If your skill with words isn't up to scratch, you may find yourself sidelined or ignored at work and elsewhere. You create an impression with what you write, and a weak or incorrect vocabulary is a serious liability.
Awesome Vocabulary offers a painless way to build an exceptional vocabulary. Readers will discover comprehensive, useful lists of words and exercises focused on improving word choices. They'll also learn:
- Tricks to reveal the meaning of new words
- Memory devices to help distinguish between similar words
- The difference between using words to impress and using words that make their meanings clear
- Examples of writing—correct and incorrect, attractive and unlovely, persuasive and off-putting—that clearly show the right stuff and how to amend the wrong stuff
- The secret to "balanced prose": the Rule of Three
- Avoiding repetition and redundancy
- The proper vocabulary for the proper occasion: business letters, e-mails, and casual conversation
About the Author
Becky Burckmyer has been a professional writing coach, seminar leader, writer, and copy and developmental editor for more than 20 years. Her consulting clients have included John Hancock Insurance and Financial Services, the National Association of Independent Schools, BankBoston, Fleet Bank, Eastern Bank, MetLife, and Fidelity Investments. Her writing credits include a book on business writing, Why Does My Boss Hate My Writing? published by Barnes and Noble, and numerous articles in newsletters and trade periodicals. She lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts.
Sage Stossel is the cartoonist for Copy Editor. On Election Day in 1996, The Atlantic Online launched a weekly editorial cartoon feature drawn by Sage Stossel and named (aptly enough) "Sage, Ink." Since then, Stossel's whimsical work has been featured by the New York Times Week in Review, CNN Headline News, Cartoon Arts International/the New York Times Syndicate, and the Boston Globe. Her work is also included in Best Editorial Cartoons of the Year, (2005 and 2006) and Attack of the Political Cartoonists.
Read an Excerpt
WordSet I: River Denizens CauseOur Hero Profound Exasperation
Charlie had been fishing in Six Rocks River for four hours without a single bite. He was, consequently, tired, hot, and frustrated. He'd dedicated a vacation day to this enterprise and spent some serious money on new equipment: hip waders, a rod and reel, and a dazzling array of flies guaranteed to seduce the most reluctant trout. It was his first day with all the new toys, and the fish had eluded him. Maybe it was time to quit.
He uttered a profound sign and clambered up onto the river bank. All at once, for the first time that day, the water came alive with flipping fins and thrashing tails. Charlie was flabbergasted. "You'd think they were mocking me!" he cried in exasperation. He walked a few steps on the path that led to his truck, then stopped. "I'm not leaving yet. I can't let them get away with that." The afternoon was young, the sky azure, and gentle zephyrs ruffled the treetops. Was there anywhere else he'd rather be? he asked himself rhetorically.
He stepped back to the river, slid down the bank, and recommenced his fishing. Of course, there was now no sign of the fish, but at least he knew he was in a good spot. Time passed, and Charlie began to believe his bad luck was holding steady. He decided to give the denizens of the river one last chance. He flicked his line backward and executed a graceful cast. The fly alit on the water's surface, bobbed there for a second or two — then suddenly disappeared. He had a bite!
Charlie whipped the rod upward. He had it! Careful to maintain the tension on his line, he watched it zigzag as the fish swam frantically to and fro. It began to gyrate in wide arcs, and Charlie very gradually began to reel it in. The fish put up a gallant fight, but eventually it tired. Charlie mustered all his strength, lifted the flailing trout from the river, and scooped it into his dip net, where it floundered, gasping.
The fish was a beauty, 5 pounds at a minimum, with iridescent scales in hues of pale pink and blue, and stippled with gray in rows along its sides. Charlie hunkered down on the river bank to view it, mute with admiration. Such a catch made all the effort and expenditures worthwhile.
He remembered his father's admonition: "Never keep more than you need." Extracting his cell phone from his pants pocket under the hip waders, he called Marcy. "Hey, sweetie. I'm bringing home a 5-pounder! See if the Welches can come over. I'll stop for corn and a blueberry pie at the farm stand."
Expertly, Charlie gutted the trout and scraped the shining scales away. With his knife he worked to excise the fish's backbone. A generous trout filet from each side rewarded his efforts. He wrapped them in newspaper and placed them lovingly in his cooler. Humming to himself, he assembled his gear and strode up the trail to his Ford pickup. A venture that had seemed doomed to failure had been transformed into a resounding success — and he deserved full credit for the metamorphosis!
