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Word of the Week: Sententious

Word: sententious

Pronunciation: sen-TEN-(t)shəs

Part of Speech: adjective

Definition: given to moralizing in a pompous or affected manner

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


“Thoughtcrime is a dreadful thing, old man,” he said sententiously.
1984, George Orwell (1949)

If it isn’t already obvious by the first word in the given example, I learned today’s Word of the Week from George Orwell’s famous novel 1984. The above excerpt is from a conversation between Winston, the Party-hating protagonist, and Parsons, his Party-loving neighbor. Without going into too much detail about why they’re discussing thoughtcrime, this line shows the latter is only too eager to call it out as the worst thing that can happen to a person. He may be dull, but given his extreme loyalty to the Party, it only makes sense that Parsons would be so “sententious” about this subject!

A “sententious” act is one that moralizes in an affected or pompous way. The word arose in late Middle English and comes from the Latin adjective sententiosus, which derives from the noun sententia, meaning “opinion”. This noun stems from the verb sentire, which means “to feel”.

Interestingly, the original definition of “sententious” was “full of meaning or wisdom”, but this meaning eventually became obsolete and the word since took on a depreciatory sense. To a lesser extent, “sententious” can also be used as a synonym for “pithy” or “concise”, though it’s unclear how common this use is. If your characters often moralize issues in a pompous or self-important way, “sententious” may be a good word to use in your stories!

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

Word of the Week: Augur

Word: augur

Pronunciation: AW-ɡər

Part of Speech: verb

Definition: (of an event or circumstance) portend a good or bad outcome

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Here’s an interesting word I found while searching for a synonym for “foreshadow”. You may recognize today’s Word of the Week as part of another more familiar word (which I featured in this segment earlier this year), though their meanings are considerably different. While it’s not exactly common, I’m sure we could all find a use for this word now and then; in such an unpredictable world, the least we can hope for is to determine if current events will “augur” well or badly for the future!

To “augur” is to foreshadow a good or bad outcome. The word arose in late Middle English and is originally a Latin noun meaning “diviner”. This noun’s origin is uncertain, but it’s related to the verb augurare, which means “to predict”.

When used in its primary sense, “augur” should be followed by an adverb describing the predicted outcome (e.g. to “augur well” or “augur badly”), though it can also be followed by the prediction itself (e.g. to “augur the end of the war”). The word also functions as a historical noun; in Ancient Rome, an “augur” was “a religious official who observed natural signs, especially the behavior of birds, interpreting these as an indication of divine approval or disapproval of a proposed action”. It should not be confused with the noun “auger”, which means “a tool with a helical bit for boring holes in wood”. If your stories involve a lot of foreshadowing of good or bad events, “augur” may be an excellent addition to your vocabulary!

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

Word of the Week: Deleterious

Word: deleterious

Pronunciation: de-lə-TI-ree-əs

Part of Speech: adjective

Definition: causing harm or damage

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Here’s a word I’ve been meaning to write about for a while. Though I don’t remember where I first learned it, I was recently reminded of it while playing the Pronunciation game in the Elevate – Brain Training app. To be honest, I kind of wish I’d added this adjective to my shortlist of fiction vocabulary sooner; when “harmful” and “damaging” start to become overused, “deleterious” is a good synonym to turn to!

To be “deleterious” is to cause damage or harm. The word arose in the mid 17th century and comes from the Greek adjective dēlētḗrios, meaning “noxious”. This adjective derives from the noun dēlētḗr “destroyer”, which in turn stems from the verb dēléomai “to hurt”.

An easy way to memorize the definition of “deleterious” is to remember that it contains the word “delete”, which means “remove or obliterate”. Notably, Merriam-Webster expands the word’s definition to “harmful, often in a subtle or unexpected way”, so you may want to limit its use to this specific context in your stories. If your characters often harm others or cause damage, “deleterious” may be a good addition 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: Gramercy

Word: gramercy

Pronunciation: grə-MƏR-see 

Part of Speech: interjection

Definition: used to express gratitude or surprise

Source: Merriam-Webster


“Gramercy for thy courtesy,” replied the Disinherited Knight, “and to requite it, I advise thee to take a fresh horse and a new lance, for by my honour you will need both.”
Ivanhoe (Sir Walter Scott, 1820)

With Thanksgiving coming up this week, it’s a great time to learn a new word for expressing thankfulness! Today’s Word of the Week entry features a fascinating word I stumbled upon while looking up synonyms for “thankful”. Indeed, this word is so archaic that I couldn’t even find it in my usual source, Oxford Dictionaries, and instead had to look it up in Merriam-Webster. It never hurts to know as many expressions of thanks as possible, but if you truly want to impress someone with an obscure interjection, try “Gramercy!”

