The Words You Should Know to Sound Smart

BOOK: The Words You Should Know to Sound Smart
8.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub




For Peter Archer, a saint among men


A prodigious debt of gratitude goes to Justin Cord Hayes and Katie Corcoran Lytle for the Herculean effort they put forth to ameliorate this book. Thanks also to the following friends, family, and colleagues who suggested words for inclusion in this book: Ilise Benun, Milly Bly, Fern Dickey, Amy and Jonathan Eiten, Don Hauptman, Ken and Teri Karp, Michael Masterson, and Mike Payntner.

A Few Words about a Few Words

A radio commercial for a mail-order course on building your vocabulary states, “People judge you by the words you use.” Now, with
The Words You Should Know to Sound Smart
, people who hear you speak will see you as smart—perhaps even smarter than you really are.

Some people who want to sound smart have cultivated a large vocabulary, which they unleash with great regularity. This book can serve as your “translator” when speaking with these pseudo-intellectuals.

Many other people possess a large vocabulary but use it sparingly, preferring to speak and write in plain English. As more than one writing instructor has put it, “Your goal is to express, not to impress.”

It’s possible that
The Words You Should Know to Sound Smart
may even put some money in your pocket. People who have a good vocabulary come off as confident, intelligent, and motivated—qualities necessary for financial success. The late motivational speaker Earl Nightingale liked to tell students about a twenty-year study of college graduates. The study concluded, “Without a single exception, those who had scored highest on the vocabulary test given in college were in the top income group, while those who had scored the lowest were in the bottom income group.”

Scientist John O’Connor gave vocabulary tests to executive and supervisory personnel in thirty-nine large manufacturing companies. On average, test scores for the company presidents were nearly three times higher than their shop foremen. Vocabulary researchers Richard C. Anderson and W. E. Nagy write, “One of the most consistent findings of educational research is that having a small vocabulary portends poor school performance and, conversely, having a large vocabulary is associated with school success.”

Whether this book helps you get higher grades or advance in your career, it’s fun to improve your command of the English language—either to impress
express. Some of the words in
The Words You Should Know to Sound Smart
can do just that: make you sound educated and intelligent. But you may get pleasure out of knowing them and adding them to your vocabulary quiver, even if you keep most of them in reserve. It’s your call.

A Note on the Pronunciation

Pronunciation keys given in this book are rendered phonetically, without using special symbols or systems.

Many of the words in this book have meanings and pronunciations—in addition to those listed here—that are entirely correct.

Regional influences can affect pronunciation of certain words. In this book, we use the most commonly accepted pronunciation for each word, recognizing that it is by no means the only acceptable pronunciation.

A Note on the Sources

In his book
The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary
, Simon Winchester observes that there are essentially three sources for the words in any dictionary: (1) words found in existing dictionaries; (2) words overheard in conversation; and (3) words found “by a concerted trawl through the text of literature.”
The Words You Should Know to Sound Smart
is my attempt at a listing of all three sources.

“Of course the illusion of art is
to make one believe that great
literature is very close to life, but
exactly the opposite is true. Life
literature is

Françoise Sagan, French novelist
and playwright



(ah-BAIT-ment), noun

The reduction or elimination of a tax, claim, fine, or debt.

By having her daddy pull strings in the mayor’s office, Sylvia received a quick ABATEMENT of her traffic ticket.

(ab-JOOR), transitive verb

To renounce or turn your back on a belief or position you once held near and dear.

Once Jodi tasted my mouth-watering, medium-rare filet mignon, she ABJURED the vegetarian lifestyle forever.

(uh-BOM-in-ate), verb

When you
something, you really, really hate and dislike it – and view it with considerable loathing.

“For my part, I ABOMINATE all honorable respectable toils, trials, and tribulations of every kind whatsoever.” – Herman Melville, American author

(ab-SKOND), verb

To leave in a hurry but quietly, so as to escape notice, especially to avoid trouble.

Bored out of his wits, Jared ABSCONDED with the family Mercedes, but he wrapped it around a large oak tree.

(ab-STEE-me-us), adjective

To eat plain and simple food in moderation, avoiding over-indulgence in drink and gluttony at the table.

Gandhi led an ABSTEMIOUS life.

(ab-STROOS), adjective

Arcane, complex, difficult to understand and learn.

Bob began to wish there was, in fact, a Santa Claus because he found the “simple instructions” to his son’s bicycle far too ABSTRUSE.

(ah-kul-cherr-AYE-shin), noun

The process of adapting to a different culture.

Just because sushi makes me queasy, doesn’t mean I’m opposed to ACCULTURATION.

(ah-kri-MOAN-ee-us), adjective

Angry; bitter; disputed.

