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Jewish World Review
June 19, 2007
/ 3 Tamuz, 5767
100 words every grad should, supposedly, know
Hey there, you literate person, you. Abjured any abstemious moieties lately?
Me neither Ö I don't think. Then again, maybe I'm doing it right now. I really have no idea, which is kind of strange, considering "abjure," "abstemious" and good ole "moiety" are just a few of the "100 Words Every High School Graduate Should Know."
The title should have added, "But Doesn't."
This little book, put out by the folks at American Heritage Dictionaries, levitates off its retailing domicile this time of year you know, flies off the shelf as a graduation gift. It has proved so popular that now there's a "100 Words" for middle school grads and another spin-off for, hmm, I guess anyone who didn't graduate but is feeling lugubrious, if not downright atrabilious, about it: "100 Words To Make You Sound Smart."
As if slinging around big words is what makes a person sound smart. "100 Incredibly Flattering Compliments To Make You Sound Smart." That, my dear, discerning and svelte reader, is a book that would work.
The thing about actual word books and the whole "Boost Your Vocabulary" industry is that however fascinating it is to study etymology (unless that's the study of bugs), some words are just plain old obscure. While delightful in and of themselves, there is really no reason to program words like "perspicacious" into one's personal database. And yet on just such words hinge the SAT scores (and possibly futures) of many young people.
"Foppish," said the head of high school program development at the Princeton Review, Christine Parker. "I think I could go through a fairly challenging college career and not know 'foppish.'" Nonetheless, she added, "it actually has shown up on the SAT for the last few years a few times." Other surprises included "perfidy" and "gewgaw," words that Parker assumes were thrown in mostly to determine if the test-taker had read any 19th century novels, or perhaps "grew up in a household that listened to light opera."
Clearly the express buggy to success.
The editor of the American Heritage books, Steve Kleinedler, admits that some of the entries that made his "100 Words" for high school grads are not even words that he uses. "Jejune," for instance.
When I asked another wordsmith, obit writer Stephen Miller, if he knew what it meant, he replied, "It's either jaded or innocent."
Yup. It is.
The American Heritage list trots out other consistent confusers such as "enervate," a word we should just throw out because it means exactly the opposite of what it sounds like (sounds like energize, means to tire) and "interpolate," which simply means to insert. Insert "insert" for "interpolate" whenever possible.
And then there's one of Kleinedler's favorites, "ziggurat," which he threw in the book mostly because there are not a whole lot of great vocabulary "z" words, and its roots are Akkadian, an ancient Semitic language.
Next time you're looking for a "z" word with hidden roots, Steve, try "Zagnut," a crunchy peanut butter/coconut bar introduced in the ancient 1930s.
The folks at Kaplan Test Prep give their students a daunting chart of words that have shown up on recent SATs and can be expected to reappear, including "adumbrate," "captious," "celerity," "imprecation," "incarnadine" and the ever popular "palimpsest."
As a professional writer, allow me to use them all in one sentence: "Adumbrate, captious, celerity, imprecation, incarnadine and palimpsest are words I do not know."
High school graduates and juniors taking life-determining tests should not be expected to, either.
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