Wednesday Word/Nerd Knowledge

1) Ostracize – If you banish someone or ignore him, you ostracize him. When the Iranian president claimed that the Holocaust was a hoax, he was ostracized by the international community.

Ostraka is an ancient Greek word for pottery shard. Thousands of years ago, in the Greek city of Athens, there was a public process where you would write the name of someone you wanted to kick out of town on a broken ceramic fragment. If enough Athenians wrote the same name, that person was sent away for ten years. This process was called an ostracism.

2) Opulent – Opulent is a word that you will hear a lot around rich people looking to show off. “Remember the opulent buffet at Carrie’s sweet sixteen? Sixteen chocolate cakes iced in gold leaf!”

If you want to remember that opulent is a word describing lavish displays of wealth, you can think of the word opal to help you remember it––opal being a rare gem. And if you are lucky enough to be able to afford opulence yourself, don’t describe it that way. The word contains connotations of pretentious. And gold leaf cake aside, who wants that?

3) Inimical – Censorship is inimical to freedom. So, most teenagers would argue, are curfews. To be inimical is to be harmful, antagonistic, or opposed to — like smoking two packs a day is to healthy lungs.

Inimical comes from the Latin word inimicus, meaning “enemy.” It suggests acting like someone’s enemy––being adverse, damaging, or downright hostile. It can refer to anything from emotions and actions to public policy. Be careful not to mix it up with inimitable, which means too good to be copied.

4) Timorous – A timorous person is timid or shy, like your timorous friend who likes to hang out with close pals but gets nervous around big groups of new people.

The adjective timorous is actually the Latin word for ”fearful.” But timorous is a specific kind of fearfulness — the kind that strikes people before giving a speech, or walking into a crowded place where people are socializing. Also called “shy” or “timid,” timorous people often become more comfortable when they see a familiar face in the crowd.

5) Inclement – Inclement usually refers to severe or harsh weather that is cold and wet. When packing for a trip to the Caribbean bring tank tops and shorts, but don’t forget a raincoat in case of inclement weather.

This adjective can also refer to a person or action that is harsh and unmerciful. Inclement is from a Latin root formed from the prefix in- “not” plus clemens “clement.” This English adjective clement can mean either mild or merciful; the more commonly used noun clemency can mean mildness or mercy.

6) Curtail – Inclement usually refers to severe or harsh weather that is cold and wet. When packing for a trip to the Caribbean bring tank tops and shorts, but don’t forget a raincoat in case of inclement weather.

This adjective can also refer to a person or action that is harsh and unmerciful. Inclement is from a Latin root formed from the prefix in- “not” plus clemens “clement.” This English adjective clement can mean either mild or merciful; the more commonly used noun clemency can mean mildness or mercy.

7) Paragon – Paragon applies to someone who is a model of perfection in some quality or trait. We link paragon with other words that follow it, such as “paragon of virtue” or “paragon of patience.”

A paragon means someone or something that is the very best. The English noun paragon comes from the Italian word paragone, which is a touchstone, a black stone that is used to tell the quality of gold. You rub the gold on the touchstone and you can find out how good the gold is. You are hoping that it is the paragon of “goldness.”

8) Emphatic – Emphatic means forceful and clear. Nicole’s mother was emphatic when she told her not to come home late again.

When something is emphatic, it imparts emphasis. A sentence is made emphatic by adding an exclamation point, and the word carries with it the important and urgent feeling of that punctuation mark. If a baseball team defeats another by 10 runs, the victory is emphatic because like strong speech, the victory is clear and forceful.

9) EnmityEnmity means intense hostility. If you’re a football fanatic, you feel enmity for your opposing team.

Enmity comes from the same Latin root as enemy, and means the state of being an enemy. If you have always hated someone, you have a history of enmity with that person. Enmity is stronger than antagonism or animosity, which imply competitive feeling but don’t go all the way to enemy status. Hopefully you are a peacemaker and don’t experience too much enmity in your life.

10) Acerbic – If you say something acerbic, or harshly bitter, to someone, it can leave a bitter taste in your own mouth that lingers, and the acerbic, or acidic, words can eat away at the person on the receiving end too.

It is fitting that the first part of acerbic sounds like the first part of “acid,” because the Latin source of acerbic is acerbus, “sour-tasting.” Acerbic speech is like acid, because it is sour and corrodes, or weakens, relationships. There are ways to use sharp words for humor, and some comedians are known for their “acerbic wit,” but just as you would take safety precautions in using acid in a science lab, you should be cautious using acerbic in conversation.
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