Grammar Big Words We Can Use |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Big Words We Can Use

To many Americans, big words are an affront. People who use fancy words are trying to show us up, flaunting their education and intelligence, rubbing our noses in our own shortcomings.

It’s true there are people who use their vocabularies to intimidate. It’s a shabby tactic, and it’s sad how effective it can be. Many a faulty argument has been won by the side with the glib, silver-tongued wordsmith.

Still, a highly developed society needs big words. Most multisyllabic words combine two or more smaller words to express complex ideas that come about as a culture copes with the world’s intricacy, uncertainty, and inscrutability.

In the end, big words take up far less space than repeatedly articulating the complicated concepts they represent. Not so long ago, paranoid was an exotic word that only intellectuals used. (It’s from the Greek para: “amiss, incorrect” + nous: “mind.”) Nowadays even seventh-graders use paranoid. The culture needed a word that could sum up, in a few pithy syllables, “having an irrational belief that you’re being persecuted.”

So below are several big words that, like paranoid, might come in handy in certain situations. The problem is how to get them into general usage. If you take a shine to any of these words, try slipping one in around friends who wouldn’t hate you for it and might even ask you what it means.

Pareidolia  You know how every so often you read about people who see Jesus Christ in a tree trunk? Or some woman in Ohio who keeps a swirl of moldy Cheez Whiz in a vault because she sees the visage of Elvis? That’s pareidolia: the phenomenon of finding the familiar in an improbable place.

Misology  This is a word for our times. It means hatred of reason, logic, enlightenment. People who oppose higher learning and progress used to be dismissed as fools. Now a potential voter’s misology is something many politicians pander to.

Sesquipedalian  This really long adjective means “really long.” It was coined to describe big words, so it is what it means. It can also refer to someone who uses words that are really long, maybe too long.

Billingsgate  Foul or abusive language. It derives from a rowdy fish market in seventeenth century London. It’s innocuous-sounding and obscure enough to work to your advantage if you’re ever sitting with your family near a foul-mouthed sot who won’t shut up. “Please, dude, go easy on the billingsgate, huh?” OK, that probably wouldn’t work, but you tried, and let’s hope it sounded mild enough to avoid a drubbing.

Prelapsarian  If you describe a garden as prelapsarian, you’re praising its unspoiled loveliness, not criticizing it for being dated or out of fashion. We get this word from theology. It’s meant to evoke the state of innocence before the Fall of Man.

Paraprosdokian  One or more sentences that end in an unexpected way. Here’s a fine example: “The car stopped on a dime—which unfortunately was in a pedestrian’s pocket.” Bet you never saw that coming. (Neither did the pedestrian.)

Orthoepy  It’s supposed to be or-THO-a-pee, and by telling you that, I sort of defined the word: it’s the study of proper pronunciation.

Callipygian  Here’s a strikingly euphonious alternative to leering-frat-boy language. It means “having shapely buttocks.” I think I prefer it to badonkadonk.

Tom Stern

If the article or the existing discussions do not address a thought or question you have on the subject, please use the "Comment" box at the bottom of this page.

11 responses to “Big Words We Can Use”

  1. Bill P. says:

    I worked for a gentleman who used big and fancy words to impress people with his higher education. After researching many of the words, I found that he used many of them improperly. I accused him of same and told him that he was a poor communicator, because many people didn’t understand what he was talking about.

    Please keep up your good work with

  2. Fred B. says:

    What will we do without Tom? I only knew callipygian, which we learned in Greek class a very long time ago – “finely rumped.” You don’t forget that.

  3. Dennis T. says:

    Excellent choices, none of which I had heard before.

  4. Brian Thompson says:

    At High School in England in the early 60’s my English master gave us a few words to memorise every week. Many were of little further use to me and so are lost in the mists of time. Those I recall include CALENTURE (feverish delirium supposedly caused by the heat in the tropics.- he said sailors would often see the sea as green fields)
    I put this into a conversation but as no-one understood it it fell rather flat and hasn’t been used by me for nearly 50 years. I obviously need to mix with more erudite company!

  5. Jane says:

    Why did you capitalize all those big words? They should not have been.

    • The words are part of a vertical list. If the list item is not a complete sentence, it is the writer’s choice whether to capitalize or not. It is a matter of style.

  6. Ibraheem says:

    I can remember, when we were in primary school, our teacher would always tell us that, speaking big grammar doesn’t always mean you are knowledgeable. But the way you interact with people is what determines your knowledge.

    • We agree that one’s understanding of correct grammar and skill in choosing the appropriate words for the situation are components of successful interactions with others.

  7. Love choice says:

    This is amazing.
    I have never heard some of these words.

Leave a Comment or Question:

Please ensure that your question or comment relates to the topic of the blog post. Unrelated comments may be deleted. If necessary, use the "Search" box on the right side of the page to find a post closely related to your question or comment.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *