Word of the Week: Pontificate

Word: pontificate

Pronunciation: pahn-TI-fi-kayt

Part of Speech: verb

Definition: express one’s opinions in a way considered annoyingly pompous and dogmatic

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


You know, maybe if you hadn’t been sitting there pontificating about what a great parker you were, you might have got the space.
– Elaine Benes, Seinfeld (Season 3, Episode 22 – The Parking Space)

Oh yes, I still like to watch Seinfeld reruns from time to time! A few weeks ago, I made a note to write about a word I heard in the parking space episode, when Elaine criticizes George’s pausing to brag about his parking skills as the reason he’s now stuck in a deadlock with Kramer’s friend Mike. She definitely has a point; his inclination to “pontificate” certainly didn’t help him in this situation at all!

To “pontificate” is to express opinions in an irritatingly dogmatic and pompous way. The word arose in late Middle English as a noun, while the verb dates back to the early 19th century. This word comes from the Latin noun pontificatus “the office of pontiff”, which in turn stems from the noun pontifex “high priest”. This noun comprises two roots: the noun pons “bridge” and the verb facere “to make”.

Relating to the Roman Catholic Church, a alternative definition for this verb is to “officiate as bishop”, and the word can also be used as a noun in the sense “the office or period of office of a pope or bishop”. As a verb, “pontificate” likely originated in the sense “to act like a pontiff”, that is, “to express one’s opinions pompously and dogmatically as if they were absolutely correct”. If your characters tend to go on and on about their opinions in the most overbearing and arrogant way possible, “pontificate” may be the next great word you can add to your stories!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

Word of the Week: Meritorious

Word: meritorious

Pronunciation: me-rə-TOHR-ee-əs

Part of Speech: adjective

Definition: deserving reward or praise

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Here’s another new word I picked up from a Dictionary.com Word of the Day entry. As we continue through National Women’s History Month, it’s worth writing about a word that accurately describes the amazing people we celebrate in March. For all their value and hard work over generations, the efforts of women are indeed “meritorious”!

To be “meritorious” is to deserve praise or reward. The word arose in late Middle English and comes from the Latin adjective meritorius, meaning “hired”. This adjective stems from the adjective meritus “deserved”, which in turn derives from the verb merere “to earn”.

Although I haven’t yet used it myself, I assume the word “meritorious” can be used to describe people as much as actions, though the latter seems to be more common. Naturally, an easy way to remember its definition is by the root word “merit”, which means “the quality of being particularly good or worthy”. In North American English, this adjective can also be used in Law to describe an action or claim, in the sense “likely to succeed on the merits of the case”. If you write characters who are worthy of reward and praise for their efforts, “meritorious” may be a good word to keep on your vocabulary list!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

Word of the Week: Malfeasance

Word: malfeasance

Pronunciation: mal-FEE-zəns

Part of Speech: noun

Definition: wrongdoing, especially by a public official

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Fun fact: sometimes my mom likes to browse through articles and posts about the English language and send me the ones she finds interesting as ideas for blog post topics. A couple of weeks ago, she sent me a new suggestion for my vocabulary segment in the form of a Dictionary.com Word of the Day entry, and I admit I found the word so fascinating that I had to write about it on my blog. It’s hardly surprising why: like so many other words, “malfeasance” could potentially become a lot more common in the media this year!

“Malfeasance” is the practice of wrongdoing, especially by a public official. The word arose in the late 17th century and comes from the Old French noun malfaisance, meaning “wrongdoing”. This noun stems from the Latin verb malefacere “to do evil”, which in turn comprises the adjective malus “bad” and the verb facere “to do”.

