Well Defined? Nevermind.

Is this heaven? No, it’s Nirvana.

Writers. We write. And our tools are words. So, while contemplating this week’s blog post, I had the brilliant idea of writing about words and their definitions, using… words and their definitions. It’s almost perfect. If by “perfect” I mean “utterly confusing and almost entirely pointless.” So, anyway, a couple years ago, The New York Times compiled a list of the 50 words most likely to stump their own readers. Amazingly, “defenestrate” was not among them (if it had been, I would have defined it as “To demonstrate a specialty fencing technique often used to remove the fins of albacore tuna”). Unhelpfully, perhaps, they neglected to include definitions. Which is where I come in. Don’t get me wrong—this being the internet which, like nature, abhors a vacuum—somebody already came along and performed this admirable service, but I’m going to go one better. I will proceed to pick 13 of the 50 words, more or less at random, and provide not one but two definitions, one of which is the correct one and one which I made up out of whole cloth for no other reason than to be extremely annoying. And if you’re just as bored as me (woah, Cobain flash), you can follow along and expose me for the consummate liar I am. And since I’m also most likely stealing this whole idea from a board game or something, I’m a liar and a thief (lookit, another Cobain flash).

1. Nascent.

a) The act of saying no to the wearing of artificial fragrance. Smells like teen spirit? Uh-uh. Not a chance when we’re being all nascent.
b) Just coming into existence and beginning to display signs of future potential.

2. Hubris.

a) Excessive pride.
b) A type of cheese rendered from human fat. Illegal in most countries.

3. Jejune.

a) While reciting the months of the year, “jejune” is the act of stammering inexplicably over the summer months (see also, “Jejuly”).
b) Naïve, simple.

4. Profligacy.

a) Reckless extravagance; wastefulness.
b) The entire body of work left by an academic.

5. Austerity.

a) Sternness or severity of manner or attitude.
b) The quality of an upside down gaze, chiefly Aus. Was coined during the 1956 Melbourne Olympics by tourists attempting to capture the peculiar way Australians stared at them and their touristy Northern Hemisphere ways.

6. Solipsistic.

a) The slightly desperate and certainly reckless act of slipping your own sister a sedative to shut her up after a long day of her pointing out how badly you suck at life.
b) The view or theory that the self is all that can be known to exist.

7. Redoubtable.

a) Formidable, esp. as an opponent.
b) Something so ludicrously implausible that you will not only doubt it, but you will return and doubt it again.

8. Obstreperous.

a) Noisy and difficult to control.
b) Behaviour typical of a gynaecologist with a throat infection.

9. Sanguine.

a) A flightless bird from Antarctica that has been officially sanctified by the Vatican.
b) Optimistic or hopeful, especially in a bad situation.

10. Egregious.

a) Outstandingly bad; shocking.
b) An online lobbying group for men named Greg.

11. Polemicist.

a) A drug store employee native to Poland.
b) A person skilled in verbal or written attacks.

12. Hegemony.

a) Leadership or dominance of one country over another.
b) The unit of currency used in small hedgehog economies.

13. Feckless.

a) Lacking initiative or strength of character.
b) The baffling inability to use profanity in the country of Ireland.

I hope this was an enjoyable exercise for you all. Personally, since puns make me physically ill, I found it excruciating, but in the last words of someone who keeps spookily hijacking my post from beyond the grave: peace, love, empathy (the latter meaning “an illness brought on by exposure to the letter ‘m'”).

Author: David Antrobus

Born in Manchester, England, author David Antrobus currently lives in British Columbia. David also edits and writes in many styles and genres, from nonfiction to dark fantasy. He worked for twenty years with abused teens. You can also find David at his blog and at his Amazon author page.

40 thoughts on “Well Defined? Nevermind.”

  1. I may know many words but I have no idea how to pronounce them all. There are many words that I've bumped up against in my reading that I 'know', recognize but never have the courage to say, or use in a sentence to someone. Profligacy is one such word. Another would have been the name "Isolde", until I looked it up and repeatedly said it aloud to anyone standing close by me. Made for some interesting bus rides.

    Next time, pronunciations, David!

      1. I did indeed see number 11…my very favourite number, especially in April, though not on Wednesdays. Of course #11 is one of the words that I can't pronounce, so again it has resulted in a headache ;(( Next week David, have a heart, eh? :))

        1. P.S. I mean of course that I can't pronounce "polemicist". "number eleven" I can definitely pronounce, though not on Sundays…never on Sundays.

  2. I knew what denoument meant when I said it in a college createwriting class. I didn't know it was a French word. Knew what it meant though.

    Funny, D. And pointless in a pleasant way. 😉 Kurt would have liked it.

  3. Giggling a little! I LOVE words!

    Numbers 1 and 2 are used in my current WIP, but I generally try to avoid the real biggies, though they do rattle around in my brain begging for release. But that's one reason all my characters are geniuses, right?

    There is some Twain quote or other that I can't remember or source at the moment that says something along the lines of, why use big words when the little ones work? I don't write literary fiction. I write to entertain and amuse so maybe that's just me. But defenestrate? Gah. Still chuckling over here. JD!

    1. Being serious for a moment, I think if you choose your moment, the more baroque words can be effective. It's hard not to use them, sometimes, they feel and sound so damn good. 🙂

      1. AGREED! I'm on both sides of the fence, here David. Love the words, love using them, just being aware that not everyone else does. Makes me sad, but not everyone can be a genius, right? LOL.

        (An hour later and I'm still giggling over this post–but that might just be the tequila and the desire to not work on formatting my uber-long WIP for ePub.)

        1. Exactly!

          And it's extremely gratifying to know that my post has provoked anything more than a groan. Even if it has been helped along by tequila.

  4. Hee hee hee…still giggling. Thank you for the laughs. Reminds me of a game my dad used to play with us…Fictionary…. One favorite was "juba," which my aunt defined as "a Jewish tuba player."

  5. Hey, I actually got all those right. But then again, you're definitions were a bit 'over the top' – just a bit. 🙂

  6. And you never gave the definition of defenestrate either- shame on you. One of my favourite stories defines the word though.In 1618 four Catholic Lords arrived in Prague to deprive the Protestant Lords of their power since the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand was Catholic, favoured Catholics and wanted to deny the Bohemians their religious freedom.The story goes that the Catholic Lords were defenestrated from a third floor window to fall 70 feet into a pile of manure. They survived the trip. Th Regents' secretary joined them in the fall and later in life was ennobled as Baron von Hohenfall which meant Baron Highfall. Someone at least had a sense of humour back then.

    1. Oh, the actual definition? For the record:



      verb (used with object), de·fen·es·trat·ed, de·fen·es·trat·ing.

      to throw (a person or thing) out of a window.

      But I like your story much better.

  7. Great andd I loved: 8. Obstreperous.

    b) Behaviour typical of a gynaecologist with a throat infection.

    Let us he does not try to treat his throat infection, a la mode of his office….

      1. I had to check whether it was on my little inbuilt Mac Dictionary here and it is. Which makes sense given their historic opposition to Windows. Uh, sorry, I'll get my coat…

  8. I look forward to the next set. I also think it's odd that the NYT thinks some of these words will confuse readers. Was it a post aimed at YA readers? 🙂

    1. Oh, they have an interesting feature where you can double click any word and a question mark appears, so they were actually able to track the fifty words that were most often looked up by readers. But yeah, I agree, there were some surprising inclusions.

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