Wednesday, September 30, 2009

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."


  1. I look up words often at 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. 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. 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. 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!