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21 Days to A Bigger Vocabulary

21 Days to a Bigger Vocabulary - Day 3

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Tuesday, 18 December 2007


Pronunciation:  SIK-uh-TRIKS or si-KAY-triks

Definition:  New tissue that forms over a wound and later contracts into a scar. 

This is a cool sounding word of limited use to the layperson.  For general fiction writers, unless you're composing poetry, if you need to mention a scar then say scar.  Any word that should be used in everyday conversation would most certainly appear in a sentence somewhere in the first 5 pages of a Google search.  Not so, cicatrix.  Aside from appearing in medical journals, the only other search results pointed to a company and a band sporting the name.  The fact that there is a company and a band named Cicatrix, though, proves there are a few of us out here who get our jollies by scouring the Webster's for obscure words.

Cicatrix can be a fine thread to weave into a fantasy yarn.  The term vicious cicatrix refers to a scar that results in permanent deformity or loss of use of a limb.  Vicious Cicatrix - now there's potential. 

When would you use cicatrix?  1.  If you want to sound like a doctor, but can't afford a night at the Holiday Inn Express; 2.  To get a discount on a tree at Home Depot.  Sure, you know that kid who's there to help answer your question is also pre-authorized to give a discount.  Inform him that this mark on the trunk is going to result in a vicious cicatrix; 3.  I don't know...come up with a joke:  Did you hear the one about the doctor, the arborist and the crossword puzzle geek who walked into Starbucks... Is that your nose or a vicious cicatrix?  (HAhahaha)


21 Days to a Bigger Vocabulary - Day 2

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Friday, 14 December 2007

Pronounced:  Bal-BRIG-uhn

Definition:  Plain knit cotton fabric used especially in underwear.  It’s named after the  Irish port city, Balbriggan, where it was first made.

I chose this word for a couple of good reasons:  first, I like the way it sounds -   balbriggan.  See how it rolls off the tongue?  Second, it’s a perfectly innocuous word which, for those of us who don’t cuss, can easily double as an expletive.  Listen, doesn’t it sound like a something a pirate might growl as he’s swabbing the deck?  “Ar! Ya swabble be makin’ a balbriggan mess on me poop deck!” 

Hey, offer me an opportunity to meander through the plentitude of the English language, spice it with juvenile humor and honey, I.Am.There.

How you might use the word balbriggan:  1) When you order your kids for the umpteenth time to pick up their balbriggan dirty clothes and toss them into the balbriggan basket; 2) you remind your ill-humored mother-in-law not to get her balbriggans in a bunch; 3) you’re in line at Wal-Mart with your husband and he’s eyeing up the lady in front of you whose wearing jeans so tight you can read the balbriggan label.

21 Days to a Bigger Vocabulary

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Thursday, 13 December 2007

I was rummaging through my bookshelves and came across a pamphlet entitled, “21 Days to a Bigger Vocabulary.”  It’s old, yellowed with age, and I clearly remember completing all 21 days – a couple of times – in order to improve my vocabulary.  Sadly, as I thumbed through their list, I could only recall what a fraction of the words meant or how to use them in a sentence.

Many people assume that in order to be a good writer, one must be gifted with an exceptional vocabulary.  When I first started writing nonfiction, this was my understanding, as well.  Just look at the name of my website, “Obstreperous Heart.”  When was the last time you used “obstreperous” in a sentence? 

I love vocabulary words as much as the next person who doesn’t get out much, but the point to writers is, why force your reader to stop and lookup – or worse, guess – what a word means, when there is a common word that says the same thing?  Most people who read for pleasure don’t have the time or desire for a story requiring a companion dictionary.

obstreperous = unruly

Still, the “keep it simple” rule of writing doesn’t stop some of us from body-trembling ebullience when we find a new word to add to our lexicon.

I thought I’d have a little fun and come up with my own 21 Days list.  My list is 21 words you’ll likely never use in a conversation, but are nice to know if you need them.


Day 1, Word 1:


This is a great word because there are so many different ways to pronounce it that you’ll never have to worry whether you got it right. 

Pronunciations:  AB-uh-TEE, uh-BAT-ee, uh-BAT-is, Plural forms:  AB-uh-TEEZ, uh-BAT-eez, AB-uh-TIS-iz, uh-BAT-i-siz

Definition:  noun; an obstacle of felled trees with sharpened ends pointed towards an enemy.  (Webster’s Desk Dictionary of the English Language, copyright 1983)

Where you might use this word in a sentence:   1) you’re at a dinner party and need an excuse to shut-up that annoying guest whose relentless hounding confirms that you really do attract the guys with double-digit IQs; 2) you’re at a dinner party when the conversation turns to an economics debate on global sustainability and you need to excuse yourself before your head drops into the shrimp tray; 3)  you’re at a dinner party with members of the Society for Creative Anachronism and, dang! if somebody doesn't use it first.

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