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. What would you like to do?
- to shorten; to condense
- • The thought ful editor abridged the massive book by removing the boring parts. An abridged dictionary is one that has been short ened to keep it from crushing desks and people’s laps.An abridgment is a shortened or condensed work
- 1. economical in use or expenditure; prudently saving or sparing.
- 2. entailing little expense; requiring few resources; meager, scanty.
- 1. deficient in quantity or quality; lacking fullness or richness; poor; scanty.
- 2. having little flesh; lean; thin.
- 3. maigre.
- eluctant to give or spend; stingy.
- —Syn. 1. penurious, miserly.
characterized by or showing parsimony; sparing or frugal, esp. to excess.
- 1. extremely stingy.
- 2. extremely poor; indigent.
- 3. poorly or inadequately supplied.
ABASH (uh BASH)
- to make ashamed; to embarrass
- • Meredith felt abashed by her inability to remember her lines in the school chorus of “Old McDonald Had a Farm.”To do something without shame or embarrassment is to do it unabash ed ly.
- • Ken handed in a term paper that he had unabashedly copied from the National Enquirer.
ABATE (uh BAYT)
- to subside; to reduce
- •George spilled a pot of hot coffee on his leg. It hurt quite a bit. Then, gradually, the agony abated.
- •Bad weather abates when good weather begins to return. A rainstorm that does not let up continues unabated.A tax abatement is a reduction in taxes. Businesses are some times given tax abatements in return for building factories in places where there is a particular need for jobs.
ABDICATE (AB duh kayt)
- to step down from a position of power or responsibility• When King Edward VIII of England decided he would rather be mar ried to Wallis Warfield Simpson, an American divorcée, than be king of England, he turned in his crown and abdicated.Even people who aren’t monarchs can abdicate their duties and re spon si bil i ties.
- • Abby abdicated her responsibilities as a secretary by dumping in the garbage the reports she was supposed to type and flying to the Bahamas.
ABERRATION (ab uh RAY shun)
- something not typical; adeviation from the standard
- •Soren’s bad behavior was an aberration. So was Harry’s good be havior. That is, Soren’s was usually good and Harry’s was usually bad.
- •The chef at this restaurant is dreadful; the good meal we just had was an aberration.
- •A snowstorm in June is an aberration; snow doesn’t normally fall in June.40
- An aberration is an aberrant (uh BER unt) occurrence.
- • Soren’s behavior was aberrant. The summer snowstorm was aberrant.
ABHOR (ab HOR)
- to hate very, very much; to detest
- • Emanuel ab horred having anvils dropped on his head.To abhor something is to view it with horror. Hating a person is almost friendly in comparison with abhorring him or her. To abhor raw chicken livers is to have an abhorrence of them or to find them abhorrent.
ABJECT (AB jekt)
- hopeless; extremely sad and servile; defeated
- • While most people would quickly recover from a banana-peel accident, Mia felt abject humiliation.
- An abject person is one who is crushed and without hope. A slave would be abject, in all likelihood.Perhaps 90 percent of the time, when you en coun ter this word it will be followed by the word poverty. Abject poverty is hopeless, desperate pov er ty. The phrase “abject poverty” is overused. Writ ers use it because they are too lazy to think of anything original.
ABNEGATE (AB nuh gayt)
- to deny oneself things; to reject; to renounce
- • Ascetics practice self-abnegation because they believe it will bring them closer to spiritual purity.
- Self-abnegation is giving up oneself, usually for some higher cause.
ABORTIVE (uh BOR tiv)
- •Marie and Elizabeth made an abortive effort to bake a birthday cake; that is, their effort did not result in a birthday cake.
- •Fred’s attempt to climb the mountain was abortive; he fell off when he was halfway up.To abort something is to end it before it is completed. An aborted pregnancy, called an abortion, is one that ends before the baby is born. An abortion in this sense doesn’t have to be the result of a controversial medical procedure.
ABRIDGE (uh BRIJ)
- to shorten; to condense
- • The thoughtful editor abridged the massive book by removing the boring parts.An abridged dictionary is one that has been shortened to keep it from crushing desks and people’s laps. An abridgment is a shortened or condensed work.
ABSOLUTE (AB suh loot)
- total; unlimited
- An absolute ruler is one who is ruled by no one else. An absolute mess is a total mess. An absolute rule is one that has no exceptions and that you must follow, no two ways about it.Absolute is also a noun. It means something that is total, unlimited, or perfect. Death, for living things, is an absolute. There just isn’t any way around it.
ABSOLVE (ab ZOLV)
- to forgive or free from blame; to free from sin; to free from an ob li ga tion
- •The priest absolved the sinner who had come to church to confess.
- •Tom’s admission of guilt absolved Dick, who had originally been accused of the crime. It is also possible to absolve someone of a responsibility
- .• Jake absolved Ciara of her obligation to go to the prom with him; he told her it was all right if she went with the captain of the football team instead.
ABSTINENT (AB stuh nunt)
- abstaining; voluntarily not doing some thing, especially something pleasant that is bad for you or has a bad reputation
- •Beulah used to be a chain-smoker; now she’s abstinent (it was just too hard to get those chains lit).
- •Cynthia, who was dieting, tried to be abstinent, but when she saw the chocolate cake she realized that she would probably have to eat the entire thing.
- A person who abstains from something is an abstainer and engages in abstinence.