Charlie's Words, 1st Third
consequently (CON·suh·kwent'·lee) As a result. I spent all my money — consequently, I am broke. Compare subsequently, which means next. They went to France and subsequently rented a house in Spain. With consequently, there's a cause and effect relationship: I spent the money, therefore I'm penniless. With subsequently, one thing simply follows another. Consequently has a noun form as well: As a consequence, I am broke. And an adjective form, consequent, meaning resultant, happening because of: His illness and consequent retirement affected the company greatly.
array (uh·RAY) A collection or assortment, often an impressive variety. Charlie has a variety of new flies with which he hopes to catch fish. You can have an array of almost anything, from an array of recipes in your cooking file to an array of new Hondas at the sales lot. The word carries a picture of a beautiful layout, perhaps designed purposely to attract or fascinate: an array of colorful scarves on the counter.
seduce (seh·DOOCE, seh·DYEWCE) To lure or attract, usually with the purpose of entrapping; also, to lead astray. That's exactly what Charlie's array, above, is meant to do. Specifically, the word usually means the sort of thing sexpots do, and it's used figuratively here to describe Charlie's effort to reel in a trout; used seriously about a person, it's not really admirable (unless it's your ambition to be a sexpot).
reluctant (rih·LUK·tent) Unwilling; not wanting to cooperate. You might say you're reluctant to get in the middle of a fight between a husband and wife, for example. And the trout are definitely reluctant to take Charlie's bait, despite his seductive array of flies.
elude (ih·LOOD) To avoid or evade; to get away from. The trout are eluding capture; I might attempt to elude someone chasing me; figuratively, success might elude me. We apply the adjective elusive to a person or thing that keeps getting away: The Loch Ness monster (if it exists at all) is famously elusive.
uttered (UH·terd) The verb utter means to say, speak, or make a sound with one's voice. Charlie utters a sigh. You might note that someone hasn't uttered a word since she arrived, or that she uttered one or two polite sentences before she left. Interestingly, the adjective utter and adverb utterly have nothing to do with speech; they mean completely or totally: She made an utter mess of her room; John is utterly disgusted with her. Both words come from the Old English for out or outside.
profound (proe·FOUND) Deep, below the surface, intense. Often refers to emotion: My profound affection for Kathryn nearly made me weep. Dislike can be equally profound. There can be a profound gulf between my goals and my actual achievements, between my expectations and reality. Someone young and inexperienced may exhibit profound naivete. Charlie's sigh comes from deep inside.
clambered (KLAM·burd) The verb to clamber means to climb with effort and probably ungracefully. In other words, if I'm clambering, I probably don't look so great. And it's pretty hard work. One clambers over big rocks, or up into a tree that doesn't have a lot of handy branches. A fireman might clamber down his ladder with someone he's rescued slung over his shoulder. Not surprisingly, clambering up the riverbank isn't very graceful.
thrashing (THRASH·ing) To thrash is to stir or move about wildly; the fish are really putting on a show. The verb can also mean to beat, as with a stick; you can thrash (or thresh) grain or you can thrash a schoolboy (that's probably a sense stuck in the 19th century. We don't do much of that kind of thrashing any more, which is probably too bad, because some people — well, never mind).
flabbergasted (FLAB·err·gast'·ed) If you are flabbergasted, you're stunned, shocked, amazed, dumfounded, and taken by surprise. Whatever's coming down, you weren't expecting it. It's a strong word, meaning that you are truly overcome with astonishment: I'd be flabbergasted if they told me Madonna had run a marathon in 2:20, but I probably wouldn't be flabbergasted by a friend's unexpected arrival.
exasperation (egg·zass'·puh·RAY·shun) Annoyance, anger, or state of just being fed up. It's a useful verb also: If you're exasperated, you're at the end of your rope with who- or whatever. The kids exasperate you when they keep sticking their feet out the car window. Charlie's just about had it with these fish.
zephyrs (ZEH·furz) This word comes to us from Zephyros, the Greek god of the west wind, and it means a wind out of the west, typically (at least to the Greeks) a gentle wind. By extension, a zephyr is a soft breeze from any quarter, the kind that's always caressing the cheek of a heroine in a governess novel. You know the kind. Or not, if you're a guy. Was that sexist? The world is now safe for guys to read governess novels.
rhetorically (reh·TORR·ih·kull·ee) Rhetoric (RETT·err·ik) used to be a school subject, like math or English, concerned with effective public speaking. Rhetoric can also mean empty or insincere talk. I love Webster's definition of rhetorically: "asked merely for effect with no answer expected." If I ask rhetorically, "Is there no level to which my opponent will not stoop?" I don't expect anyone to answer yes or no: I'm simply making the point that the person is a slimeball.
