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My Argument For The 20 Best Words

Thank God this website is a hobby. How on earth do sportswriters survive the summer? I’m not the first person to ask this Q but it bears repeating: HOW? I suppose a ninety thousand dollar paycheck would stimulate the creative juices, but past answering the very easy question of ‘Will Rory acquire more majors than Jack and Tiger?’ (A: You’re on drugs), there’s nothing. I won’t resort to making fun of the WNBA for content. I won’t. Because then I’d have to watch it.

So as always we land in my favorite milieu that no one really cares about: language. I’ve got no other lead-in with which to fool you. Here’s a current list of my twenty favorite words and their merit system (out of 10). Note: this is NOT a search for the most ornate word in the dictionary. God knows there are enough of those ‘I’m a special flower’ posts. Practicality and relevance are considered.

MERIT SYSTEM

When considering the quality of a word, I first imagine that I have not only never heard the word before, but that also English is not my native tongue. In other words I’m a foreigner with a full grasp on another language. This is how words like bonhomie wound up in English novels: we liked the sound and just kinda fudged the system to keep them. (A draft exists where I was an alien visiting this planet for the first time and I didn’t understand the concept of language, but that’s just an unbelievably messy road.)

Practical application of the word in everyday language is then considered, i.e. how likely are you to really use it; although for some of these words I really fault the vox populi for not having the sense to adopt them into our patois. (Patois narrowly missed this list; nice though it is, it’s not even remotely English.)

Finally I considered the sound relative to the definition, i.e. the context. For example, ‘hedonist’ is nowhere near this list because it’s impossible to reconcile the sound with the meaning. I mean, how do you pronounce that word without a negative connotation? For an inherently pleasurable word, it just doesn’t do it for me. Note: all of this is completely pointless and subjective. If you’re still reading, you’re probably unemployed.

To recap we have: Sound (S), Practical Application (PA), and Context (C). Word usage data found where available.

20. Bailiwick

Definition: (n.) a person’s area of skill, knowledge, or authority.

S: 7/10 PA: 3/10 C: 5/10 SPAC: 15/30

Is it just me or is there something alienating about this word? Not only is the definition kinda unknown, but it’s also pronounced bey-luh-wick. I’m guessing that 99 percent of the population would hazard a short i or long e sound for the second syllable, and that the letter L had no place there. It’s kind of sad to think language is your bailiwick and then bailiwick says think again. I first heard this word on a televised spelling bee and got it wrong. It’s just a mean word all around but when I see it used, it’s quite singularly appropriate. Sigh. Tough times for bailiwick:bailiwick

 

 

 

 

 

 

19. Mellifluous

Definition: (adj.) (of a voice or words) sweet or musical; pleasant to hear

S: 6/10 PA: 5/10 C: 5/10 SPAC: 16/30

I know, I know. It seems like I’m being too harsh on mellifluous. It’s a great word and in a competition less stiff, it’d blow them all away. In the big leagues, I need the word to really work on every level and mellifluous simply does too much. For starters I don’t necessarily like that the second syllable is stressed the most. Kinda disrupts the image of “melody+fluidity” I have in my head. And I want the word to describe something, not overshadow the intended purpose. (E.g: supernumerary? Get the fuck out.) Anyway, it’s a great word and a shoo-in for any Best Word list, but it could have been so much more with a few tweaks.

mellifluous

 

 

 

 

 

 

18. Recalcitrant

Definition: (n/adj.) having an obstinately uncooperative attitude toward authority or discipline.

S: 7/10 PA: 6/10 C: 4/10 SPAC: 17/30

Probably not going to use it much and the sound doesn’t fit the context, but what a delightfully stuffy word. I can only picture it in wholesome movies from the 1950s or powdered-wig-era England. (I know the barristers still use them.) Like, ‘Why.. the boy’s… simply recalcitrant! He must be controlled. Harumph grumble grumble…’ Tell me that’s not worth 17 points on this made-up scale.

recalcitrant

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peaked in the 1950s. Imagine my surprise.

17. Hirsute

Definition: (adj.) hairy

S: 7/10 PA: 8/10 C: 3/10 SPAC: 18/30

This word almost single-handedly kept print journalism alive, so normal application is a go. But what a word to describe hairy. It’s deducted major points because it’s too nice a word for hairy, but then it gains points because why shouldn’t hairy oafs have a complimentary word? I’m caught in a bind. 18 seems a fair score.

hirsute

 

 

 

 

 

 

16. Gallimaufry

Definition: (n.) a confused jumble or medley of things.