ABSTRACT (AB strakt)
- theoretical; impersonal
- • He liked oysters in the abstract, but when he actually tried one he became nauseated.
- To like something in the abstract is to like the idea of it.
- • Bruno doesn’t like abstract art; he thinks that a painting should resemble something real, not a lot of splattered paint.
ABSTRUSE (ab STROOS)
- hard to understand
- • The professor’s article, on the meaning of meaning, was abstruse. Michael couldn’t even pronounce the words in it.
- Nuclear physics is a subject that is too abstruse for most people.
ABYSMAL (uh BIZ mul)
- extremely hopeless or wretched; bottomless
- An abyss (uh BIS) is a bottomless pit, or something so deep that it seems bottom less. Abysmal despair is despair so deep that no hope seems possible.
- • The nation’s debt crisis was abysmal; there seemed to be no possible solution.
- Abysmal is often used somewhat sloppily to mean very bad. You might hear a losing baseball team’s performance referred to as abysmal. This isn’t strictly correct, but many people do it.
ACCOLADE (AK uh layd)
- an award; an honor
- This word is generally used in the plural.
- • The first break-dancing troupe to perform in Carnegie Hall, the Teflon Toughs, received accolades from the critics as well as from the fans.
ACCOST (uh KAWST)
- to approach and speak to someone aggressively
- • Amanda karate-chopped the stranger who accosted her in the street and was embarrassed to find he was an old, blind man.
ACERBIC (uh SUR bik)
- sour; severe; like acid in temper, mood, or tone
- • Barry sat silently as our teacher read aloud her acerbic comments on his paper.Acerb and acerbic are synonyms. Acerbity is the state of being acerbic.
ACQUIESCE (ak wee ES)
- to comply passively; to accept; to as sent; to agree
- • The pirates asked Pete to walk the plank; he took one look at their swords and then acquiesced.
- To acquiesce is to do something without objection—to do it quietly.
- As the similarity of their spellings indicates, the words acquiesce and quiet are closely related. They are both based on Latin wordsmean ing rest or be quiet.
- Acquiesce is sometimes used sloppily as a simple synonym for agree in situations in which it isn’t really appropriate. For example,it isn’t really possible to acquiesce noisily, enthusiastically, or eagerly. Don’t forget the quiet in the middle.To acquiesce is to exhibit acquiescence.
ACRID (AK rid)
- harshly pungent; bitter
- •The chili we had at the party had an acrid taste; it was harsh and un pleas ant.
- •Long after the fire had been put out, we could feel the acrid sting of smoke in our nostrils.
- Acrid is used most often with tastes and smells, but it can be used more broadly to describe anything that is offensive in a similar way. A comment that stung like acid could be called acrid. So could a harsh personality
ACRIMONIOUS (ak ruh MOH nee us)
- full of spite; bitter; nasty
- •George and Elizabeth’s discussion turned acrimonious when Elizabeth in tro duced the subject of George’s perennial, in corrigible stupidity.
- •Relations between the competing candidates were so acrimonious that each refused to acknowledge the presence of the other.
ACUMEN (AK yoo mun)
- keenness of judgment; mental sharpness
- •A woman who knows how to turn one dollar into a million over night might be said to have a lot of business acu men.
- •Ernie’s lack of acumen led him to invest all his money in a company that had already gone out of business.
- Note carefully the pronunciation of this word.
ACUTE (uh KYOOT)
- sharp; shrewd
- If your eyesight is acute, you can see things that other people can’t. You have visual acuity (uh KYOO uh tee). An acute mind is a quick, intelligent one. You have mental acuity. An acute pain is a sharp pain.
- Acute means sharp only in a figurative sense. A knife, which is sharp enough to cut, is never said to be acute.
- Acute is a word doctors throw around quite a bit. An acute dis ease is one that reaches its greatest intensity very quickly and then goes away. What could a disease be if it isn’t acute? See chronic.
ADAMANT (AD uh munt)
- stubborn; unyielding; com plete ly in flexible
- • Candice was adamant: She would never go out with Paul again.
- A very hard substance, like a diamond, is also adamant. Adamantine (ad uh MAN teen) and adamant are synonyms. Adamancy is being adamant.
ADDRESS (uh DRES)
- to speak to; to direct one’s attention to
- To address a convention is to give a speech to the convention.
- To address a problem is to face it and set about solving it.
- • Ernie addressed the problem of addressing the convention by sitting down and writing his speech.
ADHERENT (ad HEER unt)
- follower; supporter; believer
- • The king’s adherents threw a big birthday party for him, just to show how much they liked him.
- To adhere to something is to stick to it. Adherents are people who adhere to, or stick to, something or someone. Following someone or something, especially rules or laws, is adherence.A religion could be said to have ad her ents, assuming there are people who believe in it. Governments, causes, ideas, people, philosophies, and many other things can have adherents, too.Note carefully the pronunciation of this word.
ADMONISH (ad MAHN ish)
- to scold gently; to warn
- • The boys’ father admonished them not to eat the pie he had just baked. When they did so anyway, he admonished them.
- In the first sentence admonish means warn; in the second it means scold gently. Consider yourself admonished not to misuse this word.
- The noun is admonition (ad muh NISH un) and the adjective is admonitory (ad MAHN i tor ee).