“There is something about the literary life that repels me, all this desperate building of castles on cobwebs, the long-drawn
struggle to make something important which we all know will be gone forever in a few years …” –
Raymond Chandler, American author

(ah-JOO-dih-kate), verb

To preside over or listen to opposing arguments and help two parties settle their difference and come to an agreement.

As my daughters pummeled each other while screaming at top volume, I tried desperately to ADJUDICATE their quarrel.

ad nauseam
(ad-NAW-zee-um), adverb

Something that goes on and on, or is done over and over again, to a ridiculous, even sickening degree.

At first we were all impressed that Steve could recite the entire Gettysburg Address, but we all got kind of sickened when he repeated the feat AD NAUSEAM.

(ah-DROYT), adjective

Skilled or clever in a particular pursuit.

“It’s kind of sad,” Betty said to Barbara, “that Will thinks his ADROIT opera-singing abilities will impress women.”

(ad-JYOO-lah-tore-ee), adjective

Complimentary; giving of effusive praise.

“He includes in his final chapter a passage of ADULATORY prose from Henry James.” – Joyce Carol Oates, American author

(AYE-jis), noun

The protection, support, and help rendered by a guardian, supporter, backer, or mentor.

Jill thinks she’s above reproach because she’s under the AEGIS of that marketing vice-president with a penchant for younger women.

(es-THEH-tik), adjective

Relating to beauty and the appreciation of beauty.

Covering your walls with pictures torn from the newspaper does not constitute a genuine AESTHETIC sense, Harold.

(ah-fek-TAY-shun), noun

Behaviors or mannerisms that are exaggerated, extreme, eccentric, and deliberately showy, often an effort to attract attention.

“AFFECTATION is awkward and forces imitation of what should be genuine and easy.” – John Locke, British philosopher

(uh-FLAY-tuss), noun

Inspiration that seems to come from divine origin.

The Nobel Prize-winning novelist attributed her abilities to AFFLATUS, rather than to her own abilities.

(uh-fish-ee-uh-NAH-doe), noun

A devotee, someone who is enthralled with and supports a particular activity.

Dwight often refers to himself as an AFICIONADO of American-made microbrews.

(ah-GRAND-ize), verb

To exaggerate, put on a false front, and make something look greater and grander than it really is.

Phil tries to AGGRANDIZE his reputation by stating that he is a charter member of the Bill O’Reilly fan club, but everybody just thinks this “feat” makes him pathetic.

(ah-KIM-bo), adverb

With hands on hips and elbows turned outward.

When my father gets really mad, he stands stock-still, arms AKIMBO, and slowly turns red in the face.

(ah-LAK-rih-tee), noun

Cheerful cooperation rendered with enthusiasm, promptness, and politeness.

The ALACRITY with which Steve responded to Helen’s invitation is nothing short of astonishing.

(al-BEE-it), conjunction


Vickie thought Charles was dim-witted, ALBEIT cute, in a childlike way.

(AIL-ee-ah-tore-ee), adjective

An action that is unplanned, spontaneous, or spur of the moment rather than deliberately thought out and carefully considered; an outcome that is anything but certain and depends on luck, randomness, or chance.

“Of course you lost the election!” Miranda yelled. “An ALEATORY, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants campaign is never going to be a recipe for success!”

(AL-eh-gor-ee), noun

A story told to communicate a hidden meaning or deeper theme.

Many of the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales are clear ALLEGORIES of the consequences of children’s rotten behavior.

(ah-lit-ter-AYE-shun), noun

The repetition of similar sounds, especially at the beginnings of words, in written speech or the spoken word.

I’d forgotten how much Alicia likes to use ALLITERATION in her insults, but was quickly reminded when she called me a cruel, callous cretin.

(AM-uh-tore-ee), adjective

Having to do with sexual love.

Pete hasn’t stopped sulking since Alice spurned his AMATORY advances at the office Christmas party.

(am-bih-GYOO-ih-tee), noun

Uncertainty; lacking clear definition.

Poets who revel in AMBIGUITY are one of the reasons many people hate poetry.

(ah-MEAL-your-ate), verb

To correct a deficiency or defect; to make right a wrong; to take actions that make up, at least in part, for negative actions or failure to take action previously.

After you insulted her mother, I don’t think even the most expensive piece of jewelry will be enough to AMELIORATE your relationship with Marcia.

(ah-MEE-nah-bull), adjective

One who readily and agreeably gives in to the wishes and desires of others.

Mark considers himself AMENABLE, but the rest of us just think he’s a pushover.

(ah-MORE-fis), adjective

Without definite shape, substance, or form; lacking definition and boundaries.

