Important Infrequently Used Words To Know

Paul V. Hartman

(The Capitalized syllable gets the emphasis)


alacrity       a-LACK-ra-tee      cheerful willingness and promptness
anathema       a-NATH-a-ma      a thing or person cursed, banned, or reviled
anodyne        AN-a-dine      not likely to cause offence or disagreement and somewhat dull//anything that sooths or comforts
aphorism       AFF-oar-ism      a short, witty saying or concise principle
apostate       ah-POSS-tate       (also:  apostasy)      person who has left the fold or deserted the faith.
arrogate       ARROW-gate      to make an unreasonable claim
atavistic      at-a-VIS-tic      reverting to a primitive type
avuncular      a-VUNC-you-lar      “like an uncle”; benevolent


bathos         BATH-ose      an anticlimax
bereft         ba-REFT      to be deprived of something valuable      “He was bereft of reason.”


calumny        KAL-um-knee      a slander or false accusation
canard         kan-ARD      a fabricated story (French=”duck”; morte canard=dead duck)
cant      kant      insincerity
chimera        ki-MEER-ah   (not: chim-er-ah)      Originally: a mythical beast; any unreal thing; foolish fancy      (adj=chimerical     ki-MEER-a-cal)
cloy      to grow sick from an abundance of something
comitatus      com-a-TAY-tus      loyalty to one’s band or group
concatenation       con-CAT-a-nation      things linked together or joined in a chain
copacetic      “going just right”
cosseted       KOS-a-ted     pampered
cupidity       que-PID-a-tee      greed; avarice

cynosure  SIGH-na-shore      (from the Greek: “dog’s tail”)      center of attention; point to which all eyes are drawn.
 (Really? From “dog’s tail”? Yes. The “dog’s tail” appears in a constellation, locating the North star, which rivets the attention of sailors at sea. Thus:     center of attention.) (see also: sinecure)


dilettante          DILL-ah-tent 

1. having superficial/amateurish interest in a branch of knowledge;

2. a connoisseur or lover of the fine arts

discursive          dis-KUR-seive      covering a wide field of subjects
docent         DOE-cent      a teacher, but not regular faculty; a museum tour guide


egregious      a-GREE-jous      conspicuously bad; flagrant; shocking
epigone        EP-a-goan      a second rate imitator or follower


fatuous        FAT-chew-us      foolish; stupid; silly
felicity       fa-LISS-a-tee      bliss; a pleasing aptness in speech and deportment; grace
furtive        FURR-tive      sly; shifty; secretive


gratuitous          gra-TOO-a-tus      given freely


haik           HIKE      a large piece of cloth worn as an outer garment by Arabs.
heuristic      HYOUR-is-tik   (noun)      an idea or speculation acting as a guide to an investigation
hubris         HUE-bris      arrogance from excessive pride or passion  (hubristic)


ignominy       IG-na-min-ee     (noun)       (also: ignoble)      signifying disgrace or dishonor        (ignominious)
incisive       in-SI-seive      displaying sharp mental perception; direct and effective
inimical       in-IM-a-cal      unfriendly; hostile
insipid        in-SIP-id      (adj.)      Lacking flavor, zest, or interest; dull
insuperable         in-SUPER-a-bul      not able to be overcome
inveigh        in-VAY      attack verbally
iterative      IT-ter-a-tive      something recurring or repeating      (“An iterative process”)

jeremiad       jer-a-MY-add      a series of doleful, dismal complaints


lagniappe      lan-yap        (noun) (a Creole word)      something given away as a gift for buying something else (such as an ashtray given for buying a full tank of gas)
leitmotif      LIGHT-moe-teef      a dominant or recurring theme or pattern
luddite        LUD-ite      a person who tries to halt progress by smashing machines


manque         mon-KAY      unfulfilled; frustrated (literally: maimed)      “He was an artist manque.”
maudlin        MAUDE-lin      easily emotional
mendacious          men-DAY-shous      (adj.)      untruthful.          (the noun is mendacity)
meretricious        mer-a-TRISH-ous      deceitful; tawdry  (Note that the two words above are pejorative, but if the meaning is not known, they “sound” meritorious.)
misanthrope         MISS-an-throwp     a person who dislikes the human race


nugatory       NEW-ga-tory      trifling; worthless; ineffective


obloquy        OB-la-key      a public reproach
opprobrium          ah-PROBE-re-um      disgrace arising from shameful conduct;  a reproach mingled with contempt “That word – a term of opprobrium – cut him like a knife.”


paradigm       PEAR-ah-dime      “side by side”; a pattern or example. A “paradigm shift” is      usually used to signify a major change in thinking or acting, in the sense of employing new examples.
parvenue       PAR-ven-oou     an upstart; someone trying to rise above their proper place
pejorative     pa-JOUR-a-tive      tending to be worse; downgrading; disparaging
penury         PEN-your-ee      extreme poverty
peremptory     per-EM-tory      a command which may not be refused
perdition      per-DISH-un      future misery, such as in going to Hell
perfidy        PUR-fa-dee      treachery; falsehood     (perfidious is the adjective)
perfunctory         pur-FUNK-tory      done routinely, with little interest or care
peripatetic         PER-ee-pa-TET-ick      walking about; itinerant  (Often used to describe Aristotle)
philistine     PHIL-a-stine      a person lacking culture; narrow minded with common tastes
poignant       POIN-yent  An adjective with multiple flavors:

1: appealing to emotion 2: physically painful 3: sharp, pungent

4: piercing, incisive   5: astute, pertinent  6: neat, skillful

poltroon       pole-troon      a thoroughly cowardly person
polymath       polly-math      a person of great or (more usually) varied learning.     (poly=much          math=learning)
presentiment        pre-SENT-a-ment      a foreboding of misfortune
propitiate          pro-PISH-ee-ate      pacify
puerile        PURE-ill   (Fr.: “puer” – child)      juvenile, immature, childish
punctilio      punk-TILL-ee-oh    (noun)      a fine point of etiquette; precise observance of formalities or ceremony; precise to the letter


rancor         RANG-kur      vindictive malice
rapacity       ra-PASS-a-tee      act of seizing that which is coveted; greed
recondite      REK-in-dite      hard to understand; profound; obscure; concealed
regnant        REG-nant      reigning; predominant; widespread


samizdat       SAM-iz-dot      an underground newspaper
sanguine       SANG-win      cheerful, confident
sanguinary     SANG-win-airy      bloody     (note the huge difference in meaning between the above two  similarly sounding words)
saturnine      SAT-ter-nine      morose; gloomy
scurrilous          SKER-a-less      grossly offensive and vulgar
seriatim       sir-ee-AT-um      occurring one after another; in serial fashion
sinecure       SIN-a-cure      a job (usually politically appointed) requiring little or no work.   (See also: cynosure)
sobriquet      so-bric-KAY      a nickname or an assumed name (“Minnesota Fats”)
solecism       SOL-a-sys-um      an ungrammatical combination of words
specious       SPEE-shous      appearing to be right; deceptively good looking
spurious       SPYOUR-ee-ous      false
sycophant      SIGH-ko-phant      a flattering parasite


terse      short and to the point; pithy
turpitude      TUR-pa-toode      depravity
unctuous        UNK-shus      oily and persuasive


venal          VEE-nal      a sacrifice of honor for profit
veracity     ver-ASS-a-tee      truthfulness
voracity     vor-ASS-a-tee      greed  (the above two words are very close in spelling and pronunciation, but mean quite different things.)
verisimilitude      ver-ah-SIM-ah-la-tude      the quality of appearing to be true or real

Click to read:
13 wonderful old english wordsfree-books2

Positive personality Adjectives List justenglish.meImportant infrequently used words to know (pdf)

Another 20 Forgotten words that should be brought back
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68 responses to “Important Infrequently Used Words To Know”

  1. Lloyd says :

    Really interesting and educational. When reading any novels, etc, I come across many of these words that I think I know the meaning of, but really don’t.
    People don’t usually use these words in normal everyday conversations, so I usually try to infer the meaning from the context. Most of the time nothing is lost as I continue to follow the storyline to my satisfaction. I don’t subscribe to the old saw that an author is not worth his craft if he does not send the reader deliberately scurrying to a dictionary to find out the meaning of a word.It ruins the flow of the story and destroys the joy of concentration.