ADROIT (uh DROYT)
- skillful; dexterous; clever; shrewd; socially at ease
- • Julio was an adroit salesperson: His highly skilled pitch, backed up by extensive product knowledge, nearly always resulted in a sale.
- Adroit comes from the French word for right (as in the direction), and refers to an old superstition that right-handedness is superior. It’s a synonym of dexterous (which comes from the Latin for right) and an antonym of gauche and maladroit.
- • My brilliant accountant adroitly whipped my taxes into shape, then made a gauche remark about my ignorance of financial matters.
ADULATION (aj uh LAY shun)
- wild or excessive admiration; flattery
- •The boss thrived on the adulation of his scheming secretary.
- •The rock star grew to abhor the adulation of his fans. The verb is adulate (AJ uh layt).
ADULTERATE (uh DUL tuh rayt)
- to contaminate; to make impure
- • We discovered that our orange juice had radioactive waste in it; we discovered, in other words, that it had been adulterated.
- Vegetarians do not like their foods adulterated with animal fats. Unadulterated means pure. Unadulterated joy is joy untainted by sadness.
ADVERSE (ad VURS)
- adj unfavorable; antagonistic
- • We had to play our soccer match under adverse conditions: It was snow ing and only three members of our team had both ered to show up.Airplanes often don’t fly in adverse weather. An airplane that took off in bad weather and reached its des ti na tion safely would be said to have overcome adversity. Adversity means mis for tune or unfavorable circum stanc es. To do something “in the face of ad ver si ty” is to undertake a task despite obstacles. Some people are at their best in adversity because they rise to the oc ca sion.A word often confused with adverse is averse (uh VURS). The two are related but they don’t mean quite the same thing. A person who is averse to doing something is a person who doesn’t want to do it. To be averse to something is to be opposed to doing it—to have an aversion to doing it.
AESTHETIC (es THET ik)
- having to do with artistic beau ty; artistic
- • Our art professor had a highly developed aesthetic sense; he found things to admire in paintings that, to us, looked like gar bage.Someone who admires beautiful things greatly can be called an aesthete (ES theet). Aesthetics is the study of beauty or principles of beauty.
AFFABLE (AF uh bul)
- easy to talk to; friendly
- •Susan was an affable girl; she could strike up a pleasant conversation with almost anyone.
- •The Jeffersons’ dog was big but affable; it liked to lick little chil dren on the nose.The noun is affability.
AFFECTATION (af ek TAY shun)
- unnatural or artificial behavior, usually intended to impress
- •Becky’s English accent is an affectation. She spent only a week in En gland, and that was several years ago.
- •Elizabeth had somehow acquired the absurd affectation of pretend ing that she didn’t know how to turn on a television set.A person with an affectation is said to be affected. To affect a character is tic or habit is to adopt it consciously, usually in the hope of im pressing other people.
- • Edward affected to be more of an artist than he really was. Every one hated him for it.
AFFINITY (uh FIN uh tee)
- sympathy; attraction; kinship; similarity
- •Ducks have an affinity for water; that is, they like to be in it.
- •Children have an affinity for trouble; that is, they often find themselves in it.
- •Magnets and iron have an affinity for each other; that is, each is at tract ed to the other.Affinity also means similarity or resemblance. There is an affinity between snow and sleet.
AFFLUENT (AF loo unt)
- rich; prosperous
- A person can be affluent; all it takes is money. A country can be affluent, too, if it’s full of affluent people. Affluence means the same thing as wealth or prosperity. Note carefully the pronunciation of this word.
AGENDA (uh JEN duh)
- program; the things to be done
- • What’s on the agenda for the board meeting? A little gossip, then lunch.
- A politician is often said to have an agenda. The politician’s agenda consists of the things he or she wishes to accomplish.An agenda, such as that for a meeting, is often written down, but it doesn’t have to be. A person who has sneaky ambitions or plans is often said to have a secret or hidden agenda.
AGGREGATE (AG ruh gut)
- sum total; a collection of separate things mixed to gether
- • Chili is an aggregate of meat and beans.Aggregate (AG ruh gayt) can also be a verb or an adjective. You would make chili by aggregating meat and beans. Chili is an aggre gate (AG ruh gut) food.Similar and related words include congregate, segregate, and integrate. To aggregate is to bring together; to congregate is to get together; to segregate is to keep apart (or separate); to integrate is to unite.
AGNOSTIC (ag NAHS tik)
- one who believes that the existence of a god can be neither proven nor disproven
- An atheist is someone who does not believe in a god. An agnostic, on the other hand, isn’t sure. He doesn’t believe, but he doesn’t not believe, either.The noun is agnosticism (ag NAHS tih siz um).
- • An atheist himself, Jon concluded from Jorge’s spiritual skepticism that they shared similar beliefs. In fact, Jorge’s reluctance to affirm or discredit a god’s existence reflects his agnosticism.
AGRARIAN (uh GRAR ee un)
- relating to land; relating to the management or farming of land
- Agrarian usually has to do with farming. Think of agriculture.
- • Politics in this country often pit the rural, agrarian interests against the urban interests.
ALACRITY (uh LAK ri tee)
- cheerful eagerness or readiness to respond
- • David could hardly wait for his parents to leave; he carried their lug gage out to the car with great alacrity.Note carefully the pronunciation of this word.
ALLEGE (uh LEJ)
- to assert without proof
- • If I say, “Cedrick alleges that I stole his hat,” I am saying two things:
- 1. Cedrick says I stole his hat.
