Are you ready to broaden your vocabulary?

Published 8:14 am Thursday, February 24, 2011

When I was younger my grandmother would tell me stories of her childhood.

She grew up on a farm in Red Creek, NY and besides doing farm chores, watching over her younger brother and going to school—there was little else to fill her days.

So began her voracious appetite for reading. The Bible and classic literature were among her favorites. And then she had the somewhat unusual habit of curling up with a dictionary.

When I first heard this story I didn’t believe her because as an eight year old I could never imagine wanting to read a dictionary. In general, not many people think to settle down at night with a huge, cumbersome reference book.

But my grandmother was like that; she always wanted to learn something new and like sponge when it came to knowledge and learning about new things she soaked it up. Reading the dictionary was another way of doing this.

It’s a pastime that seems silly now with all of the technology you want at your fingertips, but knowing your words, nonetheless, is a vital necessity.

I try to work in new words occasionally in my vocabulary and while I don’t necessarily have the time to pick up a dictionary and look up the latest word, I instead subscribe to a “word of the day” email list.

Here are some interesting words I’ve received in the past few weeks:

Vulpine (VUHL-pahyn) is an adjective that means cunning or crafty and of or resembling a fox. Vulpine derives from the Latin word for “fox,” vulpinus.

Cacoethes (kak-oh-EE-theez) is a noun meaning an irresistible urge; mania. Cacoethes stems from the Greek kakoethes, a combination of the roots kakos, “bad,” and ethes, “character.”

Nth (ENTH) is an adjective with the definition of being the last in a series of infinitely decreasing or increasing values, amounts, etc.; of an item in a series of occurrences, planned events, things used, etc., that is thought of as being infinitely large; being the latest, or most recent. Nth is the figurative use of the mathematical term indicating indefinite number, in which n is an abbreviation for number.

Imago (ih-MAH-goh) is a noun meaning an idealized concept of a loved one, formed in childhood and retained unaltered in adult life; entomology; an adult insect. Imago is a term that originated in psychoanalysis, but migrated into popular usage in the 20th Century.

Brannigan (BRAN-i-guhn) is used as a noun meaning a carouse; a squabble; a brawl. The word brannigan is a case of a word acquiring general meaning after already existing as a family name.

Heliolatry (hee-lee-OL-uh-tree) is a noun meaning worship the sun. Heliolatry stems from the Greek helio-, “sun,” and -latry, “worship.”

Vamoose (va-MOOS) is a verb meaning to leave hurriedly or quickly; decamp. Vamoose reportedly originates in the 1800s, derived from the Spanish vamos, or “let us go.” The word likely entered American usage through Mexico.

Sesquipedalianism (ses-kwi-PEED-l-iz-uhm) is an adjective meaning given to using long words; (Of a word) containing many syllables. Sesquipedalianism appears in Horace’s “Ars Poetica,” meaning “words a foot-and-a-half long,” as an ironic criticism.

Amanda VanDerBroek is a Staff Writer for the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald. For comments and column suggestions email: or call (252) 332-7209.