A crazed insect discovered in the organic garden of a convent was found nun compost mantis.





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Share grammar bloopers you’ve spotted, as well as your pet peeves.

enriching your vocabulary


Enervate or energize? Flounder or founder? Flout or flaunt? Averse or adverse? Straw or hay?

A strong vocabulary will serve you well. 

It will steer you away from using enervate, thinking it’s similar to energize. To enervate is to make one feel drained of energy or vitality. Does that sound like energize

It will keep you from plunging into a description of an incident in which your fishing boat, you say, foundered and sank. (Founder means to sink. Flounder, on the other hand, means to struggle clumsily in mud or water, which is what the occupants of boat may have been doing as the boat was foundering.)

It might whisper to you that flout and flaunt are two quite different words and can’t be used interchangeably. Flout means to openly disregard laws or conventions, whereas flaunt means to display something ostentatiously. This doesn’t rule out flouting and flaunting simultaneously, as you park your Hummer in the middle of a busy intersection and stride away in your nightshirt.

You say you’re not adverse to expanding your vocabulary? Well, most people would know what you mean, but some of them, at least, would wonder why you hadn’t used the word averse. Adverse is much better suited to describing weather or other conditions that may be unfavourable or harmful. Averse, the word you should have used, means being opposed to or having a strong dislike for something.

Finally, we come to hay and straw, well known to farmers, ranchers and horse owners across Canada and the United States, but not as well known to urbanites or townies, many of whom think hay and straw are the same thing. Hay consists of grass that has been dried and is used for animal fodder. Straw consists of dried grain stalks, most often used as bedding for animals, and also as fodder.

Thus a respect for words and their capacity to help you say exactly what you want to say – or embarrass you when you get careless with them – is crucial to good writing of any kind. Respect means that, as you write, you look up the definition of every word you are not absolutely sure of. It also means you use simple, comfortable and descriptive words – preferably well chosen nouns and verbs, rather than showy adjectives and adverbs – to get your message through.

Extensive reading of newspapers, periodicals and books is the best way to expand your vocabulary. You’ll be seeing new words, as well as words with which you’re peripherally familiar, in context, giving you an idea of what they mean. Some you may want to look up.

I have a Sharp electronic dictionary incorporating the Oxford Dictionary of English (355,000 words) and the New Oxford Thesaurus of English (600,000 alternative and opposite words). It fits easily into my pocket and is often helpful as I work my way through crossword puzzles. I also have -- and use often -- hardcopies of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary and Roget's International Thesaurus, although they're not nearly as portable.

UpWORDly Mobile EXPRESS includes a section each month that will challenge your vocabulary skills. If you’d like a little practice in the meantime, match these words with their definitions: 

 1. hyperbole (a) wary, unwilling to take risks
 2. hegemony  (b) belief that all people are equal
 3. garrulous (c) stimulating the senses
 4. frenetic (d) lethargy, physical or mental inactivity
 5. fatuous (e) exaggerated claims
 6. egalitarian   (f) pointless and silly
 7. discrete (g) excessively talkative
 8. didactic (h) intended to teach
 9. complicit (i) arousing physical pleasure
10. circumspect (j) leadership, dominance
11. ubiquitous (k) superficially plausible but actually wrong
12. torpor (l) energetic in rather uncontrolled way
13. specious (m) individual and distinct
14. sensual (n) found everywhere
15. sensuous (o) involved with other in unlawful activity












 Answers: 1. (e); 2. (j); 3. (g); 4. (l); 5. (f); 6. (b); 7. (m); 8. (h); 9. (o); 10. (a); 11. (n); 12. (d); 13. (k); 14. (i); 15. (c)


Find the one unrelated word in each grouping:

1. peripheral  outlying  surrounding  integral  incidental
2. pivotal  rational  sensible  judicious  pragmatic
3. ponderous  heavy  intrepid  cumbersome  ungainly
4. predilection  partiality  approbation  preference  inclination 
5. urbane  impetuous  suave  cultivated  debonair
6. tenuous  negligible  dubious  conducive  nebulous 
7. transient  precipitous  temporary  ephemeral  evanescent 
8. catharsis  cleansing  relief  chicanery  purging
9. hedonism  aberration  anomaly  digression  abnormality
10. tangential  immutable rigid  ineradicable  unchanging 
11. ignominy  disrepute  disgrace  paucity  shame
12. temerity  turpitude  nerve  effrontery  audacity 
13. reticent  diffident  unassuming  dogmatic  reserved
14. rustic  quixotic  bucolic  agrarian  rural 
15. perfidy  deceit  penchant  duplicity  infidelity 

Answers: (1) integral; (2) pivotal; (3) intrepid; (4) approbation; (5) impetuous; (6) conducive; (7) precipitous; (8) chicanery; (9) hedonism; (10) tangential; (11) paucity; (12) turpitude; (13) dogmatic; (14) quixotic; (15) penchant

Here are a few foreign words and expressions you’re likely to come across if you read very much. Take them in small doses. Use only if you feel comfortable with them AND you’re pretty sure your audience will be as well. Do not use to impress; you will be found out.

ad hoc (Latin): created for a particular purpose
ad infinitum (Latin): without end
alfresco (Italian): in the open air
avant-garde (French)
bon mot (French): witty remark
carte blanche (French): complete freedom
c’est la vie (French): that’s life
chutzpah (Yiddish): audacity
de facto (Latin): in fact, but not necessarily by legal right
de jure (Latin): by rightful entitlement or claim
ex post facto (Latin): after the fact
fait accompli (French): something that has already happened
faux pas (French): embarrassing act or remark in a social situation
gonif (Yiddish): disreputable or dishonest person
haute couture (French): high fashion
haute cuisine (French): fine cooking
hoi polloi (Greek): the masses; common people
hubris (Greek): excessive pride; arrogance
joie de vivre (French): exuberant enjoyment of life
maven (Yiddish): an expert or connoisseur
mazel tov (Hebrew): congratulations; good luck
mea culpa (Latin): my fault
modus operandi (Latin): a method of doing something
nom de plume (French): pen name
non sequitur (Latin): conclusion that doesn’t logically follow the previous statement or argument
per diem (Latin): for each day
prima facie (Latin): based on the first impression
raison d’être (French): reason for being
sang-froid (French): coolness under trying conditions
semper fidelis (Latin): always faithful
sic (Latin): so, thus; used in brackets after a quoted word that appears odd to show that the word is quoted exactly from the original
sub rosa (Latin): done in secret
tabula rasa (Latin): absence of preconceived ideas; a clean slate
tout de suite (French): at once
vox populi (latin): opinions or beliefs of the majority; voice of the people
wunderkind (German): one who achieves great success while young
zeitgeist (German): defining spirit or mood of a period of time