- 2. I say I didn’t do it.
- To allege something is to assert it without proving it. Such an asser tion is called an allegation (al uh GAY shun).
- The adjective is alleged (uh LEJD). If the police accuse someone of having committed a crime, news pa pers will usually refer to that person as an alleged criminal.
- • The police have alleged that he or she committed the crime, but a jury hasn’t made a decision yet.
ALLEVIATE (uh LEE vee ayt)
- to relieve, usually temporarily or incompletely; to make bearable; to lessen
- •Visiting the charming pet cemetery alleviated the woman’s grief over the death of her canary.
- •Aspirin alleviates headache pain. When your headache comes back, take some more aspirin.
ALLOCATE (AL uh kayt)
- to distribute; to assign; to allot
- The long car trip had been a big failure, and David, Aaliyah, and Jan spent several hours attempting to allocate the blame. In the end, they decided it had all been Jan’s fault.
- The office manager had allocated just seven paper clips for our entire department.
ALLOY (AL oy)
- a combination of two or more things, usually metals
- Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc. That is, you make brass by com bin ing copper and zinc.
- Alloy (uh LOY) is often used as a verb. To alloy two things is to mix them together. There is usually an implication that the mix ture is less than the sum of the parts. That is, there is often some thing un desirable or debased about an alloy (as opposed to a pure substance).
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ALLUSION (uh LOO zhun
- n an indirect reference (often to a lit er ary work); a hint
- To allude to something is to refer to it indirectly.
- • When Ralph said, “I sometimes wonder whether to be or not to be,” he was alluding to a famous line in Hamlet. If Ralph had said, “As Hamlet said, ‘To be or not to be, that is the question,’” his statement would have been a direct reference, not an allusion.
- An allusion is an allusion only if the source isn’t identified directly. Anything else is a reference or a quotation.
- • If Andrea says, “I enjoyed your birthday party,” she isn’t alluding to the birthday party; she’s mentioning it. But if she says, “I like
ALOOF (uh LOOF)
- adj uninvolved; standing off; keeping one’s distance
- • Al, on the roof, felt very aloof.
- To stand aloof from a touch-football game is to stand on the side lines and not take part.
- Cats are often said to be aloof because they usually mind their own business and don’t crave the affection of people.
ALTRUISM (AL troo iz um)
- n selflessness; generosity; devotion to the interests of others
- • The private foundation depended on the altruism of the extremely rich old man. When he decided to start spending his money on his new twenty-year-old girlfriend, the foundation went out of business.
- To be altruistic is to help others without expectation of personal gain. Giving money to charity is an act of altruism. The altruist does it just to be nice, although he’ll probably also remember to take a tax deduction.An altruistic act is also an act of philanthropy, which means almost the same thing.
AMBIENCE (AM bee uns)
- n atmosphere; mood; feeling
- • By decorating their house with plastic beach balls and Popsicle sticks, the Cramers created a playful ambience that delighted young children.
- A restaurant’s ambience is the look, mood, and feel of the place. People sometimes say that a restaurant has “an atmosphere of ambience.” To do so is redundant—atmosphere and ambience mean the same thing.
- Ambience is a French word that can also be pronounced “ahm BYAHNS.” The adjective ambient (AM bee unt) means surrounding or circulating.
AMBIGUOUS (am BIG yoo us)
- adj unclear in meaning; confusing; capable of being interpreted in different ways
- •We listened to the weather report, but the forecast was ambiguous; we couldn’t tell whether the day was going to be rainy or sunny.
- •The poem we read in English class was ambiguous; no one had any idea what the poet was trying to say.
- The noun is ambiguity (am bih GYOO uh tee).
AMBIVALENT (am BIV uh lunt)
- adj undecided; having opposed feelings simultaneously
- • Susan felt ambivalent about George as a boyfriend. Her frequent desire to break up with him reflected this ambivalence.
AMELIORATE (uh MEEL yuh rayt)
- v to make better or more tolerable
- •The mood of the prisoners was ameliorated when the warden gave them color television sets and keys to their cells.
- •My great-uncle’s gift of several million dollars considerably ameliorated my financial condition.
AMENABLE (uh MEE nuh bul)
- adj obedient; willing to give in to the wishes of an other; agreeable
- •I suggested that Bert pay for my lunch as well as for his own; to my surprise, he was amenable.
- •The plumber was amenable to my paying my bill with jelly beans, which was lucky, because I had more jelly beans than money.
AMENITY (uh MEN i tee)
- n pleasantness; attractive or com fort able feature
- • The amenities at the local club include a swimming pool, a golf course, and a fallout shelter.
- If an older guest at your house asks you where the amenities are, he or she is probably asking for directions to the bathroom.
- Those little bars of soap and bottles of shampoo found in hotel rooms are known in the hotel business as amenities. They are meant to increase your comfort. People like them because people like almost anything that is free (although, of course, the cost of providing such amenities is simply added to the price of hotel rooms).
AMIABLE (AY mee uh bul)
- adj friendly; agreeable
- •Our amiable guide made us feel right at home in what would other wise have been a cold and forbidding museum.
- •The drama critic was so amiable in person that even the subjects of negative reviews found it impossible not to like her.
- Amicable is a similar and related word. Two not very amiable people might nonetheless make an amicable agreement. Am i cable means politely friendly, or not hostile. Two countries might trade amicably with each other even while technically remaining enemies.
