legion \LEE-jehn\ (adjective) - Multitudinous, of enormous number.
"My doubts about this project are legion; I don't know where to begin."
From Latin legio, legionis "a body of soldiers numbering 10 cohorts and 300 cavalry." A cohort comprised 300-600 men. From Latin lego "I gather, collect" based on Proto-Indo-European *leg- which seems to ...Read more
noisome \NOY-sehm\ (adjective) - 1 : Offensive, disgusting, foul. 2 : Harmful or dangerous.
"Molly couldn't imagine even a homeless street bum bedecked in more noisome garb than Thomas wore that evening."
Middle English noie "harm" (shortened from Old French anoi "annoyance" which also was borrowed by English as "annoy") + -som, an ...Read more
jawboning \JAW-boh-ning\ (noun) - The use of public appeals (as by a president) to influence the actions especially of business and labor leaders; broadly : the use of spoken persuasion
"The governor was reluctant to intervene directly in the strike, so he resorted to jawboning, urging both sides to return to the bargaining table with warnings...Read more
embonpoint \ahn-bohn-PWAN\ (noun) - Plumpness of person; stoutness.
"It was a girl called Tinker Bell exquisitely gowned in a skeleton leaf, cut low and square, through which her figure could be seen to best advantage. She was slightly inclined to embonpoint." -- J.M. Barrie, 'Peter Pan'
Embonpoint is from French, literally "in good condition"...Read more
purdah \PUR-duh\ (noun) - 1 : A curtain, screen, or veil shielding women from the sight of men or strangers in Hindu and Muslim communities. 2 : A striped cotton cloth from which a curtain is made, often blue and white. 3 : The system of secluding Hindu or Muslim women. 4 : A state of seclusion or concealment; social seclusion.
'Weaned on royal...Read more
ebullient \ih-BUL-yuhnt\ (adjective) - 1 : Overflowing with enthusiasm or excitement; high-spirited. 2 : Boiling up or over.
"He was extremely nervous and extremely jealous of other tenors and he covered his nervous jealousy with an ebullient friendliness." -- James Joyce, 'Dubliners'
Ebullient comes from Latin ebullire, "to bubble up," from e...Read more
imbroglio \im-BROL-yo\ (noun) - A confused tangle or mess; an intricately woven plot or set of circumstances; an embroilment.
"Clinton's presidency was muddled by an imbroglio with a White House intern."
From Italian imbroglio "entanglement." The related verb "embroil" comes either from Italian imbrogliare "to tangle, confuse" or French ...Read more
redact \rih-DAKT\ (transitive verb) - 1 : To draw up or frame (a statement, proclamation, etc.); to put in writing. 2 : To make ready and put in shape for publication; to edit.
"Back when we were in college, we used to lie in bed and regularly redact a mutual fantasy about how someday we could run a cafe or a hotel in some distant country..." -...Read more
vitiate \VISH-ee-ayt\ (transitive verb) - 1 : To make faulty or imperfect; to render defective; to impair; as, "exaggeration vitiates a style of writing." 2 : To corrupt morally; to debase. 3 : To render ineffective; as, "fraud vitiates a contract."
"It seems churlish to say of a book that is beautifully written, richly allusive, learned, ...Read more
votary \VOH-tuh-ree\ (noun) - 1. One who is devoted, given, or addicted to some particular pursuit, subject, study, or way of life. 2 : A devoted admirer. 3 : A devout adherent of a religion or cult. 4 : A dedicated believer or advocate.
"A priestess led a young man out onto the sunken floor, pulling him with a chain fixed to the manacles on ...Read more
sempiternal \sem-pih-TUR-nuhl\ (adjective) - Of never ending duration; having beginning but no end; everlasting; endless.
"Repetition had become a comfort in her antiquity; the well-worn phrases, unfinished business, grandstand view, made her feel solid, unchanging, sempiternal, instead of the creature of cracks and absences she knew herself to...Read more
heterarchy \HE-tehr-arh-key\ (noun) - Originally, today's word meant "rule by aliens or foreigners" but it is gaining currency today in reference to a form of institutional organization based on distributed intelligence and collaborative decisions rather than hierarchical structures. A heterarchy is an organizational structure resembling a ...Read more
pavid \PAEV-id\ (adjective) - Easily frightened, fearful, pusillanimous, timorous.
"Lana Issacs in accounting is such a pavid lamb, she will never ask for a raise."
The etymology of today's word doesn't run very deep. It is a thinly veiled copy of Latin pavidus "fearful" from pavere "to quake with fear." The root here is the same found in ...Read more
verisimilitude \ver-uh-suh-MIL-uh-tood; -tyood\ (noun) - 1 : The appearance of truth; the quality of seeming to be true. 2 : Something that has the appearance of being true or real.
"For those plays, Ms. Smith interviewed hundreds of people of different races and ages, somehow managing to internalize their expressions, anger and quirks enough ...Read more
zarf \zahrf\ (noun) - In the Middle East, coffee is often drunk from cups without handles and tea, from glasses. A zarf is a decorative holder, usually from metal, with a handle that prevents the hot cup or glass from burning fingers. Some zarfs also have no handles, such as the insulation jackets that hold glasses to keep their contents cold.
surcease \SUR-sees; sur-SEES\ (noun) - Cessation; stop; end.
"One of his clearest remembrances from childhood was the feeling that swept over him when, on a Saturday morning, the sun had sequestered itself behind a cascade of clouds and rain, thick, relentless walls of rain, came pounding down with no promise of surcease, black greasy rain that...Read more
recondite \REK-uhn-dyt\ (adjective) - 1 : Difficult to understand; abstruse. 2 : Concerned with obscure subject matter.
"Reginald enjoyed the daily emails as a way to keep his already recondite vocabulary satisfyingly obscure."
Recondite is from Latin reconditus, past participle of recondere, "to store back," i.e., "out of the way," hence "to ...Read more
venial \VEE-nee-uhl\ (adjective) - Capable of being forgiven; not heinous; excusable; pardonable.
"Martin's latest error was a venial one, although that he made so many of them so frequently was not something which was lost on those higher-up in the chain of command."
Venial comes from Latin venia, "grace, indulgence, favor." It is not to be ...Read more
solicitous \suh-LIS-uh-tuhs\, adjective) - 1 : Manifesting or expressing care or concern. 2 : Full of anxiety or concern; apprehensive. 3 : Extremely careful; meticulous. 4 : Full of desire; eager.
"I listened with closed eyes to his solicitous words, though he never noticed it." -- Par Lagerkvist, 'The Sibyl'
Solicitous is from Latin ...Read more
I occasionally ask readers to unleash their pet peeves about grammar and usage. While at first, these complaints might seem to be docile house pets, once unleashed, they roar with ferocious fury.
Let's present some objectionable sentences as if they were scampering squirrels and then watch the ferocious peeves pounce:
-- If I would have won ...Read more