avoid when you're on the winning team.

adjective - Exhibiting a desire or willingness to please; cheerfully obliging.

equivalent - accommodative, accommodating

form - complaisantly

synonym - polite, smooth, agreeable, subservient, courtly, easy, condescending


Waiting for a plan to come together? You're waiting for it to coalesce. Coalesce is when different elements of something join together and become one. In coalesce, you see co-, which should tell you the word means "together." The other half of the word, alesce, appears in expressions having to do with growth. So if you are trying to start up a photography club at school, once you have an advisor, some interested students and support from the administration, things will be coalescing or growing together. Another way to remember that? An adolescent is one who is growing. A lot!

verb-intransitive - To grow together; fuse.

verb-intransitive - To come together so as to form one whole; unite: The rebel units coalesced into one army to fight the invaders. See Synonyms at mix.

hyponym - blend in, admix, mix in, clot, alloy, clog, meld, conjugate, syncretise, syncretize


We are sorry to inform you that the adjective contrite means to feel regret, remorse, or even guilt. Someone who feels remorse or guilt is contrite and in addition to feeling sorry, part of the definition includes wanting to atone for a having done something wrong. The word comes from the Latin roots com- meaning "together" and terere which means "to rub." It's also related to the Latin word conterere and is defined as "to bruise." In the field of theology being contrite is "being remorseful for past sin and resolved to avoid future sin."

adjective - Feeling regret and sorrow for one's sins or offenses; penitent.

adjective - Arising from or expressing contrition: contrite words.

equivalent - repentant, penitent

form - contritely, contriteness

synonym - remorseful, humble, regretful, repentant, penitent, sorrowful


Circuitous means indirect or roundabout. If you're in a hurry to get to the hospital where your wife is having a baby, you want to take the straightest, fastest way, not a circuitous one!Circuitous comes from the Latin word circuitus meaning basically "a going around." If you're being circuitous it's like you're going around and around in circles. It can also refer to someone's manner or speech, if they are not being direct. For example, if you want someone to get you another piece of cake but just you sit there looking longingly at your empty plate, saying "More cake sure would be nice," then you're being circuitous. And annoying.

adjective - Being or taking a roundabout, lengthy course: took a circuitous route to avoid the accident site.

equivalent - indirect

synonym - roundabout, indirect, serpentine, devious, winding, circumlocutory, sinuous, tortuous

same-context - roundabout


Being attacked by a hungry shark or being chased by an unruly mob on the streets can be described as harrowing, which means "provoking feelings of fear or horror."The adjective harrowing is often used to describe a firsthand experience that is terrifying, such as a harrowing drive home in icy weather, but it can also refer to a secondhand experience, such as reading or watching something that is very frightening or disturbing. If you read someones account of being shipwrecked in Antarctica, you might describe that as a harrowing story. A harrowing experience typically unfolds over a period of time. For example, if you bump into a shark while swimming, thats merely scary. If the shark attacks you, then it becomes a harrowing ordeal.

adjective - Extremely distressing; agonizing: a harrowing experience.

equivalent - painful

verb-stem - harrow

same-context - horrific, piteous, sensational, traumatic, Embarrass, melodramatic, poignant, engrossing


Inchoate means just beginning to form. You can have an inchoate idea, like the earliest flickers of images for your masterpiece, or it can be a feeling, like the inchoate sense of anger toward your new neighbors talking parrot. Inchoate comes from a Latin word for beginning. When something is inchoate, although you dont yet understand what it is fully, you have a strong sense that it is indeed coming. Its stronger than the wisp of an idea that never turns into anything. But its hard to really find the language to describe an inchoate idea. Thats the whole point: you dont have the words for it yet!

adjective - In an initial or early stage; incipient.

adjective - Imperfectly formed or developed: a vague, inchoate idea.

equivalent - early

synonym - beginning, rudimentary, initial, nascent, embryonic, immature, elementary, incipient, begin


