Ten Dollar Words

So you know I was in the Big Apple recently, up to my elbows in yellowed pages and musty memories.

One of the diaries I read contained a section that captured my fancy. This diarist made a list of words she’d looked up (and their meanings) and words she particularly liked. Though I’m not as disciplined, I do keep running lists (on slips of papers I tend to lose) of unfamiliar words.

Here are some words I’ve had to look up lately:

It’s always surprising to me when I think I know the meaning of a word, but the dictionary will show me a subtle shading that I hadn’t thought about. Case in point — I thought “jitney” could be interchangeable with any kind of transporting vehicle but it turns out it refers to a vehicle in which one pays to ride.

The other way I love to use a dictionary, most particularly the Oxford English Dictionary, is to find out when a word was first used. Though I adore my two musty volumes with their eye-straining tiny print, I find myself most often using the Seattle Public Library’s OED database (you need a library card to use this). It’s quick and I love the surprises — for example, the word “waterwings”(the inflatable kind) was used starting in the early 1900’s. Once, while attending the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon, Neil and I were surprised to hear one of the actors utter the word, “faucet,” thinking it utterly modern. A quick check in the OED revealed the word’s been used since the 1400’s.

How often do you look up words? Are you a desk dictionary user or desktop dictionary user? I’d love to know. And please share any favorite words you have. I’ve always been partial to “capricious.”

No Responses to “Ten Dollar Words”

  1. Liesl

    I look up words often at dictionary.com. But more often (probably a dozen times a day) I use the thesaurus. Love the thesaurus! In fact thesaurus is kind of a fun word. Other favorite words include “efficacious,” “cantankerous,” and “serendipity.”

  2. Kirby Larson

    How could I forget to mention thesauri? The one I own and have nearly worn out is Rodale’s Synonym Finder. Love, love, love it.

  3. Barbara O'Connor

    I use the online dictionary a lot – mostly to look up words whose meaning I can never remember (or the ones I pretend like I know but don’t. Ha)

    I like obstreperous and obsequious. (I just had to look those up to make sure I was spelling correctly. haha)

  4. Amber Lough

    I’m reading The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing: Traitor to the Nation, Vol II, and am running into new words with every chapter (at least). It’s fun!