PRACTICING CHARLIE'S WORDS, 1ST THIRD
The words for the first third of Charlie's story are:
A. Match the following list of adjectives with their correct definitions in the right-hand column:
1. flabbergasted a. intense, deep
2. utter b. total, complete
3. reluctant c. astounded
4. profound d. unwilling, not wishing to
B. Fill in the blanks with the correct list words:
1. I've put on my prettiest dress and drenched myself with perfume. I am trying to _________ the new man in my life.
2. I've worked hard all my life, but success always seems to _________ me.
3. I demanded _______, "With a friend like you, who needs enemies?"
4. My attempts to improve the unpleasant child's manners ended in ________.
5. I had no breakfast and was _______ starving when lunchtime arrived.
6. The fashion house's beautiful models showed off a dazzling ________ of formal wear.
7. The prevailing winds in Patagonia are surely not _______.
C. If I clamber up a cliff, I probably look __________.
1. graceful 3. awkward
2. busy 4. dignified
D. An antonym is the opposite of a word. Choose the word that's the closest antonym for thrashing.
E. Complete the following story with list words.
Although I was (unwilling) to (climb) up the tree, it seemed the best way to (avoid) capture. My pursuers were angry, and I (as a result) was feeling (deep) discomfort. "How did I get into this mess?" I asked (without expecting a reply). In my (complete) (frustration) I began (flailing wildly) around in the tree. I heard a noise below and looked down to see an (assortment, group) of childish faces gazing up, (astounded). "Come on down, Mister," said a little boy. "Those people have given up and left. You're safe now!"
A. 1. c; 2. b; 3. d; 4. a
B. 1. seduce; 2. elude; 3. rhetorically; 4. exasperation; 5. consequently; 6. array; 7. zephyrs
E. reluctant; clamber; elude; consequently; profound; rhetorically; utter; exasperation; thrashing; array; astounded
inveigle (in·VAY·gl) To win over by flattering, coaxing, or artful conversation. She inveigled me into offering her the nanny position despite her poor references. This word comes to us from Latin (ab + oculus) and French (aveugle), both meaning blind. In other words, someone who is inveigled has turned a blind eye.
Charlie's Words, 2nd Third
denizens (DEN·ih·zens) Residents; inhabitants; those who live in a certain place. The word can also mean someone who just hangs out, a regular: the denizens of Maggie's Pool Parlor, for instance. The word comes from Latin de, from, and intus, within — hence, a person from within. It's a more colorful word than residents or inhabitants, and as such deserves to be used.
executed (EX·ih·kyoot'·ed) To execute means to do, fulfill, or perform: It's what executives do. Also ballerinas: She executed a brilliant grand jeté. It's a good word that can impart a glow of sophistication to your prose. If you knew it up until now as only as a word for killing a criminal, good: Your horizons are expanding.
alit (uh·LITT) To alight is to descend or land. The plane alit on the runway. You can also say the plane alighted — either's correct. Birds alight on telephone wires. Airborne seeds alight far from the original plant. The word has a sense of, well, lightness and gracefulness, like a dragonfly. You wouldn't say a hippopotamus swam over and alit on the island: The critter is too clumsy and heavy.
maintain (mane·TANE) To continue, keep up. I usually maintain a steady speed of 65 mph on the highway. You can also maintain a car, in the sense of keeping it in good running order; and you can maintain a position in a discussion or argument: Sally maintained that Justin had only been trying to help when he upset the milk. Charlie maintains a tight line to keep the fish from working the hook out of its mouth.
tension (TENN·shun) State of being tight, in an actual or figurative sense. Charlie keeps his line tight; tension is also the feeling of tightness you get in times of emotional strain. And you can use the word to mean friction between people: There's a lot of tension within Brad's family over the will.
frantically (FRANN·tih·kull·ee) In a frenzy, desperately, in a frantic manner, frantic meaning half-crazy with emotion, usually negative emotion. I searched frantically for my missing wallet. The fish, fighting for its life, is understandably moving in a mood of wildly negative emotion.
gyrate (JYE·rate') To revolve, to turn in circles. The fish is literally swimming in circles. The word can be used figuratively: I studied for the math exam so hard that numbers gyrated in front of my eyes all night. The prefix gyro- means spinning. This prefix also helps compose the word gyroscope: You may have owned or seen a toy gyroscope, which sits on a base and spins at improbable angles.