To be bombastic is to be full of hot air like a politician who makes grand promises and doesn't deliver. What does cotton padding have to do with the word bombastic? Bombast was cotton padding or stuffing in the 1500s. Bombastic evolved as an adjective to describe something (or someone!) that is overly wordy, pompous, or pretentious, but the adjective is most often used to describe language (speech or writing). Still not seeing the connection to cotton padding? Think of writing or speech that is overly padded and you'll understand how the meaning came about.

adjective - Pompous or overly wordy.

adjective - High-sounding but with little meaning.

adjective - Inflated, overfilled.

equivalent - bombastical, rhetorical

form - bombastique, bombstico

synonym - florid, extravagant, hyperbolical, pyrotechnic, grandiose, puffed


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. The verb engender has nothing to do with being male or female, though originally, it did mean "beget, procreate." Today, engender means "to produce or bring about." When students come to class prepared, meaning they've read their assignment, this engenders better class discussions, just as mutual trust and the desire to help each other engenders a meaningful friendship.

verb-transitive - To bring into existence; give rise to: "Every cloud engenders not a storm ( Shakespeare).

verb-transitive - To procreate; propagate.

verb-intransitive - To come into existence; originate.

form - engendered, engendering

synonym - breed, cause, generate, propagate, occasion, call forth, excite, develop


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!You can trace wary through Old English back to Old High German giwar "aware, attentive." If you keep a wary eye on something, you are attentive for signs that it is becoming dangerous. Likewise, if you give someone a wary glance, your face conveys the suspicion and caution you feel. When you are wary of driving alone at night or making promises, you fear something bad might happen if you do these things.

adjective - On guard; watchful: taught to be wary of strangers.

adjective - Characterized by caution: a wary glance at the black clouds.

equivalent - on guard, distrustful, upon one's guard, shy, on your guard, on one's guard

form - wariness, unwary, warily

synonym - cautious


You meet someone and you cant take your eyes off them, like you are connected by an invisible cord and cant break free. Those kinds of people have the power to mesmerize, holding your attention like youre under hypnosis. The word mesmerize comes from the last name of 18th century German physician Franz Mesmer, who believed that all people and objects are pulled together by a strong magnetic force, later called mesmerism. If you ever start to feel mesmerized, maybe its because you find someone fascinating, or maybe youve been hypnotized by a magician. Hard to tell from here.

verb-transitive - To spellbind; enthrall: "He could mesmerize an audience by the sheer force of his presence ( Justin Kaplan).

verb-transitive - To hypnotize.

hyponym - spellbind, entrance

form - mesmerized, mesmerizing

synonym - spellbind, hypnotize, enthrall

verb-form - mesmerizes, mesmerized, mesmerizing


Reprise means "repeat an earlier role." If youre asked to reprise your role as "kid entertainer" at the annual family reunion, that means people want you to do it again this year. Early on, reprise was a part in a song or other musical composition that is repeated. The word still carries that meaning, but now it's more likely to be used as a verb to describe an action or part that is repeated, often a performance. For example, if you played a role in a wildly successful film that is going to have a sequel, you would reprise your role. The word comes from the French word repris, meaning "take back."

noun - Music A repetition of a phrase or verse.

noun - Music A return to an original theme.

noun - A recurrence or resumption of an action.

verb-transitive - To repeat or resume an action; make a reprise of.

synonym - recompense, retake, pay

verb-form - reprising, reprised, reprises

cross-reference - reprisal

hypernym - play, spiel

same-context - retentiveness


Stopping for a snack may help when your energy or attention begin to flag, meaning you are getting tired or losing your focus. Flag describes a persons waning energy level after a sustained effort. For example, you may begin to flag after a long afternoon sightseeing in a strange city. It can also be used to describe diminishing success, such as a movie career that seems to flag after the actor stops landing big roles, flag can also refer to something that seems to drop off, like gym attendance that flags along with those New Year's resolutions.

noun - A piece of cloth, usually rectangular, of distinctive color and design, used as a symbol, standard, signal, or emblem.

noun - National or other allegiance, as symbolized by a flag: ships of the same flag.

noun - A ship carrying the flag of an admiral; a flagship.

noun - A marking device, such as a gummed strip of paper, attached to an object to attract attention or ease identification; a tab.

noun - The masthead of a newspaper.

noun - Music A cross stroke that halves the value of a note to which it is added.

noun - A distinctively shaped or marked tail, as of a dog or deer.

noun - Computer Science A variable or memory location that stores true-or-false, yes-or-no information.

verb-transitive - To mark with a flag or flags for identification or ornamentation: flag a parade route; flagging parts of a manuscript for later review.

verb-transitive - To signal with or as if with a flag.

verb-transitive - To signal to stop: flag down a passing car.

noun - A plant, such as an iris or cattail, that has long sword-shaped leaves.

verb-intransitive - To hang limply; droop.

verb-intransitive - To decline in vigor or strength: The conversation flagged.

noun - A flagstone.

verb-transitive - To pave with slabs of flagstone.

hyponym - pennant, confederate flag, blackjack, slouch, iris foetidissima, persian iris, Stars and Stripes, yellow iris, pirate flag, iris pseudacorus


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. Transient is most often used to modify nouns like nature, threat, source and cause, which suggests that the word often shows up in formal contexts, such as analysis of finance or global terrorism. But it can also be used for anything that moves quickly from one thing to another, like a transient feeling or facial expression. Transient is also a noun meaning "a person who moves from place to place; a homeless person." The word comes from Latin transire, "to pass over," so you can think of it as describing things that are quickly passed over.

adjective - Passing with time; transitory: "the transient beauty of youth ( Lydia M. Child).

adjective - Remaining in a place only a brief time: transient laborers.

adjective - Physics Decaying with time, especially as a simple exponential function of time.

noun - One that is transient, especially a hotel guest or boarder who stays for only a brief time.

noun - Physics A transient phenomenon or property, especially a transient electric current.

equivalent - impermanent, temporary

form - transiently, transience, transientness

synonym - evanescent, ephemeron, impermanent, hasty, deciduous


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. There is a discrepancy when there is a difference between two things that should be alike. For example, there can be a wide discrepancy or a slight discrepancy between two objects, stories, or facts. The noun discrepancy is from Latin discrepare "to sound differently," from the prefix dis- "from" plus crepare "to rattle, creak."

noun - Divergence or disagreement, as between facts or claims; difference.

noun - An instance of divergence or disagreement. See Synonyms at difference.

hyponym - allowance, leeway, tolerance, margin

synonym - divergence, dissimilarity, deviation, variation, inconsistency, disparity


A qualm is a feeling of uneasiness, or a sense that something you're doing is wrong, and it sounds almost like how it makes your stomach feel. If you had qualms about taking candy from the bulk bins at the store, your conscience probably told you to go back to the cashier and pay. Qualm entered English in the 16th century, with meanings like "doubt" and "uneasiness." Usually a qualm comes from doubt about an action and a feeling that you are doing, or are about to do, something wrong. It isnt a bad feeling about another person's behavior but about your own. If you have qualms about lying to get into the over-18 dance club, you might decide to follow your gut-check and meet your friends for coffee instead.

noun - A sudden feeling of sickness, faintness, or nausea.

noun - A sudden disturbing feeling: qualms of homesickness.

noun - An uneasy feeling about the propriety or rightness of a course of action.

form - qualmish, qualmishness, qualmy, qualmishly

synonym - agony, fit, compunction, nausea, death, sickness


If you stubbornly refuse to change your mind about something, you are adamant about it. This word's story begins in ancient Greece, where philosophers spoke about a legendary unbreakable stone or metal they called adamos (literally, "invincible"). In English, people began to use the word to refer to something that cannot be altered, and then in the twentieth century after adamant had been in English for about a thousand years it came to be used as an adjective to mean "unyielding as stone." If you're adamant about something, no amount of persuasion is going to convince you otherwise.

adjective - Impervious to pleas, appeals, or reason; stubbornly unyielding. See Synonyms at inflexible.

noun - A stone once believed to be impenetrable in its hardness.

noun - An extremely hard substance.

hyponym - black diamond, carbonado

equivalent - inflexible

form - adamantly, adamantine, adamantane, adamance, adamantean

synonym - obstinate, magnet


A spendthrift person is reckless and wasteful with his money. Spendthrifts who like to take you out to nice lunches are good people to be friends with, but it's generally a bad way to handle your own bank account. Spendthrift was created by sticking two opposite words together: spend and thrift, which means savings, wealth. So a spendthrift spends all of his savings. Spendthrift people are the worst nightmare of retirement planners and Scrooges all over the globe. So unless you want to be called a spendthrift, think twice about your next purchase.

noun - One who spends money recklessly or wastefully.

adjective - Wasteful or extravagant: spendthrift bureaucrats.

hyponym - high roller, big spender

equivalent - wasteful

form - spendthrift trust

synonym - scattergood, scapethrift, extravagant, prodigal, wasteful, unthrifty


An ordinary, unexciting thing can be called mundane: "Superman hid his heroic feats by posing as his mundane alter ego, Clark Kent."Mundane, from the Latin word mundus, "world," originally referred to things on earth. Such things were supposed to be uninteresting when compared to the delights of Heaven; hence the word's present meaning. Writing about reality TV shows, a Newsweek writer opined, "In reality bizarro-world, the mundane is presented as the spectacular" in other words, people's everyday routines are now televised as entertainment.

adjective - Of, relating to, or typical of this world; secular.

adjective - Relating to, characteristic of, or concerned with commonplaces; ordinary.

equivalent - ordinary, earthly, temporal, worldly, secular

synonym - ordinary, earthly, workaday, terrestrial, boring


Use lascivious to describe a person's behavior that is driven by thoughts of sex. If someone gives you a lascivious smile, they've got only one thing in mind. Latin-based lascivious and the Old English word lust both share the same Indo-European root las- "to be eager, wanton." The much older word lust originally meant "desire, pleasure" and over time developed to mean sexual desire. Lascivious, on the other hand, entered the English language in the early 15th century complete with the meaning "lewd, driven by sexual desire."

adjective - Given to or expressing lust; lecherous.

adjective - Exciting sexual desires; salacious.

equivalent - sexy

synonym - lubricious, fleshly, libidinous, liquorish, lecherous, concupiscent, prurient, sensual, venereous


The flora of a particular area consists of its plant species, considered as a whole. The word also refers to the plant life of a particular era for example, fossilized plants can help us determine the flora at the time of dinosaurs. The use of the word flora as referring to a particular area's vegetation has been used by botanists since the 1640s, but it became common with Swedish botanist Linnaeus, who in 1745 wrote "Flora Suecica," a study of the plant life of Sweden. The word was a natural fit, as Flra was the name of the Roman goddess of flowers. When scientists study a region's flora, they classify their findings and create a descriptive list, which is also called a flora.

noun - Plants considered as a group, especially the plants of a particular country, region, or time.

noun - A treatise describing the plants of a region or time.

noun - The bacteria and other microorganisms that normally inhabit a bodily organ or part: intestinal flora.

hyponym - wood, shrubbery, monocarp, thicket, hygrophyte, brier, epiphyte, crop, scrub, browse


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. Disingenuous combines dis-, meaning not, with ingenuous (from the Latin gen-, meaning born) which was originally used to distinguish free-born Romans from slaves, and later came to mean honest or straightforward. So disingenuous means dishonest. Ingenuous is less common now than disingenuous, but we still use it for someone who is sincere to the point of naivet. A good synonym is insincere.

adjective - Not straightforward or candid; insincere or calculating: "an ambitious, disingenuous, philistine, and hypocritical operator, who ... exemplified ... the most disagreeable traits of his time ( David Cannadine).