S: 10/10 PA: 1/10 C: 8/10 SPAC: 19/30

A phonetic misreading of this word shapes its power in an irreversible way. Consider GAL-LI-MAU-FRY versus GAL-LIM-AU-FRY. The former, which is correct, sounds very much like a hodge podge of things. You can’t begrudge someone for thinking it’s the latter, though. That’s what it looks like and it just sounds… off. You can’t insert gal-lim-au-fry into a story without blowing up the flow. Gal-li-mau-fry sounds like a folksy English peasant. No, it sounds like a word made up by Bilbo Baggins. It’s wonderful, but it’s a written landmine.

gallimaufry

 

 

 

 

 

 

15. Quixotic

Definition: (adj.) exceedingly idealistic; unrealistic and impractical.

S: 4/10 PA: 9/10 C: 7/10 SPAC: 20/30

The problem with quixotic is that we’ve learned the apparent root as being from Don Qui-HO-te, and now they’re telling us, no, no, it’s qwix-otic, not qui-ho-tic. Plus when you do read it in context, you think ‘Yeah, nice word, we get it. You read long, droll books. Maybe.’ It’s always going to jump out of the sentence, but it’s a nice word with strong relevance.

quixotic

 

 

 

 

 

 

14. Obfuscate

Definition: (v.) render obscure, unclear, or unintelligible.

S: 8/10 PA: 7/10 C: 5/10 SPAC: 20/30

Another word hurt by its meaning. On the one hand, it does sound like it could be something that you slur out the corner of your mouth when you’re drunk, but it’s also too easy to say. If you’re rendering something unclear, it shouldn’t be a mellifluous word. The meaning of obfuscate implies a harsh, strange word. Shame. Bonus points for ‘fus’ in the middle, though. A toddler’s fuss is a good context for obfuscate.

obfuscate

 

 

 

 

 

 

13. Panacea

Definition: (n.) a solution or remedy for all difficulties or diseases

S: 9/10 PA: 4/10 C: 8/10 SPAC: 21/30

As the Internet continues to expand, so then do the inflammatory, all-encompassing statements. We need this word, now more than ever. Trouble is, it’s not quite ‘there’ yet as a mainstay. I think everyone’s on-board with ‘pan’ as a prefix, so we only have four more letters to go, and it sure sounds like something that could cure me, but the masses haven’t carried it to where it needs to be. Maybe we roll out with pan-acai in the health nut corner of the Net, then just switch it back to panacea when everyone’s ready. Just know you’re not alone in that camp:

panacea

 

 

 

 

 

 

12. Ecclesiastical

S: 9/10 PA: 4/10 C: 8/10 SPAC: 21/30

Definition: (adj.) suitable for use in a church

The sound’s brilliant, clearly. The crisp, elevated finality to it makes me think it will beget a classic Tarantino monologue. But let’s be honest, you kinda need a familiarity with Ecclesiastes to appreciate the full resonance of the word and that’s a lot of legwork to ask for just one word.

ecclesiastic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 11. Detritus

Definition: a product of disintegration, destruction, or wearing away; debris

S: 9/10, PA: 7/10 C: 6/10 SPAC: 22/30

Like ‘hirsute’, it’s nice that something unappealing has a word that exceeds the thing itself. But the practical application is limited because if you’re trying to beautify trash, you’re probably being ironic. And so then naturally the context is not always appropriate either.

 10. Truculent

Definition: (adj.) eager or quick to argue or fight; aggressively defiant.

S: 8/10 PA: 5/10 C: 9/10 SPAC: 22/30

Similarly troo-kyu-lent sounds… off. Fortunately it’s pronounced truk-u-lent, which rightfully sounds aggressive. Its practical application score probably should be lower, but I let it go because I love the way it reads on the page. When a character is being truculent, you’re in an oddly specific situation, and specific is good. Everyone gets angry; not everyone gets truculent.

truculent

 

 

 

 

 

 

9. Inculcate

Definition: (v.) to instill (an attitude, idea, or habit) by persistent instruction.

S: 10/10 PA: 5/10 C: 8/10 SPAC: 23/30

The beauty of inculcate lies in its syllabic breakdown: ‘I’-‘KUH’- ‘KAY’ sounds very much like soft hammering to me; subliminal meaning always helps a word’s case. However, since ‘inculcate’ hasn’t been inculcated into the average joe’s lexicon, it loses points for application.

inculcate

 

 

 

 

 

 

8. Phantasmagoric

Definition: (adj.) having a fantastic or deceptive appearance, as something in a dream or created by the imagination.

S: 11/10 PA: 2/10 C: 11/10 SPAC: 24/30

Look, it’s a show-offy word. It’s a David Foster Wallace word, only he knew what he was doing with it. But goddamn. Rarely does a word so justify its length. You’re not even using the word; you’re being guided through it. By the time I get to the end I think, ‘Whoa, where was I?’ Don’t use this ten dollar word unless you’ve surrounded it with pennies or you’re gonna get stones thrown at you. And in that case, might as well use phantasmagorically.

