October 16 is Dictionary Day in the United States, the day we commemorate the greatest and most influential American lexicographer, Noah Webster. He was born on October 16, 1758, and chances are you know him, if not as the creator of the American Dictionary of the English Language, then as the Webster of Merriam-Webster. So let’s use this day to celebrate Webster’s work by learning a few new words, funny words, interesting words, and words we hear all the time but have no idea what they mean.
1 Quixotic (adj.)
This word, which might sound like a cross between “quick” and “exotic,” is an adjective that describes someone who is hopelessly romantic in a very impractical way. Someone who’s idealistic to the point of being a bit foolish, all the time being very chivalrous. Sound familiar? It should if you read Cervantes.
2 Caitiff (adj.)
Caitiff is a not a commonly used word today. You pronounce it as you would the name “Kate” followed by an “if.” It describes someone who is a despicable coward.
3 Nonplus (n.)
You’re in a state of nonplus when you’re baffled. But don’t let the “non” mislead you. “Plus” is not the opposite of “nonplus.”
4 Kitsch (n.)
Things that are tacky and cheesy yet oddly appealing are kitsch. Kitsch is the likable side of bad taste.
5 Portmanteau (n.)
A portmanteau (pronounced port-man-toe) is a very big suitcase. But portmanteau also refers to a word that was created by combining two or more other words. Jeggings, for example, is a portmanteau of leggings and jeans.
6 Median (adj.)
Median is an adjective we use to say that something belongs in the middle of things. It’s especially used in mathematics when you have a series of values. The median value is the value with an equal number of values on either side of it.
7 Erudition (n.)
Erudition is knowledge, but not just any kind of knowledge. For knowledge to be erudition, it has to be vast and impressive, and it has to come from books, not practice.
8 Noisome (adj.)
Noisome has nothing to do with noise. When something is noisome, it is disgusting, noxious, and particularly offensive to the sense of smell.
9 Peruse (v.)
Here’s a tricky one. To peruse something means to read it carefully. However, it also means to read or look at something in a not-too-careful way.
10 Burnsides (n.)
Do you know what sideburns are? Of course you do. Well, burnsides are also a type of facial hair styling. You might also know them by their other name: full mutton chops.
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