Wednesday, September 29, 2010

WNW: Top Words for HS Grads, #11-20

Back in June I posted the first 10 of 100 words that Houghton Mifflin says every high school graduate should know. I still find many of them odd choices.

Today we're looking at the second set, numbers 11-20.

How many do you know well enough to use in a sentence? Use in a blog post this week? In a comment? How many do you think are bizarre to be listed on the top 100?


chromosome
Now that the human genome has been mapped and everything from the new Spider-Man series of movies to sci-fi novels talk about DNA, this one makes some sense. I suppose most grads would know this one simply because of the culture we live in or at least have some concept that it deals with genetics.

churlish
Hmm. Why would modern high-school grads need to know this one? It's not like they're going to be visiting Pemberley any time soon.

circumlocution
I'm most familiar with the second definition: avoiding a topic, evading it through speech. The other definition: essentially using a bunch of words when just a few will do. I think I learned this one as a high-school junior in my honors English class, along with its friend, meander. Not sure how many grads who aren't word nerds would know it or care that they don't.

circumnavigate
Yeah. This one is critical for grads to know, being as we're still looking for explorers to prove that the world isn't flat and all . . .

deciduous
Assuming they passed basic biology, most grads would know this one, I guess. But really? Why does a type of tree rank in the top 100 of important words to know? It's not something used in typical conversations by literate people around the water cooler. It doesn't show up in the news and hardly ever in literature. Another head scratcher.

diffident
"Lacking in self-confidence or self-trust, hesitant in acting or speaking." Frankly, I think this one's a bit flowery of a word for an 18-year-old to be using. I'm trying to picture my recently graduated nephew using it. Mmm, not working. (Then again, he was on the state championship football team. He wouldn't be diffident, let alone use the word. By the way, he just got his mission call. Yay, Scott!)

enervate
"To weaken or impair the strength of." That's assuming they mean the verb form, not the adjective. (Also, assuming they don't mean the definition hailing from 1638, something a bit more gruesome: "to cut the tendons of." Ick.) I'm betting a good number of college grads don't know this one.

enfranchise
This one's practically Dilbert-ese because it's used so much in corporate settings. Often the negative is used: disenfranchise. But I'm still guessing that most grads don't really know that it can refer to gaining freedoms or advantages as a human being even from slavery.

epiphany
I love this word. I hope most grads know this one. It's not only pretty as a word (yes, yes, I know I'm a nerd), but the concept is awesome, especially for writers.

We live for epiphanies.

17 comments:

A. Grey said...

Hmmm those are definitely some strange choices, in my opinion.

I know that I've gotten called by beta readers for using both churlish and diffident in my YA books. The betas themselves had to look those words up and thought that YA-aged readers would either not know the meanings, or would have the wrong meanings attached to them.

I got called on enervate too, actually. I used it to describe how an assassin had maimed someone... I plead being the daughter of a funeral director for even knowing that word...

Annette Lyon said...

A. Grey, I know weird word stuff because I'm the child of a linguist.

I'm betting you know all KINDS of cool stuff based on your upbringing! (I didn't know that definition of "enervate" until I looked it up. I'm betting you used it in a cool story.)

Raejean said...

I knew some of those words. Epiphany is definitely the best word on the the list!

T said...

now I want to read A. Grey's stuff... I think authors do kids a favor when they pop in unfamiliar (but useful) words - a little vocabulary boost never killed anyone!

Jordan said...

I definitely learned churlish and diffident in HS.

LOL, I've never looked up enervate, but from context, I'd always guessed it was something along the lines of "bored to death." (Well, kinda...)

DeNae said...

I'm thinking those are words that may not be used in everyday conversation, but would likely need to be known and understood for reading anything more advanced than the McDonald's fry cook application. I could see most of those words turning up in college texts and literature assignments. Perhaps that's why they're on the list?

Sue said...

Definitely some odd word choices there.

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Melissa J. Cunningham said...

I didn't even know what some of those meant! LOL

Scott said...

Wow. I must find this book. I have a book that is like this but it's one that every college graduate should know. I learned the world churlish from the Simpsons. I think epiphany is the only word I feel completely comfortable with.

Annette Lyon said...

Scott, It's from an online article:
http://www.houghtonmifflinbooks.com/booksellers/press_release/100words/

From May 2007

Scott said...

Thanks Annette!

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wendy said...

Some of those afe word I will have to learn how to use in my own vocabulary.

Melanie Jacobson said...

The funny thing is (or maybe the sad thing), is that if the grads could actually use this word, they would probably be perceived as pompous rather than educated.

But I do like circumlocution and have found it handy several times.

Helena said...

My kindergartner knows "deciduous." (We also taught her "opaque.")

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adventuresin said...

I am way behind the times on this post, but I see these words as ones frequently misunderstood as more common words. Perhaps that is why they were chosen.

Diffident sounds like different, and my college-aged students occasionally use them interchangeably.

Enfranchise changes from a word referring to gaining the vote, to one about McDonald's and other owner-operated chain businesses.

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