adjective - Pretending to be unaware or unsophisticated; faux-naf.

adjective - Usage Problem Unaware or uninformed; naive.

equivalent - twisted, perverted, misrepresented, distorted

form - disingenuously, disingenuousness

synonym - deceitful, uncandid, artful, mean


The physics principle whereby objects are forced to move out from the center is called centrifugal force. This apparent force is activated by something moving in a curved direction; the heavier the object the stronger the force. The word centrifugal is from the Latin centrum, "center," and fugere, "to flee," so the word means "center-fleeing." Centrifugal force was studied by physicists as far back as 1629, and the term itself was used by Sir Isaac Newton, in its Latin guise vis centrifuga, in 1687.

adjective - Moving or directed away from a center or axis.

adjective - Operated by means of centrifugal force.

adjective - Physiology Transmitting nerve impulses away from the central nervous system; efferent.

adjective - Botany Developing or progressing outward from a center or axis, as in a flower cluster in which the oldest flowers are in the center and the youngest flowers are near the edge.

adjective - Tending or directed away from centralization, as of authority: "The division of Europe into two warring blocs, each ultimately dependent on a superpower patron, is subject to ever-increasing centrifugal stress ( Scott Sullivan).

equivalent - outward-developing, outward-moving, decentralising, motorial, decentralizing, efferent

form - centrifugal force

cross-reference - centrifugal inflorescence, centrifugal concentrator, centrifugal sugar


If you're an inveterate doodler, all your notebooks are covered with drawings. If you're an inveterate golf player, you probably get twitchy if you haven't been out on a course in a week. In Middle English inveterate was associated with chronic disease. Now it simply refers to something that is a signature habit with a person. Unless you're an inveterate gambler, drinker or smokerin which case you're addicted and we're back to talking about being sick.

adjective - Firmly and long established; deep-rooted: inveterate preferences.

adjective - Persisting in an ingrained habit; habitual: an inveterate liar. See Synonyms at chronic.

equivalent - usual

form - inveteration

synonym - habitual, old, confirmed, deep-rooted, obstinate, spiteful, virulent, chronic


When a teacher says, "Bear with me for a moment," while he writes on the board, he is asking for the class's forbearance. He wants them to wait patiently during the delay. Forbearance also has a more technical, legal meaning if you are owed money and you give someone extra time to get it to you, you're showing them forbearance. The word has nothing to do with actual bears, but if you think of one slumbering through its winter hibernation, that might help remember its meaning.

noun - The act of forbearing.

noun - Tolerance and restraint in the face of provocation; patience. See Synonyms at patience.

noun - The quality of being forbearing.

noun - Law The act of a creditor who refrains from enforcing a debt when it falls due.

synonym - mildness, refraining, abstention, lenity, abstinence, desistance, long-suffering

etymologically-related-term - forbear

hypernym - holdup, delay


Guise, a noun, is the art of pretending to be something you aren't, like when, in the guise of an invited guest, you fake your way into the party of the century. No doubt youve noticed the similarity between guise and disguise. Both involve the art of deception: its the methods that differ. Guise is about trying on new attitudes and mannerisms, such as speaking and acting in the guise of a native in a place where you are actually a tourist. Disguise involves hiding your real identity, disappearing in the new role.

noun - Outward appearance or aspect; semblance.

noun - False appearance; pretense: spoke to me under the guise of friendship.

noun - Mode of dress; garb: huddled on the street in the guise of beggars.

noun - Obsolete Custom; habit.

synonym - fashion, appearance, behavior, cloak, garb, shape, pretense, mode, cover, mien


Prepare yourself, because internecine is a gloomy word. Its an adjective youd use to describe a bloody battle where both sides are badly hurt. On a lighter note, it can also mean a conflict that tears an organization apart. A combination of the Latin inter- (among) and necare (to kill), internecine conflicts are full of blood and death, and they end up destroying everyone involved, which sounds fair but also awful. Many wars are internecine, as are most Shakespearean tragedies and Hollywood action films. An internecine meeting would be one where everyone gets mad, says really horrible things, and then suddenly leaves, plotting revenge. Its probably the last meeting for that group, which might be a good thing.

