Is My Vocabulary Really This Bad?

I finally got around to reading Catch-22, a book that is on many lists of the best American novels of all-time.

I thought the book was just OK; I often found it hard to keep up with when various events were taking place, as it seemed to go back and forth in time. I did feel as if I were reading the book that must have formed the basis for the TV show M*A*S*H, with Hawkeye playing the role of Yossarian.

What I noticed while reading the book is how often I would come across a word that I was not quite sure what it meant. The beauty of reading a book on a Kindle is that you can immediately look up a word you don’t know. As I found myself doing this quite frequently, I decided to start keeping a list of all the worlds I had to look up. I didn’t begin this until about Chapter 11, so my list is probably missing about 20-25% of the potential words.

I often wonder if writers just have a better command of the language than most people, or if they spend time researching trying to find the best word possible to express exactly what they are trying to say.

I also wonder if writers just assume that people know the definition of every word they use, of if they purposely throw in some challenging words to show off their superior mastery of the language.

Maybe it’s because I apparently don’t have such mastery of the language, but I think it’s much better to use words that just about everyone will know. I find little benefit in trying to show off how many esoteric (like how I snuck in such a fancy word) words you may know, if no one knows what you are talking about.

That’s why you likely won’t find many challenging words in my blog posts because: 1) I don’t know that many; and 2) even if I did, I’d prefer to keep it simple.

What I also noticed is how short-term my memory was for these words. For example, I clearly remember coming across the word “phlegmatic”, and looking up its meaning. Thirty minutes later the word came up again, and I had completely forgotten what it meant (having an unemotional and stolidly calm disposition).

Below is the list of words that I looked up while reading Catch-22 (there are over 50 words), and as I look at them now, most (if not all) of the words I forget what they mean. Some of these are what are referred to as “bubble words” – words you almost know, sometimes use, but are secretly unsure of.

And so without further ado, here is the list of words I did not know. I am not providing the definitions of the words (maybe in a future post); if you are curious enough, you can always look up what it means, like I did.

sibilant
leonine
musette
vexatious
obsequious*
insensate
dolorously
cloying
diaphanous
mellifluously
asceticism
lachrymose
sententiously
iniquitous
craven
ineradicable
partruient
crepuscular
afflatus
effulgently
pomaded
concupiscent
rubicund
cataleptic
otiose
torpid
phlegmatic
iniquitous
strafe
stentorian
querulous
logy
fustian
perfunctorily*
keening
censorious
parturition
sedulously
mucid
taciturn*
sterturios
sibilance
turgid
apothegm
peroration
callipygous
pullulate
puerile
phlegmatic (there it is again!)
obstreperous*
insensate
dulcet
insouciant
petulantly*

  • my bubble words

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