on word-a-day lists

I have subscribed intermittently to various “word-a-day” mailing lists, and I am continually disappointed by every single one. My latest has been merriam-webster’s list, and before that it was the OED, and before that dictionary.com, and each has been an activity in disillusionment. The words are so simple! Surely everyone already knows them? Or, rather, surely the presumed audience of such lists, which, I imagine, is composed of fairly literate people who wish to expand upon existing vocabularies, already knows them? Yes, I am an english major, and yes, I am prone to dropping the occasional bombastic word in my otherwise plain daily conversation — I am willing to accept the probability that my latent vocabulary is much larger than I think it is just because I read so much — but surely I am not among a minority of people who know what abstain means?

Because I am feeling pedantic — and also because I am suffering the early stages of hypothermia, brought on from several hours of sitting outside smoking in the cold and thus can’t type — I am going to provide examples.

Here are the words that M&W has dropped in my inbox in the last eleven days: abstain, volatile, futile, boondoggle, chimera, transpire, succinct, jaunty, concomitant, foist, diablerie.

Not one among them that I didn’t already know — or, in the case of diablerie, could infer a meaning. Okay, so I only know concomitant from reading lots of literary criticism, so maybe that one is acceptable inclusion, but the others seem pretty standard.

Let’s look the offerings from dictionary.com: taciturn, descry, cogitate, trepidation, nonplus, effete, coterminus, malapropism, collegial, indefatigable, galumph.

Better — maybe I should switch back; I think I was seduced by colporteur over at M&W when I decided to sign up — but still not challenging: I already knew all but coterminus. Ten words! Out of eleven! That’s terrible! I’m not even going to show you the recent offerings from the OED. It’s too devastating. Today’s word is non-participating — and this from the ultimate authority on the english language.

I need a word list for ridiculously literate people or something, but I have yet to find anything. Maybe I just haven’t looked deeply enough. I would go so far as to start one myself if: 1. I thought I could handle the regularity of the commitment; and 2. I knew how. Because the last eleven words that I came across in my reading and wrote down to look up later are much better: crepuscular, pellucid, clepsydra, tenebrious, prolixity, eidolon, bosky, termagant, abstruse, pleonastic, mendicancy.

Admittedly not very useful in any practical sense, but much more interesting and exciting. I would love to get any one of these in my inbox — even inapplicable, they are so much more fulfilling than trepidation.

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~ by Not Alice on March 15, 2007.

5 Responses to “on word-a-day lists”

  1. This is a timely post for me; I was JUST lamenting that the “word of the day” offerings from the dictionary site I use regularly are woefully elementary. Please do let me know when (if) you find (or start) a word-geek word of the day. I’ll sign up.

    p.s. – LOVE the new site. Welcome to the neighborhood!

  2. Mrs. Chili sent me, so blame her if I say dumb stuff, er, inarticulate stuff, or, perhaps, utter crapadoulis.
    I don’t do word lists, I know all the words I want to know (okay, I made that up, I like to learn one new one a year, if I have the time).
    I have a little hand-held electronic Scrabble toy. I think it makes up words. That’s my primary source of improving my vocabulary.

  3. Wait, Gerry… You have Scrabble?! On a GAMBOY?! I want one…

  4. If I were doing a WoD list, I would include a certain amount of “good for scrabble” words. Because I am geeky like that.

    I have scrabble on my computer, and my dad and I play scrabble with each other through the internet several times a week. It’s totally my family game — my dad won a scrabble tournament in tuscon when he was in his youth, and my grandmother is amazingly brilliant at it.

  5. For a time I was keen on getting up more words. The practice itself was fun.
    And , like you I already knew more that I ever used ( inveterate reader, Ph.D in English, retired college English/Lit professor).

    But the novelty wore off as the words became more arcane and chances for use became fewer. But then, I am not a writer.

    I also found that a mere word without context –concept without reference, ingredient without recipe, color without shape, material without project–seems to be just potential.

    But maybe that’s justification enough.

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