adjective - Of or relating to struggle within a nation, organization, or group.

adjective - Mutually destructive; ruinous or fatal to both sides.

adjective - Characterized by bloodshed or carnage.

equivalent - bloody, internal

synonym - destructive, intramural

same-context - generational, hand-to-hand, bicoastal, age-old, arab-israeli, long-running


When you go on a nature walk in a school setting, you teacher might tell you to observe the flora and fauna in the woods. Flora is plant life; fauna refers to animals. Fauna derives from the name of a Roman goddess, but the handiest way to remember flora and fauna is that "flora" sounds like flowers, which are part of the plant world, and fauna sounds like "fawn," and fawns are part of the animal kingdom.

noun - Animals, especially the animals of a particular region or period, considered as a group.

noun - A catalog of the animals of a specific region or period.

hyponym - marine animal, invertebrate, survivor, pureblood, captive, stunt, domestic animal, moulter, predator, work animal


"Strike a pose," sang Madonna in her most famous song, "Vogue." But if the pose you're striking is fake, pretentious, or arrogant, you're a poseur. Be yourself: it's cooler. It's one thing to be smart, funny, or cool. It's another thing to pretend to be that way: that's the life of a poseur. (Say it in the French way: poh-ZUHR.) It's all too easy to spot a poseur from their ridiculous posing. Why poseurs think that they come across as anything other than fake is beyond me. They must be really insecure to think they need to pretend to be something they're not. Every once in a while, though, a poseur can fake it till they make it. Then they're no longer a poseur.

noun - One who affects a particular attribute, attitude, or identity to impress or influence others.

hyponym - poseuse

equivalent - poseuse

cross-reference - pretentious

hypernym - exhibitionist, show-off

same-context - weak-mindedness, merry-andrew, grafter, housebreaker, brummagem


If you are a window washer, but you refer to yourself as a "vista enhancement specialist," then you are aggrandizing your job title that is, making it sound greater than it is. The verb aggrandize not only means "to make appear greater"; it can also be used to mean simply "to make greater." If you buy an estate and sink millions of dollars into its improvement, then you are actually aggrandizing the estate. If you are making yourself seem greater, then people may say you are "self-aggrandizing."

verb-transitive - To increase the scope of; extend.

verb-transitive - To make greater in power, influence, stature, or reputation.

verb-transitive - To make appear greater; exaggerate: aggrandize one argument while belittling another.

hyponym - glorify

form - aggrandizing, aggrandized

synonym - elevate, enlarge, promote, increase, augment, exalt, advance


Want to live an ascetic lifestyle? Then you better ditch the flat panel TV and fuzzy slippers. To be ascetic, you learn to live without; it's all about self-denial. Ascetic is derived from the Greek asketes, meaning monk, or hermit. Later that became asketikos, meaning rigorously self-disciplined, which gives us the Modern English ascetic. Ascetic can be a noun: a person with incredible self-discipline and the ability to deprive herself, or an adjective that describes such a people or their lifestyle.

noun - A person who renounces material comforts and leads a life of austere self-discipline, especially as an act of religious devotion.

adjective - Leading a life of self-discipline and self-denial, especially for spiritual improvement. See Synonyms at severe.

adjective - Pertaining to or characteristic of an ascetic; self-denying and austere: an ascetic existence.

hyponym - Puritan, stylite

equivalent - abstemious

synonym - mortified, abstemious, yogi, austere, stylite, fakir, severe


A mnemonic is a memory aid for something, often taking the form of a rhyme or an acronym. I before E except after C, is a mnemonic to help you remember how to spell words like "piece" and "receive."As an adjective, mnemonic describes something related to memory. "Spring forward, Fall back" is a mnemonic device to help you remember which way to set your clocks for daylight savings time. Set the clock forward an hour in the spring when daylight savings time begins, and set the clock back an hour in the fall when it ends. Well-known mnemonics exist to help you remember things like the planets, the digits of Pi, and the color spectrum.

