Inspired by my friend and fellow Elephant Journal contributor Joslyn Hamilton, here are some of my most, and least, favorite words. (You should read Joslyn’s blog; she’s younger and hipper and funnier than I am.)
Words I Like
Sanguine Cheerfully optimistic. I am not sanguine about the Democrats’ chances in the mid-term elections. Jane Austen uses this word a lot.
Cacao [kuh-kah-oh] It’s just fun to say. Say it out loud: “Seventy percent cacao.” You’ll feel better.
Sanctimonious This is what people usually mean when they say “pious.” Not only is it more suited for the purpose–”pious” can simply mean “devout”–it also sounds a lot worse.
Imposed upon This is another Jane Austen favorite, a happy alternative to “deceived” that has the advantage of laying the blame squarely on the deceiver. You have been most grievously imposed upon.
Niggardly I am this word’s pity-friend. It doesn’t have anything to do with race, though the ill-educated and excessively PC persist in thinking it does. It means stingy.
Cataract So much more satisfying than “waterfall.” Behold the awesome power of the cataract!
Piquant I use this as a euphemism for bitchy or rude. (Understatement makes you sound unflappable.) I pronounce it in English, with the accent on the first syllable.
Candid Less threatening than “frank” or “blunt.” May I be candid with you?
Fraught Past tense of the verb “freight”–same as “freighted,” but oh, so much more satisfying. The gesture seemed fraught with meaning.
Bounder Meaning an ill-bred, unscrupulous man, this word is archaic and British enough that I have never yet had occasion to use it. But I’m always on the lookout for an opportunity. Josiah Bounderby, the “man perfectly devoid of sentiment” from Dickens’ Hard Times, is a good example.
Snarky Sounding a lot like what it means, this word is like Doritos for your vocabulary–self-indulgent, but tasty.
Schadenfreude Pleasure taken in the misfortunes of others. Every time President Bush screwed up, the liberal blogosphere lit up with Schadenfreude.
Obviate Often used incorrectly to mean “make obvious,” this word actually means to prevent a problem or remove the need for something. When you use correctly a word that other people use incorrectly, it makes you feel smart.
Egregious One of my all-time favorite words.
Foofaraw I love this word. Whenever I use it, I feel like I have a big walrus mustache and a pocketwatch. Which I like, for some reason.
Imbroglio A complicated, tangled, and usually embarrassing situation. My life is too dull to warrant its use as often as I’d like.
Debacle It just sounds like one; even if you didn’t know what it meant, you would.
Quotidian Meaning “everyday,” this word isn’t.
Monumental Conveys hugeness as few other words do. The Deepwater Horizon disaster was a monumental cock-up for BP.
Gravitas Having the unusual property of lending the very quality it stands for to any sentence in which it is used, this word enables you to say “seriousness” without sounding like you’re in grade school.
Words I Don’t Like
Policy Inoffensive in itself, this word has been used so often to obviate the need for independent thought or initiative that I cannot bear to hear or use it. I wish I could help you, but that’s just not our policy.
Flexible There is not anything actually wrong with this word, either–it has simply been tainted by employers who use it to mean “roll over and play dead.” When people want you to take on more work without an increase in pay, or work without a contract, they tell you to “be flexible.” I now use “limber” or “supple” in its place.
Proactive I don’t know why; I just hate it.
As of yet You never, ever have to say this. You can always just say “yet.”
At this time Why not just say “now”? (See “As of yet” above.)
Presently (used to mean “at present”) People say this to mean “now”. We are presently at work on the problem. This is wrong, wrong, wrong. It means “soon.” Miss Dashwood will be down presently. What people usually mean when they say this is “at present”—but of course, why even say that? (See “At this time” above.)
Itch (as a transitive verb) If you have an itch, you scratch it; you do not “itch” it. Hearing that makes my skin crawl.
Epic (as an adjective) You know.
Fail (as a noun) See “Epic” above.
Meme I don’t really hate this word–it just reminds me of Beaker from the Muppet Show.