taciturn \TAS-uh-turn\ (adjective) - Habitually silent; not inclined to talk.
"A normally taciturn sort, Mike was surprisingly voluble that evening when the topic of public health care was brought up."
Taciturn comes from Latin taciturnus, from tacere, "to be silent."
approbation \ap-ruh-BAY-shuhn\ (noun) - 1 : The act of approving; formal or official approval. 2 : Praise; commendation.
"The candidate's speech struck a responsive chord among the crowd of well-wishers and won him much approbation."
Approbation is from Latin approbatio, from approbare, "to approve or cause to be approved," from ap- (for ad-),...Read more
dishabille \dis-uh-BEEL\ (noun) - 1 : The state of being carelessly or partially dressed. 2 : Casual or lounging attire. 3 : An intentionally careless or casual manner.
"Marta's parents were utterly scandalized when they toured her dorm, seeing all the people sho should have been fully clothed lounging around in dishabille."
Dishabille comes ...Read more
braggadocio \brag-uh-DOH-see-oh; -shee-oh; -shoh\ (noun) - 1 : A braggart. 2 : Empty boasting. 3 : A swaggering, cocky manner.
"While many considered Lance to be little more than a loud-mouthed braggadocio, when the chips were down, he would inevitably produce impressive results."
Braggadocio is from Braggadocchio, a boastful character in ...Read more
chimera \ky-MIR-uh\ (noun) - 1 : (Capitalized) A fire-breathing she-monster represented as having a lion's head, a goat's body, and a serpent's tail. 2 : Any imaginary monster made up of grotesquely incongruous parts. 3 : An illusion or mental fabrication; a grotesque product of the imagination. 4 : An individual, organ, or part consisting of ...Read more
mulct \MULKT\ (noun) - A fine or penalty.
(transitive verb) - 1 : To punish for an offense or misdemeanor by imposing a fine or demanding a forfeiture. 2 : To obtain by fraud or deception. 3 : To defraud; to swindle.
"Rather than paying for new roadway infrastructure the honest way, by raising gas taxes, officials instead elected to mulct the ...Read more
ludic \LOO-dik\ (adjective) - Of or relating to play; characterized by play; playful.
"Watching the children engaged in their ludic pastimes always re-energized Jason's creative batteries."
Ludic derives from Latin ludus, "play." Ludicrous, "amusing or laughable," shares the same root.
unguent \UNG-gwuhnt\ (noun) - A salve for sores, burns, or the like; an ointment.
"Mara quickly smoothed a sweet smelling unguent over Tallis' burns and his pain from them was much lessened."
Unguent comes from Latin unguentum, from unguere, "to anoint."
tenet \TEN-it\ (noun) - Any opinion, principle, dogma, belief, or doctrine that a person holds or maintains as true.
"George lived his life by the simple tenet 'Do unto others before they do unto you.'"
Tenet comes from Latin tenet "he holds" (something as true), from tenere, "to hold."
arcanum \ar-KAY-nuhm\ (noun) plural arcana \-nuh\ - 1 : A secret; a mystery. 2 : Specialized or mysterious knowledge, language, or information that is not accessible to the average person (generally used in the plural).
"Millford was gifted in the utilization of the arcana of computer languages and thus was in high demand in a variety of ...Read more
disquisition \dis-kwuh-ZISH-uhn\ (noun) - A formal discourse on a subject.
"The new book club member was partial to eye-glazing disquisitions on 'new wave' authors from the 1960's."
Disquisition comes from Latin disquisitio, from disquirere, "to inquire into, to investigate," from dis- + quaerere "to seek." It is related to inquire ("to seek ...Read more
Faithful reader Leo Rockas rocked me recently when he emailed me three challenging questions: When did "under way" become one word? When did "media" become singular? When did "all right" become "alright"?
--underway/under way: Traditionally, usage authorities have insisted on a distinction between these two forms, claiming that "underway" ...Read more
ukase \yoo-KAYS; -KAYZ; YOO-kays; -kayz\ (noun) - 1 : In imperial Russia, a published proclamation or order having the force of law. 2 : Any order or decree issued by an authority; an edict.
"On Monday, management issued a ukase that, due to the warm weather, no open toed sandals could be worn. On Tuesday, another was issued stating precisely ...Read more
subfusc \sub-FUHSK\ (adjective) - Dark or dull in color; drab, dusky.
"Mela never dressed in anything but drab or dull colors, and her room was decorated in similarly subfusc hues, all the better to maintain her trendily affected, gloomy mood."
Subfusc comes from Latin subfuscus, "brownish, dark," from sub-, "under" + fuscus, "dark-colored."
jollification \jol-ih-fuh-KAY-shuhn\ (noun) - Merrymaking; festivity; revelry.
"The office's new jollification committee had such a small budget that they could only festoon the office with multi-colored streamers twice a week."
Jollification is from jolly (from Old French joli, jolif, "joyful, merry") + Latin -ficare, combining form of facere...Read more
gewgaw \G(Y)OO-gaw\ (noun) - A showy trifle; a trinket; a bauble.
"Many in the office felt that new secretary's tendency to be festooned with gewgaws, as well as her gaudy makeup, reflected poorly on the company's image."
The origin of gewgaw is uncertain.
parlous \PAR-luhs\ (adjective) - Attended with peril; fraught with danger; hazardous.
"It was a parlous time in the schoolyard, when preppies and goths vied brutally for supremacy."
Parlous derives from Old French perillous, perilleus, from Latin periculosus, adjective form of periculum, "peril, danger, hazard."
rapprochement \rap-rosh-MAWN\ (noun) - The establishment or state of cordial relations.
"After the things that were said during their last argument, Janice had no desire for some kissy rapprochement."
Rapprochement comes from the French, from rapprocher, "to bring nearer," from Middle French, from re- + approcher, "to approach," from Old ...Read more
caterwaul \KAT-uhr-wawl\ (intransitive verb) - 1 : To make a harsh cry. 2 : To have a noisy argument.
(noun) - A shrill, discordant sound.
"Meghan was determined that the concert not be held within earshot of her house that she not be subjected to the tuneless caterwauling of the lead singer all evening."
Caterwaul is from Middle English ...Read more
We think of words as immutable -- sturdy bricks with permanent meanings that we can interlock to build solid walls of clarity. Phrases such as "I give you my word" reflect our faith in unchanging definitions.
But in fact, words are more like brooks than bricks. They overflow, carve new channels, change their courses, reverse themselves, and ...Read more