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Word of the Week: Orwellian

Word: Orwellian

Pronunciation: or-WEL-ee-ən

Part of Speech: adjective

Definition: characteristic of the writings of George Orwell, especially with reference to his dystopian account of a future totalitarian state in Nineteen Eighty-Four

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Speaking of constructed languages like Newspeak, here’s another modern word you’ve likely heard before. Though I’ve been familiar with today’s Word of the Week for years, it was only after finally reading 1984 last year that I truly began to appreciate how relevant it’s become to modern times. Despite George Orwell’s warnings, it seems we’ve become an “Orwellian” society after all!

In a nutshell, “Orwellian” describes anything characteristic of George Orwell‘s writing. Most dictionary definitions of this word specify the dystopia and totalitarian state depicted in the author’s most famous novel, 1984. In a broader sense, according to Wikipedia, this adjective describes “a situation, idea, or societal condition that George Orwell identified as being destructive to the welfare of a free and open society.”

Although dictionary definitions generally imply the word is synonymous with “authoritarian” or “totalitarian”, “Orwellian” is a little more complex than that. Instead of launching into a twenty-page essay, though, I’ll simply refer you to the TED-Ed video below; it’ll tell you everything you need to know about this word. Note that because this adjective derives from a name, it should always be capitalized. If you write dystopian stories that challenge the ideals of a free and open society, “Orwellian” is a good word to keep on your list!

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

Word of the Week: Conlang

Word: conlang

Pronunciation: KAHN-lang

Part of Speech: noun

Definition: a language that has been artificially created; a constructed language

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Here’s a new word I picked up from Oxford Dictionaries‘ Word of the Day segment. This one is an interesting case of a modern word created to fit a definition that’s existed for centuries. There are a handful of terms for artificial languages, but today you may know them best by the name “conlang”!

A “conlang” is a language that has been created artificially. The word arose in the 1990s with the creation of the Conlang Mailing List. This noun is short for “constructed language”, defined by Oxford Dictionaries as “a language, such as Esperanto, that has been artificially created rather than having evolved naturally through use”.

Conlangs” generally fall under one of three subcategories: engelangs (engineered languages) are used to experiment in logic, philosophy, or linguistics; auxlangs (auxiliary languages) are used to facilitate international communication; and artlangs (artistic languages) are “just for fun”, created for aesthetic pleasure or humorous effect. Some well-known examples of “conlangs” include:

  • Esperanto, an auxlang with over two million speakers worldwide;
  • Newspeak, the language of the fictional state of Oceania in George Orwell’s 1984;
  • Klingon, a fictional language from the Star Trek universe; and
  • Dothraki, a fictional language created for the Game of Thrones TV series based on George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series.

A notable derivative of the word “conlang” is the noun “conlanger”, meaning “a person who creates an artificial language”. You may not use the word itself in your writing, but if you write fantasy epics or other complex stories, a “conlang” or two may be a good addition to your fiction!

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

Word of the Week: Hiemal

Word: hiemal

Pronunciation: HY-ə-məl

Part of Speech: adjective

Definition: of, characteristic of, or occurring in winter

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Here’s a word I’ve had sitting in my vocabulary queue for a while. I first learned today’s Word of the Week about five months ago while watching my boyfriend play No Man’s Sky, where it appeared in a scan description for a planet that turned out to be covered in snow. Though I made a note of it right away, I decided to save the word for a time when it would be more relevant. Think of January and you probably picture snow and ice everywhere (at least if you live in the Northern Hemisphere), right? It’s the most “hiemal” time of year!

“Hiemal” refers to winter or anything characteristic of the season. The word arose in the mid 16th century and comes from the Latin adjective hiemalis, meaning “pertaining to winter”. This adjective derives from the noun hiems, which means “winter”.

It’s worth noting that Oxford Dictionaries characterizes the word “hiemal” as rare; it’s so obscure, in fact, that the spell check on my computer (which uses American English) doesn’t even recognize it as a word! In my opinion, “hiemal” probably works best in poetry about winter, though it likely still works well in prose as a poetic synonym for “wintry”. If you like writing stories or poetry with a winter theme, “hiemal” may be a good word to include in your vocabulary!

