Are You Smart Enough to Pass This Synonym Quiz?

Zoe Samuel

Image: shutterstock

About This Quiz

Synonyms are one of the most interesting parts of language.  Having many ways to say the same thing means we can communicate in a nuanced way many other languages do not have. It allows dissembling, nitpicking, obfuscation and poetic license.

Often, in our efforts to sound intelligent, people employ a synonym in the hope that it will make them sound clever, but more often than not, it backfires because others just don't understand what they are saying. Synonyms allow for hyperbole, which is much of what makes English language comedy possible.  Quite a lot of the time, synonyms make speech easier, because repeated use of certain sounds can make speaking and reading comprehension more complicated.

Appropriately deployed, synonyms can make you a better writer, public speaker, and communicator. They often give us some of the most amusing translations into the English language, such as Kim Jong Un's use of the word "dotard," and many of the poorly translated ads on the internet. Certain words can suddenly become popular because they sound better than their synonyms, supplanting long-favored words and changing the way we speak every day.

How well do you know English synonyms? Will you prove yourself a master of sameness or a verbal disaster? Take this quiz!

Which means "automobile"?

Automobiles can also be called cars, as well as four-wheeler, jalopy, wheels, and a host of other words.

Which means "motorcycle"?

The colloquialism "chopper" used to only refer to modified American motorcycles, but has come to mean a general term for a motorcycle.

Which means the verb, "fighting"?

Fighting and battling could both mean combat, either physical or metaphorical.

Which means "interesting"?

Interesting and intriguing mean the same thing, but if you want to be more colorful, you could also say riveting, absorbing, or engrossing.

Which means "blackguard"?

Blackguard (pronounced "BLAG-ard") is a very old word meaning "liar," "cheat," or "disreputable person."

Which means "louche"?

Louche comes from the Latin "luscus" meaning "blind in one eye," but came to mean disreputable or immoral from the association with "the evil eye" which was said to be given by means of a strange look.

Which means "thingamabob"?

Gubbins and thingamabob have come to mean the same thing, but originally, gubbins referred to all the leftover pieces of fish no one cooks or eats. Now it could be used to refer to the leftover parts when you build a piece of Ikea furniture without instructions.

Which means "zenith"?

Zenith has been part of the English language for a long time, coming from a misreading of the Arabic سمت الرأس (pronounced samt ar-ra's) which Persian astronomers used to describe the direction of the head, or top. Zenith is used figuratively to describe a thing of high quality, but also literally to describe an apex or peak.

Which means "wonky"?

It is unclear when "wonky" came into use in English, but its earliest uses in print date to the early 20th century, where it was used to describe one's state of being as "out of sorts." It has since become used for other things, to describe a state of being twisted and in disorder.

Which means "quixotic"?

Quixotic comes from the book Don Quixote, who was either eccentric, or insane, depending on the reader's interpretation. Don Quixote was a foolish man who dressed as a knight long after the days of knights in shining armor were over, and so his name lives on as a term for foolish action.

Which means "quell"?

Quell comes from middle English, from the old English cwellan, meaning to kill. Today it refers to suppression, either literally as in by the force of arms (to quell a rebellion) or figuratively (to quell one's hunger).

Which means "pique"?

Pique reefers to a state or extreme negative emotion, as in "a pique of anger." While the word umbrage is used a little differently, to describe outrage, both words mean the same thing.

Which means "paradigm"?

The word paradigm, meaning the same thing as framework, dates back to the ancient Greek paradeigma, and is a term that originated in philosophy.

Which means "rakish"?

Rakish comes from the word rake, to describe a dissolute person, and can be traced back to the 1600s and the word rakehell. While the word could be used to describe coolness, it would only describe coolness in the sense of being dissolute as cool.

Which means "karma"?

Karma is a term from several eastern religions referring to the luck, good or bad, derived from one's actions. While it has wider applications in a religious sense, it is generally used to refer to luck.

Which means "jejune"?