Defined by Oxford Dictionaries as a Law noun, the word “malfeasance” is most appropriate for formal or legal contexts, though I assume it could work just as well in the narrative of a law-themed story. Despite being similar in meaning, it should not be confused with “misfeasance”, defined as “a transgression, especially the wrongful exercise of lawful authority”. A word that can be used to define someone who commits such wrongdoing is the derivative noun “malfeasant”, which can also be used as an adjective. If you write fiction about politicians who commit wrongful acts, a “malfeasance” could be a good plot point in your next story!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

Word of the Week: Inveigh

Word: inveigh

Pronunciation: in-VAY

Part of Speech: verb

Definition: speak or write about something with great hostility

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Here’s another word I picked up from the Elevate – Brain Training app. Recently, the developers introduced a new game called Association, in which you’re given a set of three or four verbs and have to match each word that appears above them to its synonym in the set. I’ve been learning quite a few new words from this exercise, today’s example being one that I initially failed to correctly match to the verb “criticize”. Maybe you can’t always figure out a word’s meaning right away, but that would hardly be cause to “inveigh” against the gaps in your vocabulary!

To “inveigh” against something is to write or speak about it with great hostility. The word arose in the late 15th century in the sense “to introduce” and comes from the Latin verb invehere, meaning “to carry in” or “to assail”. This verb comprises the preposition in “into” and the verb vehere “to carry”.

While playing the Association game, I probably had trouble deducing the meaning of “inveigh” because it sounds similar to the word “convey”, which has a much more positive connotation. Indeed, the word didn’t always have a negative definition, though one way to remember what it means today could be to associate it with the word “vehement” (“forceful, passionate, or intense”), with which it shares a Latin root. If your characters tend to speak hostilely about others (or do things that warrant heavy criticism), “inveigh” may be a great word to add to your vocabulary list!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

Word of the Week: Lachrymose

Word: lachrymose

Pronunciation: LA-krə-mohs / LA-krə-mohz

Part of Speech: adjective

Definition: tearful or given to weeping

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


A few weeks ago, I shared a word to describe people who feel overly sentimental. Along those lines, here’s another word for those who tend to be especially tearful or inclined to crying. Maybe you didn’t get a chance to fully celebrate the month of love this year, but hopefully it hasn’t made you “lachrymose”!

To be “lachrymose” is to be given to weeping or tearful. The word arose in the mid 17th century in the sense “like tears” and comes from the Latin adjective lacrimosus, meaning “causing tears”. This adjective stems from the noun lacrima, which means “tear”.

I first heard this word in the 2004 movie A Series of Unfortunate Events, when Aunt Josephine shows the Baudelaire children the view of Lake Lachrymose from her window. Though I’ve loved the sound of it ever since, I would recommend the word mostly for poetry as opposed to narrative, simply for how formal it comes across compared to simpler synonyms like “teary” and “misty-eyed”. Still, if you think it fits the style of your writing, feel free to work it into a story. If your characters often find themselves getting emotional, “lachrymose” may be a good word to keep on your vocabulary list!

What are your thoughts on this word? Any suggestions for future “Word of the Week” featured words?

Word of the Week: Kakistocracy

Word: kakistocracy

Pronunciation: ka-ki-STAH-krə-see

Part of Speech: noun

Definition: government by the least suitable or competent citizens of a state

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Happy Presidents’ Day! To celebrate, here’s a new political word to add to your vocabulary. Yes, I know I said I don’t like getting political on my blog, but with so many interesting words floating around my news feeds these days, I couldn’t pass up the chance to feature a few more of them in my Word of the Week segment! Don’t ask me where I found this one (not that it isn’t obvious); I just thought it was so eye-catching that I had to write about it here. It’s definitely relevant for many people this year; I’m sure none of us expected to be faced with the possibility of a “kakistocracy” in our lifetimes!

A “kakistocracy” is a government run by the least competent or suitable citizens of a state. The word arose in English in the early 19th century and was coined by English author Thomas Love Peacock as an antonym for “aristocracy” (in the sense “government of a state by its best citizens”). This noun comprises two Ancient Greek roots: the adjective kákistos “worst” and the noun krátos “power”.

Whenever I read the word “kakistocracy”, the first image that comes to mind is a dystopian society. What else would you expect from a government run by the least qualified people imaginable? The word certainly seems fitting for fiction about states on the verge of collapse, though it’s more terrifying to think it’s becoming common in nonfiction media. If your story is set in a world run by an incompetent government, you may have created your own “kakistocracy”!

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