arcs (ARKS) An arc is a segment of a circle, such as a rainbow or an eyebrow. Charlie's fish is attempting to escape by swimming back and forth, describing arcs in the water. If you're a good skater, you can carve arcs on the ice. The word comes from the Latin arcus, meaning bow, as in bow and arrow. Interestingly, its homonym, ark, comes from a different root entirely. Ark, meaning a large, heavy boat, comes from the Latin word arca, which means chest or heavy box.
gallant (GA·lunt) Brave; extra courteous, especially to women. I notice that people use the word gallant to mean brave when the outcome isn't going to be good: She put up a gallant fight against cancer, for example, may be written in an obituary. And Sir Walter Raleigh was gallant when he spread his cloak over the puddle to spare Queen Elizabeth I's shoes, despite the fact that the outcome for the cloak was dim.
eventually (ee·VEN·choo·al·ee) At some time in the future; finally. In this case, we're talking finally: The fish at last gets tired. You may defer going to college, but eventually you'll get there. The adjective is eventual: The biography never mentions his eventual marriage to Selena.
mustered (MUSS·ter) To muster means, among other things, to gather or collect, to bring to bear. I needed to muster all my resources to deal with Esther. Charlie brings all his strength to bear on the project of landing the trout. The word can also mean to assemble or gather together, as troops: We mustered as many volunteers as possible for the bikeathon. If you're discharged from the military, you muster out. Oddly, a flock of peacocks is called a muster.
flailing (FLALE·ing) To flail means to move around violently or erratically, to lash out. See thrashing, page 12; the two words share an element of meaning. Charlie's fish is twisting and writhing in its effort to escape. I flailed away with the swatter in an effort to scare away the flies. Flail can also mean to beat or strike: I flailed the water in my effort to stay afloat. And flail is a noun: A flail is an old tool for separating grain from stalks.
iridescent (ihr'·rih·DESS·nt) Colored like the rainbow. In Greek mythology, Iris was the goddess of the rainbow. Her name will remind you not to double the r. Oil can leave iridescent pools; mother-of-pearl is iridescent. The trout's scales are of rainbow colors.
PRACTICING CHARLIE'S WORDS, 2ND THIRD
The words for the second third of Charlie's story are:
A. Synonyms are words with the same or nearly the same meaning. Which list word is the closest synonym for spin?
B. Which sentence uses the word gallant correctly?
1. I didn't like the gallant fishing gear he brought with him: It was out of date.
2. He sent a gallant e-mail telling me he could no longer stand my nagging.
3. Your gallant response, that I might call you at midnight if necessary, meant a lot to me.
4. The river looks especially gallant today with the sun glittering on its surface.
C. Fill in the blanks with the correct list words: 1. The Common with its bandstand was beautiful, a special place to the _________ of the town.
2. I don't know how you think I can _______ a decent standard of living on this salary.
3. The golden eagle was making great swooping _______ in the sky above the terrified rabbit.
4. I signaled __________ to the train to stop, but the engineer didn't respond.
5. The skier proceeded to _________ a series of incredibly tight turns.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Awesome Vocabulary"
Copyright © 2009 Becky Burckmyer.
Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 - WordSet I: River Denizens Cause Our Hero Profound Exasperation,
Chapter 2 - The Right Word: Write Quite Right, Not Almost Right,
Chapter 3 - WordSet II: In Visceral, Excruciating Pain, Debra Has Paramount ...,
Chapter 4 - Oops! Words That Don't Mean What You Think,
Chapter 5 - WordSet III: Jim's Lingering on the Verge of a Subconscious Disinclination,
Chapter 6 - Homonyms: They're, Their, Don't Fret!,
Chapter 7 - WordSet IV: Carol Wistfully Views Modish, Self-Assured New Yorkers,
Chapter 8 - A Strategem for Learning the Meanings of New Words: Prefixes, ...,
Chapter 9 - WordSet V: Tumultuous Rapture: Lawrence Is Infatuated With a ...,
Chapter 10 - Foreign Words and Phrases: Understand Them! Use Them!,
Chapter 11 - WordSet VI: Bibliophile Jean's Book Perusal Reveals Repressed Trauma,
Chapter 12 - Superlative Synonyms for So-So Syllables,
Chapter 13 - WordSet VII: Thunderstruck and Vulnerable, Robert Seeks to ...,
Chapter 14 - Bad or Nonexistent Words: Avoid Them at All Costs,
Chapter 15 - WordSet VIII: Massive Dissonance Prompts Daphne to Persevere Undeterred,
Chapter 16 - Still More Words You Should Know,
Appendix: Your New Vocabulary,
About the Author,