Definition: showing great care and perseverance.
Synonyms: diligent, careful, meticulous, thorough, sedulous, attentive, conscientious, punctilious, painstaking, rigorous, particular; persevering.
Example: “The assiduous carpenter sat at his bench with his chisel, shaving micrometers of wood from the table legs, ignoring the world and all its chaos.”
Why I Love You: This word reminds me of how I should approach all tasks—from writing an article for you to sweeping the kitchen floor. Distractions abound in our daily lives, and I like having a word that reminds me to be present with every task regardless of how menial and meaningless it may appear. If I cannot focus on the small, how would I manage the greater tasks of life.
Definition: a harsh, discordant mixture of sounds.
Synonyms: din, racket, noise, clamor, discord, dissonance, discordance, uproar.
Example: “As I lay in my hammock, night in the jungle wrapped me in darkness. No sky and no stars. Claustrophobic. Lost in a cacophony of life. Life of the night. Life I’ve never known. Life I don’t want to know. Sleep did not visit me that night.”
Why I Love You: For one, this word is is just fun to say: ke-ka-pho-knee. Try it out. Ke. Ka. Pho. Knee. I think that is part of the reason I love it—for its irony. A euphonic word with such a non-euphonic meaning. I think this irony, too, allows for some interesting phrasing, like “cacophony of silence.” Second, when you say the word, you almost add to the noise and discordance. The word forces you to participate in the clamor.
Definition: a bad-tempered or surly person.
Synonyms: grouch, scrooge.
Example: “I’ve never met a person who was proud to be a curmudgeon, but what other conclusion could I draw. He brashly stomps over people’s emotions with a smile on his face.”
Why I Love You: This word has no known origin, which may seem almost ridiculous. “Don’t we know everything about everything,” in the words of one my high school students I used to tutor. But not knowing is the only thing we do know for sure, and I think it is important to be reminded of this fact as much as possible.
Definition: lasting for a very short time.
Synonyms: transitory, transient, fleeting, passing, short-lived, momentary, brief, short; temporary, impermanent, short-term; fly-by-night.
Example: “If life weren’t ephemeral, if life had no end and continued indefinitely, people would probably waste it even more, appreciate it even less. Death is the reason we have to embrace this journey.”
Why I Love You: I think the example gets to the heart of why I like this word. I need to be reminded of the impermanence of life. My suffering will end. My happiness will end. The things I cherish will rot and decay. And the same with all the things I dislike. On the one hand sad; on the other, refreshing. Ultimately, this word reminds me of this balance and struggle.
Definition: a person or thing that announces or signals the approach of another; a forerunner of something.
Synonyms: herald, sign, indication, signal, portent, omen, augury, forewarning, presage; forerunner, precursor, messenger.
Example: “The birds will sing when they see the Acony Bell because they know this little brave flower is a harbinger of spring.”
Why I Love You: I really think this word should be pronounced differently. Instead of “har-bin-jure,” why not “hair-bing-er.” I think it would get the meaning of the word across, and it would be used more because it would be so much more fun to say. No matter. I still love this word for its strangeness. It seems like such an unlikely word. Unlikely in it meaning. Doesn’t it seem more like the name of a place or even the name of a bird? Or some insect in the Amazonian rainforest? Or perhaps some long forgotten profession from the middle ages?
Definition: in the form of a cloud or haze; hazy. (Of a concept or idea) unclear, vague, or ill-defined.
Synonyms: indistinct, indefinite, unclear, vague, hazy, cloudy, fuzzy, misty, blurred, blurry, foggy; faint, shadowy, obscure, formless, amorphous; ill-defined, uncertain, indefinite, indeterminate, imprecise, unformed, muddled, confused, ambiguous.
Example: “The Higgs-Boson is nebulous as a concept and as a phenomenon. But after watching this video from TEDed, I think I have a better idea of what it is.”
Why I Love You: With most of the words I love, they remind me about the full range of human experiences. And this is another. So many times in life, our ideas are unclear or vague. Our futures are blurry when we squint forward in time. We have to make decisions with ill-defined or with partially defined information. Yet this doesn’t stop humanity from marching forward. And often, the most interesting place to look or the most interesting concept to study or the most interesting idea to ponder is the one that is faint and obscure. Humans have always been good at taking the hazy and making it tangible.
Definition: the partially shaded outer region of the shadow cast by an opaque object. Astronomy the shadow cast by the earth or moon over an area experiencing a partial eclipse. Astronomy the less dark outer part of a sunspot, surrounding the dark core.
Synonyms: No synonyms (making this word especially unique)
Example: “He lived in the penumbra of society—not quite rejected and forgotten yet certainly not a full member of the culture he was born into.”
Why I Love You: This word is just too unique and specific to not love. There are no good synonyms for this word making it the only word to turn to in very specific situations. The image below illustrates the typical use of the word in astronomy. But with such a strange meaning–not completely in the shadow, not completely in the light–there are plenty of situations where this word can be used figuratively.
Definition: speak or act in an evasive way.
Synonyms: be evasive, beat around the bush, hedge, fence, shilly-shally, dodge (the issue), sidestep (the issue), equivocate, waffle; temporize, stall (for time); hem and haw; rare tergiversate.
Example: “Never have I seen a person prevaricate with such ease and confidence, but I suppose that’s why Bill Clinton is one of the great politicians of our time.”
Why I Love You: This word is a warning. Something that we should be on guard for in ourselves and in others. The better we can identify it in others, the more we can make informed decisions. I don’t know if I am noticing it more now, or if there is actually more of it, but prevaricating seems to be standard operating procedure for a range of bankers, politicians, athletes, and CEOs. Without this word, would we be able to identify this phenomenon?
Definition: exceedingly idealistic; unrealistic and impractical.
Synonyms: idealistic, romantic, visionary, utopian, extravagant, starry-eyed, unrealistic, unworldly; impractical, impracticable, unworkable, impossible.
Example: “Although quixotic, he deserves respect. Rarely do we see a person so dedicated to something so small. Usually this type of commitment turns into zealous, fanatical rampages, but for him, I think he has taken up this cause so fully only to make people laugh, to bring a little humor into the world.”
Why I Love You: Every time I see this word or use it, I can’t help but think of the spry old gentlemen who took an idea to its extreme. Don Quixote is a marvelous novel, portentious in its form and story (he broke down the “fourth wall” even before that term existed), deceptively complex in its approach to human experience, and wonderfully entertaining and funny. This word reminds me of the ultimate power of ideas, the true force in the universe greater than any man, greater than any nation—the only power that really matters when it comes to humanity.
Definition: (of countryside) green with grass or other rich vegetation; of the bright green color of lush grass.
Synonyms: green, leafy, grassy; lush, rich
Example: “Verdant meadows burst forth in a moment. Winter ended in a day. Life returned to the small basin I call home.”
Why I Love You: I love this word because of what it represents. It connotes an entire world in a mere two syllables. I remember the first time I heard it used. I was driving with a friend into the Sierra Nevada mountains. Spring was bursting out of the earth. Meadows smiled in the sun and when he said “verdant,” electrons fired across synapses in my mind. That is what this is, I thought, never having the word to express the emotion—a verdant spring in the Sierras.
All definitions and synonyms come from New Oxford American Dictionary and the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus.