Wayne State University

Aim Higher

Word Warriors' 2010 list

In early 2009 Wayne State University launched this website to retrieve some of the English language's most expressive words from the dank closet of neglect, in hopes of boosting their chances of a return to conversation and narrative. Some of these words once were part of the common speech (it was hard to be a writer in the late 19th century, for instance, without  "indefatigable"); others have capered in and out of the language like harlequins, dazzling and then just as suddenly departing; others -- the wonderful "numinous," for one -- may never have been heard every day or even every year. Some, like "galoshes," just went into hiding for no apparent reason.

But no matter why especially marvelous words have disappeared from everyday use, we believe the following selection that we and visitors to this site have made still deserves to be exercised freely in prose, poetry, song and story. Otherwise, we simply aren't painting our speech with a full palette.

Observes Jerry Herron, dean of Wayne State's Irvin D. Reid Honors College: "What Word Warriors intends to do is enlist the aid of everybody who cares about words, to make sure we are not letting essential parts of our language fall silent. There is perhaps no finer pleasure to be had than in an act of precise expression, and there's no better language in which to be doing that good work than our own English. And that's what Word Warriors is aiming for -- the pleasure of being able to say exactly what you mean."

So cue the fanfare, please. Here's the Word Warriors' 2010 list of sadly underused or overlooked but eminently useful words that should be brought back to enrich our language:

Antediluvian
Very old, old-fashioned, or out of date; antiquated; primitive. Literally "before the flood," referring by implication to the Biblical tale of Noah.
Though antediluvian by today's standards, the buggy whip was once at the forefront of transportation technology.

Bamboozle
To cheat or steal.
Stop trying to bamboozle me out of my money!

Bloviate
To speak at length in a pompous or boastful manner.
I was totally put off by the winning coaches' tendency to bloviate ad nauseam.

Charlatan (shahr-luh-tn)
Quack. Imposter.
This guy claims his anti-aging cream really works, but I think he's just a charlatan.

Concupiscence
Sexual desire or longing. Lust.
Too many political figures, drunk on power and the heady liquor of self-esteem, let concupiscence get the best of them.

Festoon
To adorn or decorate, principally in a loop between two points.
After lunch we decided to festoon the tree with garlands of electric loons, moons, spoons, puccoons, cocoons, bassoons, baboons and vinegaroons.

Galoshes (gə-lŏsh')
Waterproof shoes or boots. "Galoshes" may be said to be onomatopoeic, mimicking the sound they make when splashing through puddles.
In rainy weather like this I always wear my galoshes; they may be garish, but they keep my feet dry.

Indefatigable (in-di-FAT-i-guh-bul)
Tireless; endlessly persistent.
The English privateer Francis Drake was indefatigable in his pursuit of Spanish gold.

Insouciance (ĭn-sôô'sç-əns)
The quality of being carefree; a lack of concern.
We spent our two weeks at the beach in blissful insouciance, sleeping late and basking in the sun.

Mendacity
Untruthfulness. Lying.
Mendacity is a system that we live in. Liquor is one way out and death's the other. (Tennessee Williams, American playwright, 1911-1983)

Mercurial (mer-kyoor-ee-uhl)
Fickle; erratic.
She said she needed a break from trying to anticipate my mercurial moods. I haven't seen her in five years.

Numinous
Awe-inspiring; profoundly moving; evocative of transcendence. (Despite what Webster's Dictionary says, it never presumes the supernatural.)
As the full moon rose in numinous splendor over Mount Kilimanjaro, Ernie was stricken speechless with wonder and joy.

Quixotic (kwik-sot-ik)
Excessively romantic; visionary but unrealistic. Like Cervantes' Don Quixote.
Many cherished ideals of the 1960s now seem more quixotic than even remotely practical.

Scuttle (verb)
A versatile verb meaning to sink a ship or boat deliberately; to sink figuratively, as to scuttle a project; or to scurry.
In 1939, the Germans scuttled the pocket battleship "Graf Spee" to keep the British from capturing her. ... OR ... When we turned on the light, mice scuttled under the furniture.

Unctuous
Oily or greasy; unpleasantly polite and insincerely earnest.
The mediator was so unctuous that both sides found him impossible to work with.