The first words were likely invented by the first humans, and there's no way of knowing how they came to be. How did the word "sun" come to define that giant star in the sky, and why is a tree called a "tree"? We'll never know. But what we do know is that thousands of words are created each year, and there is a word for everything. There are several ways to make words: adding prefixes or suffixes, truncating words, onomatopoeia, combining words, borrowing words, changing word meanings or simply creating them from thin air.
With all these possibilities come words like cattywampus, taradiddle and whippersnapper. There are more words than concrete and abstract things on Earth, and with all these words came the invention of the ten-dollar word, which was first used in the late 19th century. Among the first ten-dollar words were "totalitarianism" and "psychology," and the term defines a big and pretentious word. Today's ten-dollar words come in all sizes and languages and are obscure, uncommon or pretentious. Although considered uncommon, the right ten-dollar word at the right time and place can change everything. The wrong word will ruin everything. It's not a bad idea to have a cache of ten-dollar words ready to use whenever you need, so let's see if you can define these ones.
Which of the following is a word meaning "to chew"?
Masticate is a verb meaning to chew, and it's been in use since the early 15th century. It's not used much since it's easier to say chew, and it's one of those words that became popular for sounding like something it's not.
Bob's lackadaisical reaction to winning the lottery was cause for concern. How did Bob react to winning the lottery?
Lackadaisical is an adjective that describes someone or something that lacks enthusiasm or determination. It can also mean languid, sluggish or carelessly lazy. Most people don't react lackadaisically to winning the lottery.
What is a flibbertigibbet?
Flibbertigibbet is a noun that defines a playful or irresponsible person, and is normally used in modern times to define an overly gossipy person. The word itself sounds like meaningless chatter, and that is likely how it was created.
What kind of town is a jerkwater town?
Steam trains of the 19th century were known as jerkwaters because of the jerking buckets of water they held for power. The water stops were often in remote towns that became known as jerkwater towns. Eventually the word came to mean anything small, remote or insignificant.
The hero of the novel "Don Quixote" gave us this word that means impractical and unrealistic.
Don Quixote, the hero and title character of the Spanish novel, dedicated his life to reviving all chivalry and righteousness in the world. It didn't work, and since then the word quixotic has been used to mean something that is unrealistic or overly idealistic.
The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel radiates an empyrean aura. What does "empyrean" mean?
Empyrean is both a noun and adjective and it relates the highest heaven in the sky. The word stems from the Latin empyreus and Greek empyrios, meaning fire. Empyrean as a noun is the highest heaven and is made of pure light or fire.
What is the earthy smell of rain called?
Petrichor happens when rain falls on dry soil, usually after a dry spell. Plants release oils into the dirt during dry spells and the rain helps lift it into the air, producing a pleasant and earthy smell. The word stems from the Greek word for stone (petro) and "ichor," which is the blood of Greek gods.
There is a very thin line between music and cacophony. What does "cacophony" mean?
Where music is the harmonious mixture of sounds, cacophony is the discordant mixture of sounds. The word stems from the Greek kakos and phone, which mean bad and sound. Common synonyms are noise, racket and discord.
The last algebra question on the test left Mike flummoxed. How did Mike leave the test?
Flummox is a verb meaning to greatly confuse. Something that is really confusing is flummoxing, and something that confuses you flummoxes you. The word has been around since the 19th century and stems from words meaning untidy and confusing.
The reverse side of the $100 bill features Independence Hall in Philadelphia. What side is Benjamin Franklin on?
Obverse is a noun that defines the front or principal side of something, or the side of a coin or medal that features the main image. It can also be used as an adjective to describe anything that is facing an observer.
A ________ interest rate is one that makes you say, "You serious?"
Usurious is the adjective form of usury, which is the practice of charging excessive rates on money loans. Any exorbitant interest rate is usurious and there are laws that prevent widespread usury. The word stems from the Latin word for use.
How long is a fortnight?
A fortnight is a duration of two weeks and is short for "fourteen nights." Fortnightly means the same thing as biweekly and the latter is more common in America. A half-month splits the month in half, and a sennight stands for a seven-night, or a week.
Which of the following describes an excessively frugal person?
Parsimonious is an adjective that describes anyone unwilling to spend money. Its noun version is parsimony, which stems from the Latin "parsimonia," meaning to spare. Cheap, frugal or stingy people can be described as parsimonious.
What does jejune mean?
Jejune is an adjective that describes anything that is naive, simplistic or superficial. It can also describe something dull and uninteresting. It stems from the Latin "jejunus," which means "barren."
What is it called when a news anchor smoothly transitions from one topic to another?
Segue is a verb meaning to make a smooth transition from one section to another. It is also a noun that defines a smooth transition. The word stems from "sekw," "seguire" and "sequi," which all mean "to follow."
If someone has lacuna between their ears, what is between their ears?
Lacuna is a noun that means gap or unfilled space, and its plural form is lacunae. It stems from the Latin for pit or pool, lacus, which also birthed the word lagoon, which is a shallow pit of water. A cerebrum is the main part of the brain, and all people have one between their ears.
