The Word Learner

My 10th grade vocabulary workbook

My 10th grade vocabulary workbook

In 10th grade I took a class called “Word Power” taught by Howard Callas, Ph.D. He a true renaissance man; a polymath who could answer questions in at least a handful of languages–even dead ones brought back to life–who took it upon himself to prepare the intellectually unwashed not only for our S.A.T. tests but for countless future crossword puzzles and games of trivia. Furthermore, he refused to let a good suit languish in his closet, even if it was emphatically out of style.

As my children’s book THE WORD BURGLAR is about to be released into the world, I’ve been thinking back to Dr. Callas with gratitude. He helped solidify my love of words and language, and in one semester, introduced me to a methodology of vocabulary building that has endured throughout my life. So in his honor, I’d like to share a sampling of some of my favorite words:

  • Meretricious: adj. apparently attractive but having in reality no value or integrity
  • Cloaca: n. a common cavity at the end of the digestive tract for the release of both excretory and genital products in vertebrates
  • Facetious: adj. treating serious issues with deliberately inappropriate humor; flippant (BONUS: Dr. Callas taught us a fact I’ve never forgotten: this is the only word in the English language with all vowels in alphabetical order.)
  • Haptic: adj. of or relating to the sense of touch
  • Plangent: adj. (of a sound) loud, reverberating, and often melancholy.
  • Plinth: n. a heavy base supporting a statue or vase
  • Sycophant: n. a person who acts obsequiously toward someone in order to gain advantage
  • Dotage: n. the period of life in which a person is old and weak
  • Persiflage: n. light and slightly contemptuous mockery or banter
  • Abulia: n. an absence of willpower or an inability to act decisively, as a symptom of mental illness.
  • Tessitura: n. the range within which most notes of a vocal part fall
  • Epistolary: adj. relating to or denoting the writing of letters or literary works in the form of letters
  • Palimpsest n. a manuscript or piece of writing material on which the original writing has been effaced to make room for later writing but of which traces remain.
  • Bildungsroman n. a novel dealing with one person’s formative years or spiritual education.
  • Manqué adj. having failed to become what one might have been
  • Kerfuffle: n. a commotion, especially one caused by conflicting views
  • Duende: n. a quality of passion and inspiration.
  • Palaver: n. prolonged and idle discussion.
  • Frabjous: adj. delightful; joyous (one of Lewis Carroll’s portmanteau words, combining fair and joyous.)
  • Pudibund: adj. prudish

Survived and thrived. Thank you, Dr. Callas.