7. Lecherous

Definition: (adj.) having or showing excessive or offensive sexual desire.

S: 10/10 PA: 7/10 C: 9/10 SPAC: 26/30

Few words sonically dominate like lecherous. I almost want to consider it an onomatopoeia. Right out of my mouth, it grabs on and fondles the nearest object. Lecher. Lechery. So vile. You’re definitely making a statement when you use it, so it’s not a 10 for everyday use.

lecherous

 

 

 

 

 

 

Never mind. We are a sick generation.

6. Gambol

Definition: (v.) run or jump about playfully

S: 10/10 PA: 6/10 C: 10/10 SPAC: 26/30

I love everything about this word. This is one where I could point at a lunatic romping in a field and say ‘gambol’ to the aliens and they’d probably nod. Yeah, it sticks out in a quotidian sentence, but who cares? Gamboling is not meant to be subtle.

gambol

 

 

 

 

 

 

 5. Lugubrious

Definition: (adj.) looking or sounding sad and dismal.

S: 10/10 PA: 6/10 C: 10/10 SPAC: 26/30

Interesting trend for the word ‘lugubrious’:

lugubrious

 

 

 

 

 

 

The roaring twenties saw an unprecedented decline in ‘lugubrious’ and the fucking Great Depression/Nazis brought it right the hell back. Well, I guess all things considered I can’t argue with its relative decline after that one-two punch.

4. Anachronistic

Definition: (adj.) the representation of an event, person, or thing in a historical context in which it could not have occurred or existed.

S: 10/10 PA: 5/10 C: 11/10 SPAC: 26/30

Okay a 5 for application is generous but hear me out. The Internet loves mashing and blending historical things together. I swear to Christ, Vitamix has sponsored the whole fucking thing. We need the potential of this word to be realized more than panacea. But as it stands, someone who uses ‘anachronistic’ in a sentence becomes that very thing. You could argue that improves its context, but no, not as much as the boost in practical application it stands to gain. On the plus side, it’s not that rare:

anachronism

 3. Soporific

Definition: (adj.) tending to induce drowsiness or sleep.

S: 10/10 PA: 8/10 C: 10/10 SPAC: 28/30

It could just be that most of the novels I’ve read included this word. If so feel free to correct me in the comments, but I think this word’s catching on! Sure Google says its usage is down since the early 1900s, but not much.

soporific

 

 

 

 

 

 

And which words aren’t trending the wrong way? At least soporific didn’t see a sharp decline and there’s no way fucking YOLO is making this list on a technicality. Would you use any other word to describe the poppy field in The Wizard of Oz? No. Chris O’Toole is pro-soporific, all the way.(By the way, even if we stopped using many words more or less altogether, doesn’t it seem impossible for their usage to be down? We’ve got like three times as many people. Does Google factor in the population relative to usage or total usage? I don’t know, it’s odd.)

2. Oneiric

Definition: (adj.) of or relating to dreams or dreaming

S: 9/10 PA: 6/10 C: 9/10 SPAC: 24/30

One too many harsh letters to truly fit the context and one too many harsh letters as a sound in general. In this case I’m talking about the ‘r’. I think it would be better pronounced oh-ney-ic and spelled oneic. I realize it hasn’t had the same traction as soporific, probably. Only wait.. hold on.. what’s this?!?!

oneiric

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My god, this word’s off like a shot! The Beats skyrocketed it! We need a revision.

S: 9/10 PA: 10/10 C: 9/10 SPAC: 28/30

I’m proud to be a part of this. Now sweet dreams, you oneiric bastards.

1. Otiose

Definition: (adj.) serving no practical purpose or result.

S: 10/10 PA: 10/10 C: 10/10 SPAC: 30/30

I’m not going to show you the graph for otiose. Just assume I’m not lying about its practical application and use this word. It’s beautiful to read, beautiful to hear, and beautiful to say. Like, it seems like it shouldn’t even phonetically exist as a word, but it does. By the way, shank anyone who says the pronunciation is o-ti-ose. They’re not technically wrong, but the osh-e-ose pronunciation is a masterpiece. Imagine dismissing someone’s idea completely out of hand: ‘Nah. Otiose.’ You can and should even flick your hand. Come on, it’s practically a Harry Potter spell. Please. This word is everything to me.

Agree or the next article goes into O.E.D. territory.

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2 comments
JordanRath
JordanRath

This article was hilarious. At the risk of sounding like an idiot, where do you even find some of these words? 


Either way, a really unique and enjoyable read.

Chriso2l
Chriso2l moderator

@JordanRath Thank you! And to answer your question, lots and lots of long, dry novels.

About the Author

Chris O'Toole (Colorado State '12, Chapman '15) recently finished a Screenwriting MFA. He has written for Livestrong, CBS, and other publications. Love, hate, and job offers can be sent to: otool102@mail.chapman.edu