- • Julio and Clarissa had a surprisingly amicable divorce and remained good friends even after paying their lawyers’ fees.
AMNESTY (AM nuh stee)
- n an official pardon for a group of people who have violated a law or policy
- Amnesty comes from the same root as amnesia, the condition that causes characters in movies to forget everything except how to speak English and drive their cars.
- An amnesty is an official forgetting. When a state government declares a tax amnesty, it is saying that if people pay the taxes they owe, the government will officially “forget” that they broke the law by not paying them in the first place.
- The word amnesty always refers to a pardon given to a group or class of people. A pardon granted to a single person is simply a pardon.
AMORAL (ay MOR ul)
- adj lacking a sense of right and wrong; neither good nor bad, neither moral nor immoral; without moral feelings
- • Very young children are amoral; when they cry, they aren’t being bad or good—they’re merely doing what they have to do.
- A moral person does right; an immoral person does wrong; an amoral person simply does.
AMOROUS (AM ur us)
- adj feeling loving, especially in a sexual sense; in love; relating to love
- • The amorous couple made quite a scene at the movie. The movie they were watching, Love Story, was pretty amorous itself. It was about an amorous couple, one of whom died.
AMORPHOUS (uh MOR fus)
- adj shapeless; without a regular or stable shape; bloblike
- •Ed’s teacher said that his term paper was amorphous; it was as shapeless and disorganized as a cloud.
- •The sleepy little town was engulfed by an amorphous blob of glowing protoplasm—a higher intelligence from outer space.
ANACHRONISM (uh NAK ruh niz um)
- n something out of place in time or history; an incongruity
- • In this day of impersonal hospitals, a family doctor who will visit you at home seems like an anachronism.
- In these modern, liberated times, some women disdain the anachronistic practice of a man’s holding open a door for a woman.
ANALOGY (uh NAL uh jee)
- n a comparison of one thing to another; similarity
- • To say having an allergy feels like being bitten by an alligator would be to make or draw an analogy between an allergy and an alligator bite.
- Analogy usually refers to similarities between things that are not other wise very similar. If you don’t think an allergy is at all like an alligator bite, you might say, “That analogy doesn’t hold up.” To say that there is no analogy between an allergy and an alligator bite is to say that they are not analogous (uh NAL uh gus).
- Something similar in a particular respect to something else is its analog (AN uh lawg), sometimes spelled analogue.
ANARCHY (AN ur kee)
- n absence of government or control; lawlessness; disorder
- • The country fell into a state of anarchy after the rebels kid napped the president and locked the legislature inside the Capitol.
- The word doesn’t have to be used in its strict political meaning. You could say that there was anarchy in the kindergarten when the teacher stepped out of the door for a moment. You could say it, and you would probably be right.
- The words anarchy and monarchy are closely related. Anarchy means no leader; monarchy, a government headed by a king or queen, means one leader.
ANECDOTE (AN ik doht)
- n a short account of a humorous or revealing incident
- •The old lady kept the motorcycle gang thoroughly amused with anecdote after anecdote about her cute little dog.
- •Alvare told an anecdote about the time Sally got her big toe stuck in a bowling ball.
- •The vice president set the crowd at ease with an anecdote about his child hood desire to become a vice president.
- To say that the evidence of life on other planets is merely anecdotal is to say that we haven’t captured any aliens, but simply heard a lot of stories from people who claimed to have been kidnapped by flying saucers.
ANGUISH (ANG gwish)
- n agonizing physical or mental pain
- • Theresa had been a nurse in the emergency room for twenty years, but she had never gotten used to the anguish of accident victims.
ANIMOSITY (an uh MAHS uh tee)
- n resentment; hostility; ill will
- • The rivals for the state championship felt great animosity to ward each other. Whenever they ran into each other, they snarled.
- A person whose look could kill is a person whose animosity is evident.
ANOMALY (uh NAHM uh lee)
- n an aberration; an irregularity; a deviation
- •A snowy winter day is not an anomaly, but a snowy July day is.
- •A house without a roof is an anomaly—a cold, wet anomaly.
- A roofless house could be said to be anomalous. Something that is anomalous is some thing that is not normal or regular.
ANTECEDENT (an tuh SEED unt)
- n someone or something that went before; some thing that provides a model for some thing that came after it
- •Your parents and grandparents could be said to be your antecedents; they came before you.
- •The horse-drawn wagon is an antecedent of the modern automobile.
- Antecedent can also be used as an adjective. The oil lamp was antecedent to the light bulb.
- In grammar, the antecedent of a pronoun is the person, place, or thing to which it refers. In the previous sentence, the antecedent of it is antecedent. In the sentence “Bill and Harry were walking together, and then he hit him,” it is impossible to determine what the antecedents of the pronouns (he and him) are.
- Antecedent is related to a word that is similar in meaning: pre c-e dent.
ANTIPATHY (an TIP uh thee)
- n firm dislike; a dislike
- • I feel antipathy toward bananas wrapped in ham. I do not want them for dinner. I also feel a certain amount of antipathy to ward the cook who keeps trying to force me to eat them. My feelings on these matters are quite antipathetic (an tip uh THET ik).
- I could also say that ham-wrapped bananas and the cooks who serve them are among my antipathies. My antipathies are the things I don’t like.
- Note carefully the pronunciation of this word.
