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This is an entry in the Saturday series of Timeless & Timely called “Off the Clock,” where we focus on words, a quirk of history or literature, or something just plain fun.
“You fiend!” he kept on muttering. “You clever, clever fiend!” — Arthur Conan Doyle
This was a fiendish week for me.
I was on the road as I took my son to Nashville for a goalie camp. While the drive was a good opportunity to spend time together, Thursday evening was a slog, as I forgot to calculate the time zone change as we trudged back for nine hours.
And that kind of personal challenge reminded me of some words that you’ve likely heard but that, when asked to define them, you might struggle a bit.
So here are ten challenging words you should know. Grab a pencil and paper; you can find the answers below.
Often used to describe the march of time, it means:
Responding to an invitation with alacrity means
A. Saying “yes quickly”
B. Lying about having other plans
C. Saying “possibly”
D. Asking for more time to think
If you meet someone who is winsome, by definition they should be…
A. Highly competitive
D. A gambler
Someone might be called pusillanimous if they…
A. Asked to borrow some money
B. Backed down from a fight
C. Repeatedly sneezed
D. Won a race
By definition, someone who is gormless lacks what?
Getting an imprimatur from your boss means you are…
A. Moving desks
B. Starting a new project
D. Getting a raise
Which of these best describes a diaphanous blouse?
Taken from the Greek name for the constellation Ursa Minor, cynosure means…
Derived from the name of a type of circus performer who would jump from horse to horse, desultory means…
Often used during jury selection, peremptory means…
Okay, ready to see how you did?
C. Inexorable means “not to be persuaded, moved, or stopped.”
A. Alacrity means “promptness in response” and “cheerful readiness.”
B. Winsome comes from the Old English wynn, meaning “joy,” and is not related to win meaning “victory.” And certainly not related to the phrase “you win some, you lose some.”
B. Despite its meaning “lacking courage and resolution,” pusillanimous is not related to pussycat or pussyfoot.
D. Used chiefly in British English, gormless is a synonym for “stupid.”
B. A synonym for the word approval, imprimatur literally means "let it be printed" in New Latin.
B. Meaning “characterized by such fineness of texture as to permit seeing through” diaphanous comes from the Greek word phainein “to show,” a root it shares with words like epiphany.
C. Ursa Minor contains the North Star. As sailors used the North Star for navigation, cynosure came to mean “a center of attraction or attention.”
C. Synonymous with words like aimless and erratic, desultory means “marked by lack of definite plan, regularity, or purpose.” A circus desultor would leap between horses, and a desultory conversation leaps from topic to topic with no real point.
A. Peremptory means “putting an end to or precluding a right of action, debate, or delay.” During jury selection, each lawyer has a certain number of peremptory challenges, allowing them to dismiss a potential juror without assigning cause.
How did you do? If you got all ten, then you are indefatigable, my friend.
If you didn’t manage to get more than five, then perhaps you’re a little indolent in the study of words.
Either way, I hope your weekend is jubilant and that you enjoy some supine time.
Thanks, and I’ll see you on the internet.