Notes for my daughter: my favourite words

words to add to your vocabulary

I love language.

I’ve always been a word-nerd – collecting them up from Famous Five books (determined; kitbag) & my mum’s weekly women’s magazines (devastate; masturbate – a regular on the problem pages, although it was some time before I could really pronounce or understand it).

I’d absorb them by osmosis – so sure that the imaginary land my soft toys hailed from – California – was my own wonderful invention. Playing with a puffalump in the garden one day, I was distraught to be chastised when my Dad overheard me say ‘bollocks‘. What did he mean it was swearing? Hadn’t I just made that word up?

Into adulthood, my vocabulary has served me well. The ability to write carried me through exams when I had only a flimsy grasp of the subject – where writing a well-worded, articulate essay is half the battle.
I leaned that words are the weapons that anyone can weild. A decade on, I still delight in the memory of my misogynistic manager’s face twitching as he tried to work out if my saying oxymoron was insulting or not. The right words can soothe and placate, belittle and deride. They can open doors,  simply by appearing in the right combination at the right time. 

For all there are times when writing a single post feels as painful and implausible as birthing a full grown elephant, when I’m fired up & passionate I know my words will fly to hand. Like a Jedi and her lightsaber, a woman’s idiolect is hers for life.

A few of my favourite words

idiolect – I just used it above – the personalised linguistic system of an individual – vocabulary, intonation, speech patterns, etc.

gelid – Very cold, icy.

topography – the features of a landscape or area

orient to familiarise with new surroundings or circumstances (think, orienteering!)

anathema – detested or loathed

cadge – to beg or borrow

peremptory – imperious, leaving no opportunity for denial or refusal.

concatenation – linked together

disabuse – to free someone from deception

disingenuouslacking in sincerity,  

moribund – in a dying state; near death.

invidious – calculated to create ill will, offensive.

perspicacity having insight into things; shrewd.

sacrosanctsacred, not to be entered or trespassed upon.

scurrilous – grossly or obscenely abusive

temerity – reckless boldness; rashness.

unexpurgated – complete and containing all the original material; uncensored. 

visceral – from instinct rather than intellect, from then gut.

widdershins – anticlockwise, in the opposite direction to the natural one.

alacrity – cheerful readiness

Wont – customary or usual behaviour.


What’s your favourite word? Got any examples of when you kicked ass with the right language? 

  • Rebecca Harrison

    Mine is groaking — staring at someone who’s eating in the hope of getting their food. It’s also one of my favourite activities. Have you read The Horologicon by Mark Forsyth? It’s stuffed with heaps of glorious n neglected words. Such Fun! I collect words and love making up my own, too.

    • Hah! I am guilty of groaking on a daily basis, then. I haven’t read it, so am off to hunt down an audiobook version. I love all of your idiolect, so a recommendation from you is like gold!

  • Rebecca Harrison

    You know, ‘California’ was originally the name for an imaginary place, so child-you was right!

    • REALLY? Clearly it was stolen from my brain then.

  • I’m very fond of the word discombobulated. It means exactly what it sounds like it should

    • It DOES! and it sounds exactly how it feels!

  • God I love reading the dictionary. I know it’s a little weird, but the discovery of words is just so exciting at times πŸ™‚
    erin | words and pictures

    • Yes! And any novel that has pages of baffling words has me folding over the pages. It’s like the bookworm version of Pokemon! ?

  • Oh my gosh, this is my type of post!! Although I don’t so much collect words for the meaning than for their sound – here’s a little selection of mine!
    superfluous (although I prefer the French superflue, they both work!)

    There are tons more but I’ll be here all day if I keep writing, so… xx

    • the french is Superflue? God I love that country.
      Love how all of yours seem to flow from the same semantic field. It’s almost a poem, right there!

  • megan

    I really do need to grab a word a day and try to use it in every conversation. I love words, lol. They are like a scent, certain words strewn together can take you back to a place or pull a memory of someone out of thin air.
    I notice that when I get passionate about something, I start spewing out words I learned in college and then later on wonder how the heck I even remembered those words and their meanings.

    • Whenever I subscribe to a word a day I invariably get ‘behind’ and stop using it. Perhaps we need a word a week, or a word a fortnight instead? haha. Totally relate to that sudden surge of half forgotten vocabulary. It must be something linked to how passion triggers different areas of the language centres in the brain. Someone should study this, to unpick the answer to writer’s block!

  • Kate X Design

    Apoplectic~overcome with anger; extremely indignant.

    I especially loved this word when the kids were small and they literally looked like they would burst with frustration or anger. I love language and the best compliments I receive about the children are how extensive their vocabularies are. πŸ™‚

  • Love this! Bookmarking it for the next time I need to be a smart ass and dazzle everyone πŸ˜€

    My fave is Petrichor that smell after rain on a hot day? Love it!

  • Oh, I love this! I have a running list of goals for myself (101 goals I try to reach in 1,001 days), and one of them is to add 100 new words to my vocabulary. I kept track and was able to cross that goal off the list recently!

    • that’s amazing – 100 new words is no mean feat! Care to share one of your favourite new acquisitions? πŸ˜€

      • Yes!

        Comestible – an item of food. (I read a blog post saying comestibles were great gifts for people who lived in small apartments, with which I agree!)

        Cockamamy – Ridiculous, implausable.

        Gamine – having mischievous or boyish charm/a girl with mischievous or boyish charm.

        Hale – healthy, robust

        Carcanet – a metal collar set with jewels

  • Ah general studies, I remember it well! Love your system for survival – and the funny thing is, those words end up sticking in your head for the rest of your life, don’t they? So you basically taught yourself more in general studies than the teacher did! ?

  • ensconce is beautiful. It even feels nice, to say it!

  • Thanks Hannie! x

  • Julia Williams

    Just bought it off the back of reading this πŸ™‚ x

  • hahaha! Not deliberate, just a weird keyboard mashing typo, that my spellcheck totally failed to alert me to! Perhaps it’s a conspiracy to make feminists look stupid? ?? Thanks for pointing it out. I personally love a spelling nazi myself! x

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