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

Word of the Week: Jocund

Word: jocund

Pronunciation: JAH-kənd / JOH-kənd

Part of Speech: adjective

Definition: cheerful and lighthearted

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day / Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops. / I must be gone and live, or stay and die.
– Romeo Montague, Romeo & Juliet (3.5.9–11)

Happy New Year! It’s the first day of 2018, so let’s start the year with one more joyful word! This one is a little more formal—okay, a lot more formal—than the last two I wrote about, but it still works as a synonym for “cheerful”. Even if you don’t normally use formal vocabulary, you may still get some use out of this word; where words like “mirth” and “ebullient” fall short, “jocund” may be a more interesting choice!

Anything or anyone described as “jocund” is lighthearted and cheerful. The word arose in late Middle English and comes from the Latin adjective jocundus, meaning “pleasant”. This adjective, a variant of jucundus, was influenced by the noun jocus “joke” and stems from the verb juvare, which means “to delight”.

In case you’re wondering about the above excerpt from Romeo & Juliet, the word “jocund” is being used to create a literary contrast: although morning is typically a pleasant time of day, it brings tragedy to the star-crossed lovers because it means they have to separate. While it seems limited to formal contexts, I’d say the word works well to capture the lighthearted mood in a historical setting, while you may prefer a similar adjective like “jocular” for more modern writing. If your characters are the cheerful and spirited type (and you’ve overused every other adjective to describe them), “jocund” may be a good word to consider for your stories!

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

Word of the Week: Ebullient

Word: ebullient

Pronunciation: i-BƏL-yənt

Part of Speech: adjective

Definition: cheerful and full of energy

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


Merry Christmas! It’s the last Word of the Week of 2017, and since it also happens to be a festive holiday, I figured it would be fun to end this year’s vocabulary segment with a joyful word! There are plenty of synonyms for “cheerful”, but this one recently jumped out at me for how “bubbly” it sounds. I’d definitely save this one for my most energetic characters; there’s “cheery” and “jolly”, and then there’s “ebullient”!

To be “ebullient” is to be cheerful and full of energy. The word arose in the late 16th century in the sense “boiling” and comes from the Latin verb ebullire, meaning “to boil up”. This verb comprises two roots: the preposition ex “out” and the verb bullire “to bubble”.

Before its common definition arose, “ebullient” used to be a more literal term meaning “boiling or agitated as if boiling”, though this sense has since become archaic and literary. Similar to last week’s vocabulary word, “ebullient” falls on the upper end of the “happiness” spectrum in that it implies a highly energetic level of joy. As a synonym for “bubbly” (both figuratively and literally), it’s very similar to “effervescent“, a word I wrote about three years ago, so feel free to use these adjectives interchangeably. If your characters are usually energetic and enthusiastic, you may have fun writing about their “ebullient” personalities!

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

Word of the Week: Mirth

Word: mirth

Pronunciation: mərth

Part of Speech: noun

Definition: amusement, especially as expressed in laughter

Source: Oxford Dictionaries


The holiday season is in full swing once again, so what better vocabulary word to learn today than one related to joy? As fiction writers, we should always be equipped with a full arsenal of emotional words, but when our stories are set in happy times with plenty of amusement to go around, words like “laughter” and “cheerful” can become overused. It never hurts to know more positive and simple vocabulary, so instead of having your characters “laugh with joy” or “giggle with amusement”, why not sum up their excitement with a word like “mirth”?

“Mirth” is an expression of amusement, especially through laughter. The word comes from the Old English noun myrgth “mirth” and is Germanic in origin. This noun derives from the adjective mirige, meaning “pleasant” or “enjoyable”.

The word “mirth” shares its origin with the word “merry”, which also derives from the Old English adjective mirige. On the happiness spectrum, “mirth” generally refers to joy or amusement as expressed through laughter, as does its adjective form “mirthful”, so these may be good substitutes to turn to if you find yourself overusing the verb “laugh” and its synonyms. If you write jolly characters who often express their amusement out loud, “mirth” is 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: 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?

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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