ANTITHESIS (an TITH uh sis)
- n the direct opposite
- • Erin is the antithesis of Aaron: Erin is bright and beautiful; Aaron is dull and plain.
APARTHEID (uh PAHRT hyte)
- n the former policy of racial segregation and oppression in the Republic of South Africa
- The word apartheid is related to the word apart. Under apartheid in South Africa, blacks were kept apart from whites and denied all rights.
- The word apartheid is sometimes applied to less radical forms of racial injustice and to other kinds of separation. Critics have sometimes accused American public schools of practicing educational apartheid by providing substandard schooling for nonwhites.
APATHY (AP uh thee)
- n lack of interest; lack of feeling
- •The members of the student council accused the senior class of apathy because none of the seniors had bothered to sign up for the big annual bake sale.
- •Jill didn’t care one bit about current events; she was entirely apathetic.
APHORISM (AF uh riz um)
- n a brief, often witty saying; a proverb
- •Benjamin Franklin was fond of aphorisms. He was frequently aphoristic.
- •Chef Hussain is particularly fond of Woolf’s aphorism, “One cannot think well, love well, or sleep well, if one has not dined well.”
APOCALYPSE (uh PAHK uh lips)
- n a prophetic revelation, especially one concerning the end of the world
- In strict usage, apocalypse refers to specific Christian writings, but most people use it more generally in connection with predictions of things like nuclear war, the destruction of the ozone layer, and the spread of fast-food res tau rants to every corner of the universe. To make such predictions, or to be deeply pessimistic, is to be apocalyptic (uh pahk uh LIP tik).
APOCRYPHAL (uh POK ruh ful)
- n of dubious authenticity; fictitious; spurious
- • Brandi’s blog discredited the apocryphal report of Martians in Congress.
- An apocryphal story is one whose truth is not proven or whose false hood is strongly suspected. Like apocalypse, this word has a religious origin. The Apocrypha are a number of “extra” books of the Old Testament that Protestants and Jews don’t include in their Bibles because they don’t think they’re authentic.
APOTHEOSIS (uh pahth ee OH sis)
- n elevation to divine status; the perfect example of some thing
- •Some people think that the Corvette is the apotheosis of American car making. They think it’s the ideal.
- •Geoffrey is unbearable to be with. He thinks he’s the apotheosis of masculinity.
APPEASE (uh PEEZ)
- v to soothe; to pacify by giving in to
- •Jaleel appeased his angry mother by promising to make his bed every morning without fail until the end of time.
- •The trembling farmer handed over all his grain, but still the em per or was not appeased.
- The noun is appeasement.
APPRECIATE (uh PREE shee ayt)
- v to increase in value
- •The Browns bought their house twenty years ago for a hundred dollars, but it has appreciated considerably since then; today it’s worth almost a mil lion dollars.
- •Harry bought Joe’s collection of old chewing-tobacco tins as an investment. His hope was that the tins would appreciate over the next few years, enabling him to turn a profit by selling them to someone else.
- The opposite of appreciate is depreciate. When a car loses value over time, we say it has depreciated.
APPREHENSIVE (ap ruh HEN siv)
- adj worried; anxious
- •The apprehensive child clung to his father’s leg as the two of them walked into the main circus tent to watch the lion tamer.
- •Rhea was apprehensive about the exam, because she had forgot ten to go to class for several months. As it turned out, her apprehensions were justified. She couldn’t answer a single question on the test.
APPROBATION (ap ruh BAY shun)
- n approval; praise
- •The crowd expressed its approbation of what the team had done by gleefully covering the field with chicken carcasses.
- •The am bassador’s actions met with the approbation of his commander in chief.
- Approbation is a fancy word for approval, to which it is closely related. Disapprobation is disapproval.
APPROPRIATE (uh PROH pree ayt)
- v to take without permission; to set aside for a particular use
- •Nick appropriated my lunch; he grabbed it out of my hands and ate it. So I appropriated Ed’s.
- •The deer and raccoons appropriated the vegetables in our garden last summer. This year we’ll build a better fence.
APTITUDE (AP tuh tood)
- n capacity for learning; natural ability
- •The Princeton Review students have a marked aptitude for taking the SAT. They earn high scores.
- •I tried to repair my car, but as I sat on the floor of my garage, surround ed by mysterious parts, I realized that I had no aptitude for automobile repair.
- The opposite of aptitude is ineptitude.
ARBITER (AHR buh tur)
- n one who decides; a judge
- • An arbiter of fashion determines what other people will wear by wearing it herself.
- An arbiter arbitrates, or weighs opposing view points and makes decisions. The words arbiter and arbitrator mean the same thing. An arbiter presides over an arbitration, which is a formal meeting to settle a dispute.
ARBITRARY (AHR buh trer ee)
- adj random; capricious
- •The grades Mr. Simone gave his English students appeared to be arbitrary; they didn’t seem related to anything the students had done in class.
- •The old judge was arbitrary in sentencing criminals; there was no sensible pattern to the sentences he handed down.
ARCANE (ahr KAYN)
- adj mysterious; known only to a select few
- •The rites of the secret cult were arcane; no one outside the cult knew what they were.
- •The arcane formula for the cocktail was scrawled on a faded scrap of paper.
- •We could make out only a little of the arcane inscription on the old trunk.
ARCHAIC (ahr KAY ik)
- adj extremely old; ancient; outdated
- • The tribe’s traditions are archaic. They have been in force for thou sands of years.
