I was rummaging through my bookshelves and came across a pamphlet entitled, “21 Days to a Bigger Vocabulary.” It’s old, yellowed with age, and I clearly remember completing all 21 days – a couple of times – in order to improve my vocabulary. Sadly, as I thumbed through their list, I could only recall what a fraction of the words meant or how to use them in a sentence.
Many people assume that in order to be a good writer, one must be gifted with an exceptional vocabulary. When I first started writing nonfiction, this was my understanding, as well. Just look at the name of my website, “Obstreperous Heart.” When was the last time you used “obstreperous” in a sentence?
I love vocabulary words as much as the next person who doesn’t get out much, but the point to writers is, why force your reader to stop and lookup – or worse, guess – what a word means, when there is a common word that says the same thing? Most people who read for pleasure don’t have the time or desire for a story requiring a companion dictionary.
obstreperous = unruly
Still, the “keep it simple” rule of writing doesn’t stop some of us from body-trembling ebullience when we find a new word to add to our lexicon.
I thought I’d have a little fun and come up with my own 21 Days list. My list is 21 words you’ll likely never use in a conversation, but are nice to know if you need them.
Day 1, Word 1:
This is a great word because there are so many different ways to pronounce it that you’ll never have to worry whether you got it right.
Pronunciations: AB-uh-TEE, uh-BAT-ee, uh-BAT-is, Plural forms: AB-uh-TEEZ, uh-BAT-eez, AB-uh-TIS-iz, uh-BAT-i-siz
Definition: noun; an obstacle of felled trees with sharpened ends pointed towards an enemy. (Webster’s Desk Dictionary of the English Language, copyright 1983)
Where you might use this word in a sentence: 1) you’re at a dinner party and need an excuse to shut-up that annoying guest whose relentless hounding confirms that you really do attract the guys with double-digit IQs; 2) you’re at a dinner party when the conversation turns to an economics debate on global sustainability and you need to excuse yourself before your head drops into the shrimp tray; 3) you’re at a dinner party with members of the Society for Creative Anachronism and, dang! if somebody doesn't use it first.