If you’ve ever looked up words in a dictionary, you’ve contributed to the noble cause of understanding English.
Up to the highest levels of our society, the intricacies of vocabulary occasionally escape our grasp. Former President George W. Bush’s verbal mishaps epitomize this fact. At the beginning of his first campaign, for example, Bush reportedly expressed his opinion that certain programs surrounding race “vulcanize society.” Vulcanization is a process involving heat and pressure used to strengthen rubber. ‘Balkanize‘ was surely what he was going for, meaning the division of a group or territory into fragments, often turning them against one another. If only he’d looked up words he used!
The misunderstanding of words by famous people brings public awareness to the need for lexical education. Check out this list of most looked-up words for an idea of what vocabulary words weren’t covered in English class.
1. anomaly – an irregularity; an abnormality
Example: If I get struck by lightening, I’ll be a statistical anomaly!
2. ethereal – something lacking physical substance; light and intangible
Example: This ambient music is so gentle, so ethereal!
3. loquacious – talkative
Example: For someone with such limited vocabulary, you’d think she’d be less loquacious!
4. empathy – an understanding of and identification with the feelings or experience of another
Example: I empathize — I’ve been there!
5. agnostic – the position that God’s existence cannot be proven or disproved; one who doesn’t confirm or deny God’s existence
Example: A: “Are you religious?” B: “No.” A: “You don’t believe in God?” B: “I didn’t say that.” A: “Oh, you’re agnostic!”
6. protocol – a system by which a task is completed correctly
Example: Is there a protocol for parenting feral children?
7. fascist – a person who believes a dictator should be in control of a nation’s economic and social policies
Example: A: “You shouldn’t be trusted to take care of yourself.” B: “You fascist!”
8. sycophant – one who prostrates himself before and flatters another as a means to personal gain
Example: He thought I would go on a date with him if he told me how undeserving of my company he was — what a sycophant!
9. facetious – a remark or attitude characterized by insincerity and humorousness
Example: When he said that nobody likes a liar, I facetiously remarked that the guy who sets liars’ pants on fire probably likes them.
10. capricious – acting impulsively
Example: Here’s a hundred bucks, kid; go be capricious!
11. salient – highly prominent; impossible to ignore
Example: All stuffed up, she sprayed saline solution into her salient schnoz.
12. superfluous – excessive; an unnecessary amount
Example: I like icing on my cake, but this two-inch layer is a bit superfluous.
13. ambiguous – vague; allowing for many interpretations
Example: I’m sorry for the misunderstanding; my explanation was ambiguous.
14. spongiform – spongelike; porous and soft
Example: What spongiform skin you have!
15. deficit – shortfall or insufficiency
Example: His stiff personality suffered from a humor deficit.
Those are only fifteen of the most looked up words, and you’re encouraged not to stop there. Have you ever gotten into an argument over a misunderstood word? Think twice before throwing a punch next time you’re called a philatelist (stamp collector); a dictionary is never far away!