  2. Lloyd says :

    I have another comment – I always thought I had a decent vocabulary, but after reading this list, now I find out I don’t know JACK! I am going to make a copy of it to keep by my bedside.

  3. Nichole says :

    I love words. And lists. This post was pure bliss.

  4. Damyanti says :

    This will be so cool for someone looking for word for the A to Z blogging April Challenge!

  5. Rochelle says :

    Why does this list contain so many negative words? Was the author in a bad mood? I’d like to see a list of joyful words I should learn as we’ll

  6. Python says :

    Any and all education is enlightenment however it may differ in value and I’m enlightened by this

  7. Kat says :

    Would be great to have a Printer Friendly version of these words if you can figure out how to do that 🙂 Not saying I know how! Thank you for the list. It’s excellent.

  8. alexlaybourne says :

    Reblogged this on Official Site of Alex Laybourne – Author and commented:
    Some important words indeed on this list!

  9. johnsailor says :

    Reblogged this on John Learns How To Write.

  10. Marshal B Anderson (@MarshalBA) says :

    You might want to review ‘anodyne’ (and run a spell checker over your definition). As a noun it’s a general class of drug, but the more common use is as an adjective meaning ‘dull’ or ‘unremarkable’. Normally this kind of correction would seem rather pedantic, but you have rather set yourself up as an expert here.

  11. Justwritedamnit says :

    WOW I love this list! It makes the English major in me tingle with excitement. I found your blog through stumbleupon and will absolutely be bookmarking this site! keep up the good work-


  12. Una tizia su internet says :

    It is so cool for us speakers of Romanic languages that ALL of your “magniloquent” words are just our simple words without the last vocal. 😀
    (the “words to know” in Italian are all of greek origins).

  13. debbee357 says :

    Reblogged this on My Little Beehive Blog.

  14. daphodill says :

    Reblogged this on Daphodill's Garden and commented:
    Hey! One of my favorite words is on this list. Perhaps it’s a sign that I should finish my story “Lagniappe”.

  15. verlenv says :

    Reblogged this on 0JZ and commented:
    An educational and beautiful post 😀

  16. tbc0 says :

    I like the list! I’ll review it in more detail later. I see overlap with the 245 words I’ve collected over the years:

  17. DeAnn Sicard says :

    Reblogged this on A Writer’s Guide to Words: and commented:
    I love this list. So many words that need to be repeated! LOL

  18. says :

    Hi! Would you mind if I share your blog with my zynga group?
    There’s a lot of people that I think would really enjoy your content.
    Please let me know. Many thanks

    • says :

      Sharing is caring 🙂 Shoot away.

    • Jeremy W. Jovin says :

      Hi nowyblog1. I hope you take this as a positive response to your response, e.g. constructive criticism. There’s is a contraction of there is, of course. You are speaking of people (plural) not a person (singular), so your sentence should begin “There ARE”. Also; ”There are a lot of people WHO would really enjoy…” For example: There is a farm THAT is for sale, a lovely girl WHO is walking down the street…
      All the best!
      Jeremy ;-))

  19. Kev says :

    This is amazing stuff…thank you so much for sharing! 🙂

  20. Connor says :

    Parvenu is spelled wrong (not parvenue). Also, some of your pronunciation guidelines seem suspect. Other than that, not a bad list.

  21. Amir Sibboni says :

    Thanks for sharing

  22. jrmessi says :

    Reblogged this on Jrmessi's Blog and commented:
    Segunda língua

  23. Aliece Fatin says :

    there are no q’s ): what about quixotic?

  24. jesileephotography says :

    Reblogged this on Jesi Lee and commented:
    A wonderful list for writers!

  25. Jari Ullah says :

    That is a cool list 🙂 These are often used words :!

  26. Stephane says :

    Morte canard means dead duck in French? Err, no. Try canard mort

  27. Mandy Kloppers says :

    Reblogged to Brilliant article!

  28. Zo says :

    Many of the pronunciation guides suggest ‘e’ be pronounced as ‘a’ for some reason (e.g. bereft). It is a wonderful list of words though, very useful.

  29. Kenneth says :

    Some of these were definitely new to me, and I think I’m going to struggle with pronunciation.

  30. Phillip Frey says :

    Good word list. Thanks.

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