Vaughan’s Vocabulary

Don Vaughan provides infrequently used words to strengthen your vocabulary.

I visited a website titled “Building a Better Vocabulary,” which pointed out that everyone, from beginning English students to veterans in journalism, knows the frustration of not having the right word immediately available in that lexicon one carries between one’s ears. Sometimes it’s a matter of not being able to recall the right word; sometimes we never knew it.

One of the best ways to build a vocabulary is by doing something the website pointed out. When you hear or read words that you cannot define, write them down. When you have access to a dictionary, look up the word and write a common definition, followed by a sentence in which the word is used and underscored. Take your list with you and review it during “the pauses of your busy day.” Study them to the point to where you feel comfortable using the words.

When you read each of the following five, categorize the word within one of these three categories. I am sure I can define it, I have seen the word but cannot define it, or I cannot recall ever seeing or hearing that word.

1. wincing (WINT-sing)

A. singing off key

B. giving a slight involuntary shrinking motion because of pain or distress

C. closing and opening one eye quickly to indicate something is a joke or secret

D. cutting up food into tiny pieces

2. interlocutor (in-tur-LA-kyu-tur)

A. someone who takes part in a dialogue or a conversation

B. a locksmith

C. one who intrudes

D. a skilled speaker

I recently came upon the present participle of wince in the preface to Turn of the Screw by Henry James. James also used the noun interlocutor in Turn. No. 1 is B and No. 2 is A.

3. oenophile (E-nuh-file)

A. a tool for smoothing rough edges of wood

B. one who interrupts someone speaking

C. one who chooses to remain single

D. a lover or connoisseur of wine

An oenophile loves wine and knows a lot about it. (D)

4. insidious (in-SI-de-us)

A. awaiting a chance to entrap

B. harmful but enticing

C. having a gradual and cumulative effect

D. developing so gradually as to be well established before becoming apparent

5. invidious (in-VI-dee-us)

A. something resentful, discriminatory or envious

B. playful

C. innocuous

D. taking inventory for space

Insidious and invidious are confused. If something is gradually and secretly causing harm, it is insidious. All are correct for No. 4. Something invidious often involves envy (you almost hear the word envy within the first two syllables of invidious). The word envious came from the Latin word “invidiosus.” Insidious describes something hidden that is harmful to you; invidious describes something that doesn’t hide (it is mean right away). No. 5 is A.

Last week’s mystery word was microcosm.

This week’s mystery word is found in the first scene of Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well. The word and the character’s name that the word is spoken to start with the same letter.