Who says vocabulary’s dull? Well, not the folks over at Merriam-Webster. They have put together a list of words that are colorful, curious, and phonetically fun (ah, the rounded fluttering of lips that comes from saying kerfuffle).
The list was actually based on words that users looked up, not on what tickles the lexical fancy of lexicographers, so these aren’t just random, obscure words. That doesn’t mean that those studying for the GRE should commit each word to memory. While ‘callipygian’ and ‘flibbertigibbet’ may become part of your lexicon simply because they describe certain phenomenon so, er, precisely…you will never see the word callipygian on the GRE. Nonetheless a few of these words are worthy of attention.
If something sounds as sweet as honey, it is mellifluous. The voices of Ella Fitzgerald, Billy Holiday, and even that of Bill Clinton are mellifluous (listen to the way our former President was able to, through turns of locution and his southern drawl, to imbue the mundane with a sense of pleading urgency). Of course, what sounds mellifluous is a matter of opinion. As long as it’s not Justin Bieber.
A long time ago, even before the days when email was popular, people wrote on scrolls. Apparently papyrus wasn’t affordable so scribes reused the same scroll over again, writing on top of what had gone before. By extension, any writing material that has been written on numerous times, so that the vague traces of previous writing can be seen, is a palimpsest. A poorly erased chalkboard, the manically edited essays of my high school days.
More broadly speaking, a palimpsest can refer to anything that has been changed numerous times but which traces of former instantiations can still be seen.
The downtown was a palimpsest of the city’s checkered past – a new Starbucks had opened up next to an abandoned, shuttered building, and a freshly asphalted road was inches away from a pothole large enough to swallow a house pet.
This morning I wasn’t looking for this article, but there it was – a pleasant find. That’s an example of serendipity. Finding something pleasant that you weren’t even looking for. The Internet is full of serendipity – something you were never looking for you end up buying. Though if this becomes a habit, it may cease to be serendipitous.
Okay, fine…there is slim chance that this word will pop up on the GRE, but it is one of my favorite words. It is a comical way of saying to throw someone out of a window, which in a sense is comical, as there is nothing comical about getting thrown out of a window.
These days defenestrate is really nothing more than a linguistic curiosity, yet there was a time, long ago, when windows had no panes or glass. Think medieval castle. Apparently, defenestration happened enough that someone thought up a word for it. (To see a defenestration, check out the movie Braveheart, which shows the tyrannical King Edward I defenestrating a hapless lad).