“Of course the illusion of art is to make one believe that great literature is very close to life, but exactly the opposite is true. Life is AMORPHOUS, literature is formal.” – Françoise Sagan, French novelist and playwright

(ah-NAK-ruh-niz-em), noun

A person, place, thing, or idea whose time is past, and that seems to belong to an earlier age.

His three record players—and the fact that he doesn’t even know what an mp3 is—make Jim something of an ANACHRONISM.

(an-AL-a-gus), adjective

Similar or comparable in some respects.

Nikki tried to argue that attending public school in Manhattan was ANALOGOUS to attending the prestigious boarding school in the country, but her argument was weak and her grandmother wasn’t buying it.

(ah-NA-theh-MA), noun

Something so distasteful to you, so alien and foreign to your understanding, that you find it sickening and repellant—as if you were allergic to it.

Religious services were an ANATHEMA to Russ, what with him being a dedicated atheist and all.

(an-druh-SEN-tri-zum), noun

An outlook that emphasizes a masculine point of view.

“Larry,” Joan warned, “that ANDROCENTRISM may be all the rage in the locker room, but you’d better leave it out of our bedroom if you know what’s good for you.”

(ann-DRAH-gen-us), adjective

Something or someone who is neuter—sexless; of indeterminate sex; or hermaphrodite (having characteristics of both a male and a female).

The models at fashion week were so ANDROGYNOUS that Katherine couldn’t tell if the clothes were designed for men or women.

(an-FRACK-chuh-wuss), adjective

Full of windings and intricacies, like a good mystery novel.

The novel’s ANFRACTUOUS plot worked on paper, but it became stupefyingly confusing—actually, just plain stupid—onscreen.

(an-uh-mad-VER-zhun), noun

Very harsh criticism that suggests disapproval of what is being criticized.

My boss’s frequent ANIMADVERSIONS have led to high staff turnover.

(an-AHM-ah-lee), noun

An exception to the norm; something different and unexpected that logically should not exist.

“After a thousand meters of this broken-field walking, Mitsuno came upon an ANOMALY: a patch of sand perhaps ten meters square.” – Fred Pohl and Thomas Thomas, American science fiction authors

(an-tih-SEE-dent), noun

The ancestor of an existing product, idea, etc.

IBM’s electronic typewriter with storage was the ANTECEDENT of the modern PC.

(ant-eye-dis-es-STAB-lish-men-tarry-an-izm), noun

A movement or protest against an established institution or authority.

No, Walter, bringing your own coffee to Starbuck’s is not an example of ANTIDISESTABLISHMENTARIANISM. It’s just foolish.

(an-TIH-thess-iss), noun

The exact opposite; a thing that is completely different from another thing.

He tries so hard to be smooth, but Charles is the ANTITHESIS of cool.

(ah-PAR-thide), noun

South Africa’s government-sanctioned policy of segregation and racial discrimination.

Since APARTHEID ended in 1994, South Africa has elected three native African presidents.

(AH-for-iz-ihm), noun

A proverb, often-repeated statement, or cliché.

Danny, you say “I’m right. You’re wrong.” so much that it’s become an APHORISM.

(ah-POCK-rih-full), adjective

An event, story, legend, or rumor that has been told so often, and so long after the fact, that one has good reason to doubt its authenticity, nor can it be verified through research.

John Henry may have been based on a real man, but in the story he has grown to APOCRYPHAL proportions.

(ap-up-PLECK-tic), adjective

An extremely agitated state of rage.

Emily’s careless event planning makes me so APOPLECTIC that I just want to step in and plan the luncheon myself.

(a-PA-stah-see), noun

The act of abandoning, ignoring, or openly flaunting an accepted principle or belief.

“It was his idea of grand APOSTASY to drive to the reform synagogue on the high holidays and park his pink-eye nag among the luxurious, whirl-wired touring cars of the rich.” – Saul Bellow, American author

(ah-pa-thee-OH-sis), noun

The culmination or highest point.

Winning the Silver Gutter Award at his local bowling alley was the APOTHEOSIS of Wendell’s less-than-stellar sports legacy.

(ah-PEEZ-meant), noun

The act of making others happy by agreeing to their demands.

Charlene realized too late that her policy of APPEASEMENT would not cause Warren to treat her with more respect.

(ah-pull-AYE-shun), noun

A formal name, label, or title.

Even though he has only an honorary degree, he insists on being called by the APPELLATION of “doctor” everywhere he goes.

(ap-ruh-BAY-shun), noun

Official approval or commendation.

“In a virtuous and free state, no rewards can be so pleasing to sensible minds, as those which include the APPROBATION of our fellow citizens. My great pain is, lest my poor endeavours should fall short of the kind expectations of my country.” – Thomas Jefferson

BOOK: The Words You Should Know to Sound Smart
8.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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