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.