Jejune comes from the Latin jejunu, meaning empty of food. As with the emptiness of one's stomach, emptiness of mind can be described with this word.

Which means "gallivanting"?

Gallivanting is derived from gallanting, or courting a woman by acting gallantly. It has since changed its meaning to refer to wandering, since many a gallant proved his gallantry by means of a quest.

Which means "occult"?

Occult knowledge may have originally referred to knowledge of magical secrets, but today the term is used to describe anything obscure or esoteric, such as computer programming or the growing of rare fruit.

Which means "sciolism"?

Sciolism comes from the Latin "scius" meaning "knowing" but in this sense it is used to describe the practice of talking about something one knows nothing about, or in other words, a demonstration of ignorance. Benightedness, similarly, refers to general ignorance, and the two words could be used interchangeably.

Which means "hiatus"?

Hiatus literally comes from the Latin "haitus" meaning a gap or break, but unlike the Romans, contemporary people use it to describe breaks in time rather than in space.

Which means "tatterdemalion"?

Tatterdemalion came into use in print in the 1600s, deriving its name from "tattered". Ragamuffin dates back much earlier, to middle English, when it would sometimes be used in place of a surname. While both roughly mean the same thing, the latter can also mean someone who is stupid as well as ragged.

Which means "corpulent"?

Corpulent is a $10 word for obese. While "obese" carries with it the clinical sound of a dietitian's office, "corpulent" evokes a poetry one would expect from Shakespeare.

Which means "jocular"?

Jocular comes from the Latin "joculor," meaning joke, and was likely adapted to English in the middle ages or Renaissance period.

Which means "senescence"?

Senescence refers to aging, and derives its meaning from the Latin "senex," meaning "to age." Often it implies the deterioration that comes with age.

Which means "aegis"?

Aegis comes from the ancient Greek aigís, meaning the mantle of Zeus, a protective shield nothing could pierce.

Which means "bailiwick"?

Just as a cop has his or her beat, so too could they be said to have their bailiwick. The word bailiwick comes from middle English for the area covered by a bailiff, or in other words, the bailiff's beat.

Which means "popinjay"?

Poppinjay is a term of English origin meaning someone who struts their stuff in a silly way, like the bird of the same name. Likewise, a showboat is someone who infuses their successes with over-the-top exuberance that smacks of vulgarity.

Which means "seneschal"?

Seneschal and vizier are both fairly archaic terms for the same thing. A European prince's steward could be called a seneschal. A high official in medieval Muslim counties could be called a vizier.

Which means "servant"?

A factotum is a kind of servant, a jack of all trades who wears many hats. It comes from Latin, but was invented in the Renaissance, when it was often used in place of a surname.

Which means "collywobbles"?

Collywobbles draws its name from cholera, which ravaged the world repeatedly for centuries, and still pops up occasionally. Collywobbles may sound like a candy from Charley and The Chocolate Factory, but if you were to be offered such a candy, you should probably turn it down.

Which means "widdershins"?

Widdershins is a very archaic word, often employed in descriptions of religious rituals. Why did the inventors of this word not just say counter-clockwise? There were no clocks, of course. This word is rarely used today, and when it is used, it is primarily used for effect, not specificity.

Which means "billingsgate"?

Billingsgate and obscenity have gone hand in hand for centuries, as the former got its name from a fish market in London known for its coarse language. The word continues to be used in literature and journalism to describe particularly abusive language, often delivered in public.

Which means "taradiddle"?

Taradiddle comes from Ireland, reportedly from a town of the same name, which, of course, does not exist. While it sounds very archaic, it has been in use for centuries, and as recently as 2004, in the Harry Potter novels.

Which means "cattywampus"?

Cattywampus comes from "cater" which came into English via French. It came to mean diagonal because of its segue into English via gambling, where it was used to describe the four pips on the four-side of a die. Eventually, it morphed into a word that can be used to describe anything.

Which means "bumfuzzle"?

This word evolved along side "dumbfound," but both it, and the words iterating the digression from dumbfound to bumfuzzle, have largely fallen out of use.

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