- Archaic civilizations are ones that disappeared a long time ago. An archaic meaning of a word is one that isn’t used anymore.
ARCHETYPE (AHR kuh type)
- n an original model or pattern
- An archetype is similar to a prototype. A prototype is a first, tentative model that is made but that will be improved in later versions. Henry Ford built a prototype of his Model T in his basement. His mother kicked him out, so he had no choice but to start a motor car company.
- An archetype is usually something that precedes something else.
- • Plato is the archetype of all philosophers.An archetype is archetypal or archetypical.
ARDENT (AHR dunt)
- adj passionate; enthusiastic
- •Larry’s ardent wooing finally got on Cynthia’s nerves, and she told him to get lost.
- •Blanche happily stuffed badgers from morning to night. She was an ardent taxidermist.
- To be ardent is to have ardor.
- • The young lovers were oblivious to ev ery thing except their ardor for each other.
ARDUOUS (AHR joo us)
- adj hard; difficult
- •Climbing the mountain was arduous. We were so exhausted when we got to the top that we forgot to enjoy the view.
- •The arduous car trip was made even more difficult by the fact that all four tires went flat, one after another.
ARISTOCRATIC (uh ris tuh KRAT ik)
- adj of noble birth; snobbish
- •Prince Charles is aristocratic. He is a member of the British aristocracy.
- •Polo, which Prince Charles enjoys, is often said to be an aristocratic sport because it is typically played by privileged people.
- It is possible to be an aristocrat (uh RIS tuh krat) without being rich, although aristocrats tend to be quite wealthy. There is nothing you can do to become an aristocrat, short of being born into a family of them.
- People who act as though they think they are better than every one else are often said to be aristocratic. A person with an “aristocratic bearing” is a person who keeps his or her nose in the air and looks down on everyone else.
ARTFUL (AHRT ful)
- adj crafty; wily; sly
- • After dinner, the artful counselor told the campers that there was a mad man loose in the woods, thus causing them to lie quietly in the tent.
- The Artful Dodger is a sly con man in Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist.
- Someone who is artless, on the other hand, is simple and hon est. Young children are charmingly artless.
ARTIFICE (AHRT uh fus)
- n a clever trick; cunning
- •The Trojan Horse was an artifice designed to get the soldiers inside the walls.
- •Mrs. Baker had to resort to artifice to get her children to take their baths: She told them that the bathtub was filled with sugar syrup and that they could drink it if they climbed in.
ASCETIC (uh SET ik)
- adj hermitlike; practicing self-denial
- • The college professor’s apartment, which contained no furniture except a single tattered mattress, was uncomfortably ascetic.
- • In his effort to save money, Roy led an ascetic existence: He never went out, he never ate anything but soup, and he never had any fun.
- Ascetic can also be a noun. A person who leads an ascetic existence is an ascetic. An ascetic is someone who practices asceticism.
- A similar-sounding word with a very different meaning is aesthetic (es THET ik). Don’t be confused.
ASSIDUOUS (uh SIJ oo us)
- adj hardworking; busy; quite diligent
- •The workmen were assiduous in their effort to get nothing done; in stead of working, they drank coffee all day long.
- •Wendell was the only assiduous student in the entire math class; all the other students had to copy their homework from him.
ASSIMILATE (uh SIM uh layt)
- v to take in; to absorb; to learn thoroughly
- To assimilate an idea is to take it in as thoroughly as if you had eaten it. (Your body assimilates nutrients from the food you eat.) To assimilate knowledge is to absorb it, to let it soak in. People can be assimilated, too.
- • Margaret didn’t have any friends when she first went to the new school, but she was gradually assimilated—she became part of the new community. When she was chosen for the cheer leading squad, her assimilation was complete.
ASSUAGE (uh SWAYJ)
- v to soothe; to pacify; to ease the pain of; to relieve
- •Beth was extremely angry, but I assuaged her by promising to leave the house and never return.
- •The thunderstorm made the baby cry, but I assuaged her fears by singing her a lullaby.
ASTUTE (uh STOOT)
- adj shrewd; keen in judgment
- •Morris was an astute judge of character; he was very good at seeing what people are really like.
- •Yael, who notices everything important and many things that other people don’t see, is an astute observer.
ATHEIST (AY thee ist)
- n one who does not believe in the existence of any god or divine being
- • Hadley had always imagined a big religious wedding, but Emma, a life-long atheist, preferred a Vegas elopement.
- The noun form is atheism. Atheism is often confused with agnosticism, but the two are not the same.
ATTRITION (uh TRISH un)
- n gradual wearing away, weakening, or loss; a natural or expected decrease in numbers or size
- • Mr. Gregory did not have the heart to fire his workers even though his company was losing millions each year. He altruistically preferred to lose workers through attrition when they moved away, retired, or decided to change jobs.
AUDACITY (aw DAS uh tee)
- n boldness; reckless daring; impertinence
- •Edgar’s soaring leap off the top of the building was an act of great audacity.
- •Ivan had the audacity to tell that nice old lady to shut up. A person with audacity is said to be audacious.
- •Bert made the audacious decision to climb Mt. Everest in bowling shoes.
AUGMENT (awg MENT)
- v to make bigger; to add to; to increase
- • The army augmented its attack by sending in a few thousand more soldiers.