“Gramercy” is an interjection used to express surprise or gratitude. The word arose in the 14th century and comes from the Old French expression grant merci, meaning “great thanks”. The former adjective derives from the Latin adjective grandis “grand”, while the latter noun stems from the Latin noun mercēs “reward”.

Today, “gramercy” appears mostly as a proper noun, while the original use of the word as an interjection of gratitude or exclamation of surprise has since become archaic (case in point: the only examples in literature I could find, including the one above, were from stories set in the Middle Ages or earlier). Notably, the word also functions as a noun meaning “thanks” (also archaic), and can be written in the plural form “gramercies”. If you write historical fiction with characters who often need to express thanks or sudden strong feelings, “gramercy” may be an excellent word to work into your stories!

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

Word of the Week: Apoplectic

Word: apoplectic

Pronunciation: a-pə-PLEK-tik

Part of Speech: adjective

Definition: overcome with anger; extremely indignant

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Remember that trending word from Merriam-Webster that I shared last week? Well, here’s the second word that was trending that week! This one comes from a Vanity Fair article published on November 1, which sparked a 38,000% increase in searches for today’s word after it was included in the article’s headline. Given the subject matter of the article, it’s easy to see why the author would opt for this word; when “furious” and “enraged” just aren’t enough to sum up someone’s anger, you can easily describe them as “apoplectic”!

To be “apoplectic” is to be extremely indignant or overcome with anger. The word arose in the early 17th century and traces back through the French adjective apoplectique and the Latin adjective apoplecticus to the Greek adjective apoplēktikós, meaning “stupefied” or “confused”. This adjective stems from the verb apoplēssein “disable with a stroke”, which in turn comprises two roots: the prefix apo “off” and the verb plḗssō “to strike”.

Before it fell into more general use, the word “apoplectic” was originally a medical term meaning “relating to or denoting apoplexy”, where “apoplexy” is defined as “unconsciousness or incapacity resulting from a cerebral hemorrhage or stroke”. Notably, the noun “apoplexy” has since gained an informal sub-definition related to the adjective form: “incapacity or speechlessness caused by extreme anger”. If your characters often get angry to the point of explosion, “apoplectic” may be an excellent word to include in your stories!

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

Word of the Week: Epistemic

Word: epistemic

Pronunciation: e-pə-STE-mik / e-pə-STEE-mik

Part of Speech: adjective

Definition: relating to knowledge or to the degree of its validation

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


So funny story: I originally had a different Word of the Week planned for today, but when I looked it up on Merriam-Webster for research, I noticed today’s vocabulary word ranked first among the trending words at the top of the page and knew I had to jump on it. According to the dictionary’s website, searches for this word rose over 16,000% following the publication of a Vox article that used it in its headline. After reading the article, I can see why this word would suddenly become so relevant today: America does in fact seem to be suffering an “epistemic” crisis!

Something described as “epistemic” is related to knowledge or to the degree of validation of that knowledge. The word arose in the 1920s and comes from the Greek noun epistēmē, meaning “science” or “knowledge”. This noun in turn derives from the verb epístamai, which means “to know”.

The word “epistemic” may sound familiar to those who know about “epistemology“, the branch of philosophy that studies the theory of knowledge and how it relates to concepts like truth, justification, and belief. Note that there’s a difference between “epistemic” and “epistemological”: the former refers specifically to knowledge itself while the latter refers to the study of knowledge. If your stories deal with themes of knowledge and the difference between truth and opinion, “epistemic” is a great word to add to your vocabulary!

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

Word of the Week: Minatory

Word: minatory

Pronunciation: MI-nə-toh-ree / MY-nə-toh-ree

Part of Speech: adjective

Definition: expressing or conveying a threat

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


It’s Halloween tomorrow, so why not have some fun learning a new vocabulary word for the occasion? I came across this one after researching synonyms for “sinister” this week, and while I do think last year’s word was more fitting for Halloween, this year’s word is considerably more versatile in fiction. “Macabre” may be an excellent word for horror and Halloween-themed stories, but “minatory” can describe the threatening actions in all types of plots!

“Minatory” describes an action that conveys or expresses a threat. The word arose in the mid 16th century and comes from the Latin adjective minatorius, meaning “threatening”. This adjective derives from the verb minari, which means “to threaten”.

While “minatory” can describe any threatening action, note that Oxford Dictionaries labels it as a formal word, so you may want to limit its use to more proper contexts. Also notable is this word’s relation to the adjective “minacious“, which shares its Latin root and means “menacing” or “threatening”. If your characters tend to threaten each other, you may have fun writing about their “minatory” actions!

