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Vaughans Vocabulary... Questions are the key to unlocking the door of knowledge...

January 25, 2011

When Isidor Rabi [RAH-bee] (1898-1988) was asked why he became a scientist, he explained that it dated back early in his childhood when everyday he would come home from school and his mother asked him, religiously, the same question, “Izzy, did you ask any good questions today?” Over and over again she asked that question and each day Rabi would name at least one good question that he had phrased and posed to a teacher that day.
Questions have always been a key to unlocking a door of knowledge. When it comes to increasing our knowledge of advanced words, we should ask at least six questions: Do I really know what this word means? How is it pronounced? If the word has more than one syllable, which one gets the accent? How is it used here? Which part of speech is it? And, how can I use it in conversation or in writing?
See how many you get correct in this weeks’ word quiz.

1. diffident (DIF-uh-duhnt)
A. bold
B. reckless
C. overconfident
D. unconfident

2. vicissitude (vi-SIS-uh-tyood)
A. a change or variation occurring in the course of something
B. a violent attitude
C. a noted victory
D. consistency

Lacking confidence in one’s own ability, worth, or fitness is diffident. No. 1 is D. As for No. 2, a vicissitude can be a favorable or unfavorable event or situation that occurs by chance, as the vicissitudes of life will come.

3. exacerbate (ig-ZAS-er-bate or ek-SAS-er-bate)
A. improve, alleviate
B. to make pain, ill feeling, disease more intense
C. placate, smooth over
D. to hint slyly

Exacerbate is B.

4. innocuous (i-NOK-you-us)
A. not likely to irritate or offend
B. not harmful or injurious
C. pallid, insipid, uninteresting
D. not stimulating

This adjective has the sound of knock for its accented syllable, but it describes something or someone that does not have a punch to it, as it were. All four are correct for innocuous.

5. penchant (PEN-chuhnt)
A. something suspended, as an ornament
B. a disdain for something or someone
C. a strong inclination or taste or liking for something
D. a decorative knife

My family members all have a penchant for deer steaks. C is the answer.
Last week I pointed out that the mystery word can be found in Act I, scene I, of The Tragedy of Richard III. You can use this adjective in talking or writing about something playful or frolicsome, as ___ tricks. You are right if you said “sportive.”
This week’s mystery word to solve can describe the composer Antonio Salieri, who, in the stage play and movie Amadeus, blames God for bestowing talent on Mozart who was conceited and frivolous. The first letter in the mystery word is the first letter in Mozart.

Contact Don Vaughan at

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