I try to learn one new word every day. To support this habit, I subscribe to both the Merriam Webster email called M-W Word of the Day, and my all time favorite, the Visual Thesaurus Magazine. I know I've talked about the Visual Thesaurus before: it not only gives you the definition of a word, it shows you--graphically--how the word fits into context of other words. And it speaks the word for you so you can hear its correct pronunciation.
What I don't do as often as I would like is look up words I don't know when I see them in an article. Lo and behold I learned the other day that after all this time of reading articles from the New York Times online that I had failed to notice the wonderful dictionary function NYTimes.com offers. You simply double-click on any word in an online Times article and a question mark appears above it; click on the question mark to get a definition from American Heritage.
I also, finally, opened up the note someone sent to me months ago about the Times' annual compilation of words that readers look up most often with that dictionary function. The list ranks the words by how many times they've been looked up. The list is arranged by how many times a word was looked up per use, rather than by total number of look-ups. So that highlights the most baffling words of all (And probably acts as a good way for New York Times writers to avoid words that clearly puzzle so many of their readers,they should find an alternative). I was stumped by three of the top five: "panegyric" (what a great word...it means "a public speech or published text in praise of someone or something") was the first on the list. I could actually use that one. Not so sure about "immiscible" which means "not forming a homogeneous mixture when added together." Like suntan oil is immiscible with water." And although I thought I should know "inveigh" I realized I didn't. It means "to speak or write about something with great hostility." I guess we see many people, on the subject of politics, inveigh against our leaders and the economy. But I did know "Manichaean" (know that one? It refers to a dualistic religious philosophy that deals with the opposition of good and evil) and crepuscular (relating to twilight). And quite a few of the rest of the list.
But, hey, I should know lots of these words if I'm such a self-confessed word freak, right? And no, most of them don't get used all that often, at least not by me, and not in conversation.
How about you? Take a look at the list and see how you do. Makes you glad you don't have to take the SAT exam again, right?.