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

Word of the Week: Mercurial

Word: mercurial

Pronunciation: mər-KYOO-ree-əl

Part of Speech: adjective

Definition: subject to sudden or unpredictable changes of mood or mind

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Here’s another word I learned from the Elevate – Brain Training app. Like other words featured in past Word of the Week entries, I picked this one up from the Pronunciation game, though I found it so interesting after reading it that I knew I had to look it up. Interestingly, I realized I had just learned a new word that I could use to describe myself; I’ve gone through so many changes of mind and mood in my life that I could easily be considered “mercurial”!

A “mercurial” person is someone who’s prone to unpredictable or sudden changes of mind or mood. The word arose in late Middle English in the sense “of the planet Mercury” and comes from the Latin adjective mercurialis, meaning “relating to the god Mercury”. This adjective stems from the proper noun Mercurius, the Latin name of the Roman god Mercury. The current definition dates from the mid 17th century.

As its Latin root suggests, aside from its main definition, the word “mercurial” also relates to Mercury, both in the sense “of or containing the element mercury” and the sense “of the planet Mercury” (this latter case should be capitalized because it refers to a proper noun). The word can also function as a noun to mean “a drug or other compound containing mercury”. Note that as a synonym for “volatile” and “temperamental”, “mercurial” should be used in a negative sense. If your characters are constantly changing their minds (or if you write about any of the different “Mercuries”), “mercurial” could be a great word to include in your stories!

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

Word of the Week: Cabal

Word: cabal

Pronunciation: kə-BAHL / kə-BAL

Part of Speech: noun

Definition: a secret political clique or faction

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Continuing from last week’s vocabulary post, here’s another new word I learned from playing Destiny 2. The story campaign of the game centers around an attack on humanity by a hostile alien army, led by a warlord whose goal is to steal the “Traveler’s Light”, a gift of enlightenment to the human race, and keep it for himself. Given the tightly knit organization of its army, the political motives that drive its leader’s actions, and the negative connotation of the word itself, I’d say “Cabal” was an appropriate choice of name for this alien race!

A “cabal” is a secret political faction or clique. The word arose in the late 16th century and traces back through the French noun cabale to the Latin noun cabala. This noun derives from the Hebrew noun kabala, meaning “something received” or “tradition”.

According to Wikipedia, a more complete definition of “cabal” is “a group of people united in some close design together, usually to promote their private views or interests in an ideology, state, or other community, often by intrigue, usually unbeknown to persons outside their group”. The word originates from the name Kabbalah (one of several different spellings of the word), which refers to the Jewish mystical interpretation of Hebrew scripture. Today, the word carries a heavy negative connotation of secretiveness and insidious influence, and is frequently associated with conspiracy theories. If your characters are part of a secret group with shady political goals, you might have fun writing about the “cabal” in your stories!

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

Word of the Week: Philomath

Word: philomath

Pronunciation: FI-lə-math

Part of Speech: noun

Definition: a lover of learning; a student or scholar, especially of mathematics, natural philosophy, etc.

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Here’s an interesting word that I’ve recently picked up from two very different sources: the productivity app Habitica and the sci-fi action role-playing game Destiny 2. The Habitica blog mentioned today’s Word of the Week in a post featuring guilds dedicated to learning and studying, while Destiny 2 uses it in the name of one of its Warlock armor sets (Warlocks in this world being akin to scholars). Of course, regardless of whether I read it in a blog post or a video game, I know I can easily identify with this word; my whole life, I’ve always been a “philomath”!

A “philomath” is someone who loves to learn, especially such academic subjects as philosophy and mathematics. The word arose in the early 17th century and comes from the Greek noun philomathḗs, meaning “fond of learning”. This noun comprises two roots: the adjective phílos “loving” and the verb manthánō “to learn”.

The word “philomath” is considered a historical term and has an interesting background as a pseudonym: King James VI and I created the character Philomathes to represent one side of a philosophical dialogue in his dissertation Daemonologie, while Benjamin Franklin used Philomath os one of his many pen names. According to Oxford Dictionaries, this word was once used specifically as a term for an astrologer or prognosticator, but this definition has since become obsolete. Note that “philomath” should not be confused with “philosophy”, as the former refers to learning while the latter refers to wisdom. If your characters love to learn, you can have plenty of fun writing about a “philomath” or two in your stories!

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

About J.C. Wolfe

J.C. Wolfe is a fiction writer, biologist, and aspiring novelist of science fantasy and romance. A natural-born American and graduate in Marine Ecology from a university in Brazil, J.C. now writes for a living in California while spending free time blogging and penning stories and poetry.

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