adjective - Relating to, assisting, or intended to assist the memory.

noun - A device, such as a formula or rhyme, used as an aid in remembering.

equivalent - mnemonical

synonym - aide-memoire

etymologically-related-term - mnemotechnical, mnemonics, mnemotechnic, mnemotechny, mnemonize

cross-reference - of, mother, Greek


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. A famous use of visage is in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Brutus says: "O conspiracy/Shamest thou to show thy dangerous brow by night,/When evils are most free? O, then by day/Where wilt thou find a cavern dark enough/To mask thy monstrous visage?" Now there's a quote that will help you remember the meaning of visage, and even give you nightmares.

noun - The face or facial expression of a person; countenance.

noun - Appearance; aspect: the bleak visage of winter.

hyponym - look, expression, face, aspect, poker face, pudding-face, facial expression, pudding face

synonym - face, countenance


You can buttress an argument with solid facts or your financial portfolio with safe investments. You may find that giving compliments to everyone you meet buttresses your popularity. To buttress is to sustain or reinforce. A buttress is a structure that adds stability to a wall or building, and this innovation played a significant role in the evolution of architecture. Think of a medieval cathedral. It's an incredibly tall, open building filled with light from vast windows. Without buttresses supporting the walls and carrying the weight of the ceiling away from the building and down to the ground, this cathedral would be impossible. Picture this when you use buttress figuratively as a verb meaning to strengthen and support.

noun - A structure, usually brick or stone, built against a wall for support or reinforcement.

noun - Something resembling a buttress, as:

noun - The flared base of certain tree trunks.

noun - A horny growth on the heel of a horse's hoof.

noun - Something that serves to support, prop, or reinforce: "The law is by its very nature a buttress of the status quo ( J. William Fulbright).

verb-transitive - To support or reinforce with a buttress.

verb-transitive - To sustain, prop, or bolster: "The author buttresses her analysis with lengthy dissections of several of Moore's poems ( Warren Woessner).

hyponym - flying buttress, arc-boutant

form - buttressed, flying buttress, buttressing

synonym - counterpart, support, brace, prop, flying buttress


If you happen to be at the nexus of something, this noun means that you are right in the middle. A nexus is a noun that stands for something at the center or that which others are gathered around. The word entered English during the seventeenth century from the Latin word nectere and means "to bind, tie." In the field of cell biology, a nexus refers to "a specialized area of the cell membrane involved in intercellular communication and adhesion," and implies that the nexus of a cell facilitates communication among the various parts and allows it to work properly.

noun - A means of connection; a link or tie: "this nexus between New York's . . . real-estate investors and its . . . politicians ( Wall Street Journal).

noun - A connected series or group.

noun - The core or center: "The real nexus of the money culture [was] Wall Street ( Bill Barol).

synonym - bond, Bon, connection, tie, link

hypernym - series, linkage


Yes, phlegmatic has roots in that colorless, mucous stuff called phlegm, but people who are phlegmatic aren't called that because they have lots of mucous. They are just a little dull in expressing feelings or showing emotion. It may be their training more than their natural behavior, but those palace guards who wear the red coats and big hats and show absolutely no expression on their faces are phlegmatic. Attempts to make them laugh, smile, or twist their faces in irritation wont work, because being phlegmatic is important to their role as stone-faced keepers of the palace. Phlegmatic people show less emotion on the outside but who knows, they may be jumping up and down on the inside.

adjective - Of or relating to phlegm; phlegmy.

adjective - Having or suggesting a calm, sluggish temperament; unemotional.

equivalent - unemotional

synonym - calm, stoic, cold-blooded, cold, dull, unflappable, apathetic, watery, heavy