Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Here are 100 (Or So) Words You Should Know

The editors of the American Heritage dictionary recently compiled a list of 100 words they think every high school graduate and their parent should know. A senior editor of the dictionary says flatly that "if you are able to use these words correctly, you are likely to have a superior command of the language." I think he's mostly right. But I also think the average educated person can get along just fine without ever using such oddball words as "gamete" and "moiety," for instance. I'm also reminded of how the lovely but obscure sound of the word "jejune" once caused Woody Allen to use it as a comic element in the script for his movie Love and Death, a takeoff on Tolstoy's War and Peace. Woody, playing himself, was accused of being jejune. His response: "You have the temerity to say that I'm blocking you out of jejunosity? I'm one of the most june people in all of the Russias!"

18 Comments:

At 10:56 PM, Blogger redhorse said...

Um, became worried for a moment when I biffed on the first three (and just why wasn't biffed on the list?). Without keeping count, I believe I recovered well.

It's an interesting exercise.

 
At 12:39 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Glad you recovered. I wouldn't want to have played a role in your multiple biffing. Now that you mention it, I kinda like that word.

 
At 10:38 AM, Blogger Scott said...

Lots of great words on that list, but I think my favorite entry is "orthography." I can't imagine why a graduating senior needs to have this word in his/her armamentarium, though I certainly hope they all have a firm grasp on the orthography of English. My 13-year-old makes fun of the fact that I insist on using proper puncutation and capitalization in emails. And I tell her this: The day I start writing like Prince circa 1984 (i.e., "I Would Die 4 U") is the day I want one of you to put a bullet in my skull.

 
At 10:47 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Well said, Scott. I couldn't agree more about getting the basics right, even in emails. And there are indeed some oddball choices on that list, but just a few. Maybe I should test my high school senior.

 
At 12:55 PM, Blogger Art Durkee said...

I guess I pass, hving known and used them al before. One wonders at the selection process, though: it seems ostentaiously loquacious at times, and laced with some scientific terms that even in these days don't have a lot of daily relevance. Nanotech, sure, but mitosis?

Oh well.

Then again, I admit to having been a geeky kid who read dictionaries for fun, even on occasion bringing them out to the playground in fifth or sixth grade.

 
At 1:18 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Art, that made me laugh with appreciation. I too was enough of an info-geek as a kid to closely study almanacs, and to look forward to like nothing else the annual update/year in review that World Book Encyclopedia provided. When it arrived each year in the mail, I tore open that box as if it contained gold bullion. Who then could have ever predicted that and more would all be available, for free, on the Internet?

And yes, that word list did contain just a few words that I suspect were included mostly just to show the world how smart the editors thought they are. I'm a believer in the idea that the right word to use in any sentence generally is the simplest, most direct word rather than the one that telegraphs your learning (really your insecurities), or perhaps that you like to use a thesaurus.

 
At 4:13 PM, Blogger ~C said...

Darn! No assuage or dissuade - two of my favorites. But it's hard to beat a good word like cicumlocution.

 
At 4:28 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Heck, you can add them to the list. Lists such as these are meant to be starting points for discussion, and for building our own, better, lists. I've always liked the sound that the word assuage makes while rolling off the tongue. Then again, it's not a word you tend to hear too often. Which is a pity. Anyway, thanks for adding your two cents, from up in the Twin Cities.

 
At 11:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We have a vortex in our city pool, and while we at it we can forget about all Hilary's prior chicanery and kowtow to her since she has an 80% chance of being president. mfh

 
At 10:26 PM, Anonymous Mr. Bluster said...

Nowhere else to post this, but look at what the NYT ombudsman says today:

http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/08/opinion/08pubed.html?ei=5090&en=bf79bee5a3fd9fb5&ex=1341547200&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss&pagewanted=all

He may not be window dressing as I previously suggested, but instead a bellwether of the Times' future direction. His column arrives the same day as a bold editorial statement on the Iraq war. Please, let me have been wrong about Hoyt, the ombudsman!

 
At 9:43 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Thanks for posting that link and your comment. I think I'm on the record here that I thought this guy was a particularly good choice for the NYT's third public editor (the paper's fussy word to avoid the term "ombudsman," which is precisely what he nevertheless is). And he's neither window dressing nor bellweather, because he's an independent outside voice, though most recently from a journalistic institution that has one of the proudest records of all in not following the Beltway pack on being snowed by the Bush White House about Iraq. And it was no doubt that record (which was rather unlike the NYT's own on this issue) that both made him a good choice, and served as a hopeful signal from the paper's leaders that they understood and accepted the criticism of their role in being misled. I, and many others, interpreted it as something of a mea culpa from the Times.

 
At 11:07 AM, Anonymous Mr. Bluster said...

You're welcome. I still think he might be a "bellwether" in one or both modern meanings, but I hope not the original, for his sake.

Wikipedia:

A bellwether is any entity in a given arena that serves to create or influence trends or to presage future happenings. The term is derived from the Middle English bellewether and refers to the practice of placing a bell around the neck of a castrated ram (a wether) in order that this animal might lead its flock of sheep.

 
At 11:16 AM, Anonymous Mr. Bluster said...

And I called the Times' editorial "bold". It would have been so if delivered a few years ago. Now it only summarizes what many thinking people already knew. It is welcome nevertheless.

 
At 11:18 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

I won't quibble with you on this, especially since you've done the splendid job of delving into the real meanings of the word, which I of course applaud. Meanwhile, this morning I also came across this interesting take on the controversy in question, by Salon.com's always-insightful Glenn Greenwald:
http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2007/07/09/hoyt/index.html

 
At 11:47 AM, Anonymous Mr. Bluster said...

Right on, brother Greenwald. He stated more articulately and knowledgably what I have been inferring aloud here on your blog.

"In light of all of this, what rational argument can be mounted in response to the claim that the NYT is simply not interested in practicing real journalism when it comes to the Bush administration's actions in Iraq, or worse, that at least some editorial factions at the Times support the war and want to prop up the administration's political case? What other explanation is possible in light of the clear, lengthy record of the newspaper?"

...

"If bloggers can see it, and Hoyt sees it, isn't it safe to assume that the editors who approve of these articles see it, too? How can they not?"

 
At 12:07 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

By all means, keep inferring aloud to your heart's content. But also know that I paid special attention to that Salon piece largely because you flagged this issue for me.

 
At 12:40 PM, Anonymous Mr. Bluster said...

I appreciate knowing that.

Yesterday, I sent a "thank you" to Clark Hoyt at public@nytimes.com.

 
At 1:03 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Good for you. That's an important reminder for all of us, that it never hurts to directly tell people in the media when we think they're doing a good job. That's doubly important when it comes to doing your part to lift the spirits of those who are courageously operating outside of the lazy groupthink of a large portion of their peers in the journalistic establishment.

 

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