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Vaughan’s vocabulary

December 16, 2012


Do you remember the tale about the man who boasted to a king that he had a daughter who could spin straw into gold? The king locked her in a room with a spinning wheel, a reel, and plenty of straw. She was told that if she did not spin the straw into gold by morning she would die. That night a little man named Rumplestiltskin appeared and asked, “What will you give me if I spin it for you?” When she gave him her necklace he spun the straw into gold.

Worn out words, hackneyed phrases and jargon need to be piled up, as it were, and spun into gold (words that build a good vocabulary). Take the five words below and build up your vocabulary this week, but also think of at least five useless words or phrases that you catch yourself saying. I teach my interpersonal communication students that for every vocabulary building word you learn get rid of a useless word or phrase.

For example, Cheri has quit saying “the whole nine yards and replaced it with “entirety.”  Meagan recently learned “officious” and discarded “an old busybody.”

ephemeral (e-FEM-uh-rul)
A. lasting a long time
B. lasting a short time
C. attractive
D. unattractive    

behest (bi-HEST)
A. something of monstrous size or power
B. true statement
C. false statement
D. an urgent prompting

Let’s see how you do are doing. No. 1, ephemeral, is B. The definition next to A under No. 2 fits behemoth. Aside from D, No. 2, behest, means an authoritative order. Example: A meeting about firing the pastor was called at the behest of the deacons.

convivial (con-VIV-ee-ul)
A. an antisocial person
B. fond of partying, festive
C. lethargic
D. stoic

The phrase “party animal” could be replaced with “he’s convivial.” You’re right if you chose B.

iconoclast (i-KAHN-uh-clast)
A. frozen
B. reverent
C. charming in a rustic way
D. someone who challenges popular beliefs or institutions

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary says “full of yearning or desire tinged with melancholy” is the definition for
A. baleful.
B. wistful.
C. seminal.
D. voluptuous.

No. 4, iconoclast, is D. The last one is B, wistful.   

Last week’s mystery word is Spartan.

This week’s mystery word to solve is what composer Philip Glass says he is not.

Don R. Vaughan, Ph.D. in Mass Communication, is a professor at East Miss. Community College. Contact him at:

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