What is it called when you use a bunch of ten-dollar words to explain nothing?
Bafflegab is a noun that defines obscure, pompous or even incomprehensible jargon. If a car dealer is trying to convince you of the high cost of a car, he may use a lot of big words and jargon that really mean nothing. That's bafflegab.
Aristocracy is government ruled by the elite. Democracy is government ruled by the people. What is kakistocracy?
Kakistocracy was first coined in the 17th century and stems from the Greek words kakistos (worst) and kratos (rule). It defines a government of the worst rule. Aristocracy comes from the Greek "aristos," meaning excellent, and democracy comes from the Greek "demo," meaning people.
Someone who wears ragged clothes, or someone who follows reggae culture, is known as what?
A ragamuffin is someone who wears ragged clothes. It stems from the word rag and has been in use since the early 16th century. It usually refers to a child but can also mean a disreputable person. It can also be used to define someone who follows ragga or reggae culture.
What is bigger than an argument but smaller than a fight?
A minor disturbance or commotion caused by dispute is called a kerfuffle. It was first used in the 19th century and likely stemmed from Scottish and Irish words meaning disorder and confusion.
Jon was mad because Frank lionized Ben. What did Frank do to Ben?
To lionize something means to view or treat it as an object of great importance. If you treat someone like a celebrity, you are lionizing them, if you think money is the most important thing on Earth, you've lionized it.
Christmas morning arrived on a niveous day. What does "niveous" mean?
Niveous is an adjective describing anything snowy or resembling snow. Birds can have niveous feathers and mountains can be niveous landscapes. The word stems from the Latin for snow and has been in use since the early 17th century.
What is the division sign in math called?
An obelus is a symbol represented by a short horizontal line with a dot both above and below the line. It is commonly known as the division sign in mathematics and is seldom used for any other reason.
The worst politician in the world can be defined as a what?
A throttlebottom is noun that defines a completely inept person in public office. It is a fairly new word as it stems from a 1930s play that featured the character Alexander Throttlebottom, who was a futile Vice Presidential candidate.
Which of the following is an example of a spoonerism?
A spoonerism is a noun, and it defines the action of switching the initial sounds of words to produce a new meaning. "Take a shower" turns into "shake a tower." You can make a spoonerism out of any two words since they don't have to make sense.
A spoiled child or immature person is known as a what?
Mammothrept is a noun that defines a spoiled child and it stems from the Latin and Ancient Greek word mammothreptos, meaning to be raised by one's grandmother. It was first used back in 1601 and is seldom used in modern speech.
What is the feeling of joy at another's misfortune called?
Schadenfreude is a noun that defines the feeling of pleasure or satisfaction at learning of another's misfortune. The word is German and there is no English equivalent, but "gloat" comes pretty close. It's a complex emotion and the word has been adopted by English text since 1895.
Someone who questions everything and believes very little is known as a what?
Zetetic is an adjective that describes something that proceeds by deep inquiry or investigation. Zetetic days followed the crime discovery. It is also a noun that defines a skeptic or inquirer. A zetetic may question whether the world is really flat.
Someone who never laughs, especially not at jokes, is called a what?
Agelast is a noun that defines someone who never laughs and it stems from the Greek word agelastos, which means not laughing. The opposite of an agelast is an abderian person, who is someone who can't stop laughing.
Tom degusted his food. What did Tom do?
Degust is pronounced with a hard "g" and is a verb meaning to carefully taste something to appreciate it fully. It stems from the Latin degustare, which means to taste. And degustare is combination of the Latin de (completely) and gustare (to taste).
Jake bibbled at dinner. What did Jake do?
Bibble is a verb meaning to eat or drink noisily. The word isn't widely used and stems from the Latin bibo, meaning "I drink." If you're degusting, you're likely not bibbling, but you can carefully taste something in a noisy manner if you want to.
Multitasking is said to have a negative effect on productivity and brain health. What is the opposite of multitasking?
Unitasking is the act of doing one thing at a time. The word multitasking came into use in 1966 and less than 20 years later, in 1985, someone coined the word unitasking. It has become more popular in today's digital society.
If you redefine the word "NEWS" and make it stand for "North," "East," "West" and "South," what did you just create?
A backronym is a word that is re-interpreted as an acronym. The Amber Alert was originally named after an abducted 9-year-old named Amber, but then it was changed to stand for "America's Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response." The word "news" means new information.
What is a googol?
A googol is a number equivalent to 10 raised to the 100th power. The word was invented by the nine-year-old nephew of a mathematician in 1940 and an alteration of the word later became the name of the largest online search engine in the world.
Uber is one of the most popular ride-sharing apps in the world. What does uberty mean?
The Latin word "uber" means rich, abundant and fruitful and the noun "uberty" means abundance and fruitfulness. It's not to be confused with puberty, which is a period of maturation and stems from the Latin word "puber," meaning "adult."
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