2002.09.25 An evanescent vocabulary

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

Let me introduce you to the word “moiety.” Until yesterday, I’m sure I never saw that word in my life. I’ve never read it. I’ve never heard it spoken. But according to the editors of the American Heritage College Dictionary, it’s a word I should know.

That and 99 others.

Last week, the dictionary editors released a list called “100 words that all high graduates—and their parents— should know. Talk about making a person feel stupid.

The list was made public just after a recent announcement by the people who write the SAT test. Math scores keep going up, but verbal scores actually went down last year.

Moiety, as the rest of you surely know, means half or a portion. Anthropologists might know it, too, as either of two kinship groups based on unilateral descent, blah, blah, blah.

The 100 word list starts with abjure, moves on through lugubrious and quotidian, and ends up with ziggurat.

I’ve heard of all four of those words and can define none of them. There’s not too many of the 100 than I could actually define. Several I could use in a sentence and a few more I could probably figure out if I read them in a sentence.

But overall, do I ever feel stupid.

I RAN through a few of the words with my wife and eldest daughter to see how we stood.

We made it down through the fifth word in the list before Colleen was ready to offer a guess: antebellum. To me, that sounded like a period of history and Colleen said it was related to the South.

Antebellum: Belonging to the period before a war, especially the American Civil War.

How about this one: enervate. Energize, Colleen said. That sounded good to me.

Enervate: To weaken or destroy the strength or vitality.

“Just the opposite,” Colleen said. “I was sure I had that right.”

That’s expected, according the editors. The word is often incorrectly used to mean “to invigorate.”

Rosanna suggested that I move down to the P words. Several of her recent vocabulary words in pre-composition class have been Ps and later. I hit the Os first and offered obsequious. No one had a guess so I wen��t to the definition: Full of or exhibiting servile compliance; fawning.

“Fawning, yeah,” said Rosie. “I remember it from class because we didn’t know any of the definition words either.”

That’s the problem with many of the definitions. They seem to engage in circumlocution. That word, by the way, is located between churlish and circumnavigate.

Paradigm (“I would have got it right in multiple choice,” said Colleen). Soliloquy (Rosanna knew it, thanks to a play she was in). Vortex (“A really cool ride at King’s Island,” says Rosanna). Inculcate (“It’s a nice way of saying brainwashing,” suggests Colleen).

And so it went. There were some hits and there were lots of misses.

I HEARD about the list on a radio program. The interviewer asked the dictionary senior editor if he had a favorite word among the hundred. He did.

“Actually, I do like the word supercilious,” he said, following up on the intervi�ewer’s use of the word. “Especially after I learned the etymology.”

The Latin roots come from eyebrow and pride. The raising of the eyebrow, the raising of pride showing haughty disdain. “It’s just a really cool word,” he added.

If the interviewer had been asked, I think her favorite would have been jejune. She said it two or three times, and it seemed like a special word just by the way she spoke it. She mentioned how churlish and jejune could both relate to teenage attitudes.

For me, I really like the word diffident. It means shy or timid, lacking in self-confidence. I couldn’t have defined it because it’s been too many months since I became fond of it. I first saw it on the menu at a Chinese restaurant. One particular entrée contained “diffident vegetables.”

And the most appropriate word from the list? That has to be evanescent, because my efforts to learn these 100 must-know words are sure to vanish like vapor.

    – Sept. 25, 2002 
  • Front.nok Hok
    GAMES DAY—Finn Molitierno (right) celebrates a goal during a game of Nok Hockey with his sister, Kyla. The two tried out a variety of games Saturday at Stair District Library’s annual International Games Day event. One of the activities featured a sort of scavenger hunt in which participants had to locate facts presented in the Smithsonian Hometown Teams exhibit. The traveling show left Morenci’s library Tuesday, wrapping up a series of programs that began Oct. 2. Additional photos are on page 7.
  • Station.2
    STRANGE STUFF—Morenci Elementary School students learn that blue isn’t really blue when seen through the right color of lens. Volunteer April Pike presents the lesson to students at one of the many stations brought to the school by the COSI science center. The theme of this year’s visit was the solar system.
  • Front.leaves
    MAPLE leaves show their fall colors in a puddle at Morenci’s Riverside Natural Area. “This was a great year for colors,” said local weather watcher George Isobar. Chilly mornings will give way to seasonable fall temperatures for the next two weeks.
  • Front.band
    MORENCI Marching Band member Brittany Dennis keeps the beat Friday during the half-time show of the Morenci/Pittsford football game. Color guard member Jordan Cordts is at the left. The band performed this season under the direction of Doyle Rodenbeck who served as Morenci’s band director in the 1970s. He’s serving as a substitute during a family leave.
  • Front.poles
    MOVING EAST—Utility workers continue their slow progress east along U.S. 20 south of Morenci. New electrical poles are put in place before wiring is moved into place.
  • Front.cowboy
    A PERFORMER named Biligbaatar, a member of the AnDa Union troupe from Inner Mongolia, dances at Stair District Library last week during a visit to the Midwest. The nine-member group blends a variety of traditions from Inner and Outer Mongolia. The music is described as drawing from “all the Mongol tribes that Genghis Khan unified.” The group considers itself music gatherers whose goal is to preserve traditional sounds of Mongolia. Biligbaatar grew up among traditional herders who live in yurts. Additional photos are on the back page of this week’s Observer.
  • Front.bear
    HOLDEN HUTCHISON gives a hug to a black bear cub—the product of a taxidermist’s skills—at the Michigan DNR’s Great Youth Jamboree. The event on Sunday marked the fourth year of the Jamboree. Additional photos are on page 12.

Weekly newspaper serving SE Michigan and NW Ohio - State Line Observer ©2006-2016