Wayne State University

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Word Warriors' 2012 top 10

Wayne State University launched this website several years ago 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; others have capered in and out of the language, dazzling and then just as suddenly departing. Others -- the wonderful "truckle," for one -- may never have been heard every day or even every year. Still others, like "erstwhile," have been hidden under layers of misdefinition.

We believe English is filled with words that deserve to be exercised freely and more often in prose, poetry, song and story. Otherwise, we simply aren't painting our speech with a full palette.

So cue the fanfare, please. Here’s the Wayne State University Word Warriors' 2012 list of remarkably useful and expressive words that deserve more chances to enrich our language:

Antediluvian – Antiquated; old-fashioned; out of date. Literally “before the flood,” referring to the Biblical deluge. This company’s vacation policy is positively antediluvian, so I’m giving you three weeks off this year.

Erstwhile– Former; bygone. Rampantly misused. Roger had disturbing reasons to suspect that Rachel, his erstwhile lover, had hacked into his email accounts.

Execrable– Atrocious; wretched; abominable. Alice may have a Ph.D., but her spelling is execrable.

Frisson – Thanks to French for this word meaning that sudden, involuntary shiver we may feel at times of great emotion. Albert knew he’d be glad to see Victoria, but he wasn’t expecting a powerful frisson of pleasure when he took her hand.

Parlous – Dangerous or risky. Variant of Middle English “perilous.” Prospects for Yazoo City grew increasingly parlous as the Mississippi’s record flood rolled southward.

Penultimate– Next to last. Everyone’s heard of the Last Supper, but the Penultimate Supper has been largely forgotten.

Sisyphean– Actually or apparently endless and futile. After Sisyphus, doomed by the gods to roll a stone uphill, only to have it always roll back down. Washington endured a Sisyphean nightmare of whipping raw recruits into shape, only to see them melt away when their one-year enlistments expired (Ron Chernow, in Washington).

Supercilious – Contemptuous; disdainful; condescending. I knew I was about to go into the tank socially when I noticed the supercilious way she was looking at my red shoes.

Transmogrify- To change completely, usually grotesquely, in appearance or form. So Gregor drifted off to sleep, never dreaming he was in a Kafka story and would transmogrify into a hideous insect overnight.

Truckle– Submit obsequiously; be subservient; kowtow. When I’m in the presence of a powerful person, my own concept of equality gets blurry and I have a regrettable tendency to truckle, if only to be polite (Ian Frazier, in Travels in Siberia).