- To augment a record collection is to add more records to it.
- Adding another example to this definition would augment it. The act of augmenting is called augmentation.
AUSPICIOUS (aw SPISH us)
- adj favorable; promising; pointing to a good result
- •A clear sky in the morning is an auspicious sign on the day of a picnic.
- •The first quarter of the football game was not auspicious; the home team was outscored by seventy points.
AUSTERE (aw STEER)
- adj unadorned; stern; forbidding; with out excess
- •The Smiths’ house was austere; there was no furniture in it, and there was nothing hanging on the walls.
- •Quentin, with his austere personality, didn’t make many friends. Most people were too intimidated by him to introduce themselves and say hello.
- The noun austerity (aw STER uh tee) is generally used to mean roughly the same thing as poverty. To live in austerity is to live without com forts.
- • Conditions in Austria were very austere after the war.
AUTOCRATIC (aw tuh KRAT ik)
- adj ruling with absolute authority; extreme ly bossy
- •The ruthless dictator’s autocratic reign ended when the rebels blew up his palace with plastic explosive.
- •A two-year-old can be very autocratic—he wants what he wants when he wants it.
- •No one at our office liked the autocratic manager. He always insisted on having his own way, and he never let anyone make a decision without consulting him.
- An autocrat is an absolute ruler. Autocracy (aw TAHK ruh see), a system of government headed by an autocrat, is not democratic—the people don’t get a say.
AUTONOMOUS (aw TAHN uh mus)
- adj acting independently
- • The West Coast office of the law firm was quite autonomous; it never asked the East Coast office for permission before it did any thing.
- An autonomous nation is one that is independent—it governs itself. It is said to have autonomy.
- To act autonomously is to act on your own authority. If some thing hap pens autonomously, it happens all by itself.
AVARICE (AV ur is)
- n greed; excessive love of riches
- • The rich man’s avarice was annoying to everyone who wanted to lay hands on some of his money.
- Avarice is the opposite of generosity or philanthropy.
- To be avaricious is to love wealth above all else and not to share it with other people.
AVOW (uh VOW)
- v to claim; to declare boldly; to admit
- • At the age of twenty-five, Louis finally avowed that he couldn’t stand his mother’s apple pie.
- To avow something is to declare or admit some thing that most people are reluctant to declare or admit.
- • Mr. Smith avowed on television that he had never paid any income tax. Shortly after this avowal, he received a lengthy letter from the Internal Revenue Service.
- An avowed criminal is one who admits he is a criminal. To disavow is to deny or repudiate someone else’s claim.
- • The mayor disavowed the allegation that he had embezzled campaign contributions.
AWRY (uh RYE)
- adj off course; twisted to one side
- •The hunter’s bullet went awry. Instead of hitting the bear, it hit his truck.
- •When we couldn’t find a restaurant, our dinner plans went awry.
- • The old man’s hat was awry; it had dipped in front of his left eye.
AXIOM (AK see um)
- n a self-evident rule or truth; a widely accepted saying
- “Everything that is living dies” is an axiom.
- An axiom in geometry is a rule that doesn’t have to be proved because its truth is accepted as obvious, self-evident, or unprovable.
BANAL (buh NAL)
- adj unoriginal; ordinary
- • The dinner conversation was so banal that Amanda fell asleep in her dessert dish.
- A banal statement is a boring, trite, and uncreative statement. It is a banality.
- • What made Yu fall asleep was the banality of the dinner conversation.
- n poison; torment; cause of harm
- Bane means poison (wolfbane is a kind of poisonous plant), but the word is usually used figuratively. To say that someone is the bane of your existence is to say that that person poisons your enjoyment of life.
- Baneful means harmful.
BASTION (BAS chun)
- n stronghold; fortress; fortified place
- •Mrs. Garnett’s classroom is a bastion of banality; that is, it’s a place where originality seldom, if ever, makes its way inside.
- •The robbers terrorized the village for several weeks, then escaped to their bastion high in the treacherous mountains.
BEGET (bih GET)
- v to give birth to; to create; to lead to; to cause
- • Those who lie should be creative and have good memories, since one lie often begets another lie, which begets another.
BELABOR (bi LAY bur)
- v to go over repeatedly or to an absurd extent
- •For more than an hour, the boring speak er belabored his point about the challenge of foreign competition.
- •Mr. Irving spent the entire period belaboring the obvious; he made the same dumb observation over and over again.
BELEAGUER (bih LEE gur)
- v to surround; to besiege; to harass
- •No one could leave the beleaguered city; the attacking army had closed off all the exits.
- •Oscar felt beleaguered at work. He was months behind in his assignments, and he had little hope of catching up.
- •The beleaguered president seldom emerged from the Oval Office as he struggled to deal with the growing scandal.
BELIE (bih LYE)
- v to give a false impression of; to contradict
- •Melvin’s smile belied the grief he was feeling; despite his happy expression he was terribly sad inside.
- •The messy appearance of the banquet table belied the huge effort that had gone into setting it up.
- A word that is sometimes confused with belie is betray. To rework the first example above: Melvin was smiling, but a small tear in one eye betrayed the grief he was feeling.
BELITTLE (bih LIT ul)
- v to make to seem little; to put some one down
- •We worked hard to put out the fire, but the fire chief belittled our efforts by saying he wished he had brought some marshmallows.
- •The chairman’s belittling comments made everyone feel small.
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