Can You Finish This Vocabulary Quiz With Only One Hint?


By: Elisabeth Henderson

7 Min Quiz

Image: PeopleImages/E+/Getty Images

About This Quiz

People often lament the use of grandiose verbiage in general communication. But these impoverished souls do not know the benefit of a rich vocabulary! The English language has a plethora of words from which to choose to indicate the exact idea signified. As a culture, we are using fewer and fewer words rather than utilizing the full scope of language available to us. 

While using specific words can gesture toward exact meanings, “imprecision shades rapidly into meaninglessness,” as Rachel Cooke opines in The Guardian. Even while we use a smaller range of words, it’s a long and arduous process to have them removed from the dictionary and labeled obsolete. Authoritative dictionaries, like the Oxford English Dictionary, have a complex process of mining extensive data on written and spoken language to confirm that a word has indeed fallen out of use. Peter Gilliver, author of “The Making of the OED,” explains that a word must not be quoted anywhere since before 1930 before it becomes obsolete. 

Let’s strive to keep our language from slipping into obsolescence! Attention to word meanings will broaden your lexicon, so you will understand the higher communication happening within your periphery. Taking the time to find the right word to express what you mean will sharpen your mental tools. Start sharpening right away by scrolling through this quiz! 

If you have reached the zenith of your career, where are you?

The zenith is the uppermost point of an ascent. Once you’ve reached the zenith, you’ve climaxed, achieved the summit, and there’s really nowhere to go but down. In astronomy, the zenith is the point directly overhead. Astronomers use this point to calculate angles and distances to other celestial bodies.


If you were looking for a quiet place to swim, what type of atmosphere would you seek?

A serene atmosphere would provide a quiet place to go for a swim. Early uses of the word serene refer to the weather being clear, calm and unclouded. This image of a clear sky translates nicely to a calm disposition or a quiet atmosphere.


When my professor told me that I seem to exist in a liminal space, what was she implying?

A liminal space refers to an in-between space, like the place where a river meets the ocean: the water is not really river and not really ocean. If a professor tells a student they seem to exist in a liminal space, they are likely communicating that the student is not fully present in class, even though their body is there.


If you wanted to cast doubt on someone’s credentials, how would describe them?

Accusing someone of having dubious credentials would cast doubt on their validity. The word dubious comes from the Latin word for doubt, which rises from the origin “duo” for two. The idea in this root shows that the sense of uncertainty causes a person to have two minds about an idea, not being sure which intuition to follow.


If someone is deeply passionate about about a subject, what might you call them?

The word fervent describes someone who cares deeply and passionately about something. The word itself finds its roots in the Old French word for boiling. This etymology brings a beautiful image to the sense of the fervent type —a person boiling over with passion.


What is a word that describes a strong longing?

To yearn for something is to experience an intense longing for it. The feeling of yearning usually arises for something that a person once had but from which they have been separated. An archaic use of the word carried the meaning of a “warm feeling.”


What do you call someone who always takes a pessimistic view of a situation?

A cynical person always takes a negative view of the situation and believes the worst about people and events. This pessimism is often motivated by a belief that people are driven only by their own needs and wants, a belief that leads to a distrust of people’s sincerity.


If you were faced with a string of difficult tasks, what would you need to succeed?

Fortitude describes the character of someone with both strength and endurance, which a person would need to accomplish a series of difficult tasks. This word demonstrates an understanding that humans need not only strength but also endurance to succeed in life’s challenges.


What happened when the storm engulfed the couple?

If a storm engulfed a couple, it would enclose and overwhelm them with its torrential downpour. While an engulfing storm would likely include both rain and thunder, neither of these descriptions carries the full significance of engulf. Being engulfed by a storm would probably mean your umbrellas won’t do any good.


What is another word for putting an end to something?

To quell one’s hunger is to put an end to it, whether by eating a candy bar or drinking a glass of water. The word derives from the Old English word for “to kill,” though today it can also have less violent connotations, like “to quiet, or allay” one’s fears.


Which word describes the experience of having your interest aroused?

The word pique can describe the experience of having your interest aroused or excited, particularly through a challenge. Pique, though, can have other meanings, including taking pride in something or being irritated. It’s probably best to ask for clarification if someone tells you they’re piqued.


When the fireworks reverberated around the car, what were they doing?

The word reverberate means literally to drive back, so one of its common uses describes the sound of an echo, in which a sound is pushed back and heard again. It also can apply to vision; an image can reverberate from a mirror.


If someone told you that you have a lucid mind, what might they be trying to communicate?

The word lucid describes something that is clear and bright, so a lucid mind would be one that quickly and cogently understands and communicates information. The word comes from the Latin for light, so the sense of clarity associated with lucidity is the clarity that comes from light.


What might a benevolent teacher do?

Benevolent teachers want the best for their students and may go out of their way to bring good to them. The word derives from “bene,” good, and “velle,” to wish. According to Miriam Webster, the word volition also comes from “velle.” Wishing well leads to willing good things, and willing the good, hopefully, leads to doing good.


If your friend asks to you to amplify the music, what should you do?

Amplify comes from the Old French word meaning to enlarge, related to the English word "ample." When someone asks you to amplify the music, they’re asking you to make it bigger. You can also amplify an argument by extending it and making it more complex.


When someone argues that an occurrence happened outside their jurisdiction, what do they mean?

Jurisdiction refers to the power to apply and interpret the law. The word comes from the roots “juris,” meaning law, and “dictio,” meaning a saying. So jurisdiction means the power to say what the law is and enforce it. People also use it metaphorically to defer responsibility for any number of tasks.


What is a characteristic of a quixotic personality?

The adjective “quixotic” describes a person with an unrealistic sense of optimism that seems detached from reality. The concept finds its roots in the Spanish 17th-century novel, “Don Quixote,” in which the titular character roams the countryside engaging in daring conquests that have little to no bearing in reality.


If you have a friend who has sworn off gluten, which choice describes her relationship to wheat?

To eschew means to purposefully avoid, especially on moral grounds. While gluten avoidance does not typically fall into the moral range, in certain circles, it seems to be a moral high ground to eschew consuming wheat.


If someone called your ideas jejune, what would they be implying?

Having your ideas labeled jejune is not a compliment since the label implies the ideas are naive and simplistic and perhaps also dry and predictable. While the Urban Dictionary dubbed the word “the worst word in the English language” for its snobbery, it may come in handy at art shows or poetry readings.


What should you assume about someone with nefarious plans?

The adjective nefarious describes an act or a person with flagrantly evil intent. Nefarious is slightly different from vicious, which is very close in meaning. Nefarious can mean someone who offends against customs and traditions, while a vicious person would be cruel.


What might a numinous experience include?

To have an experience labeled “numinous,” it would have to include an encounter with the divine or be intensely spiritual. The word comes from the Latin “numen” for divine will, and etymologists trace the word further to the word for “nod,” showing divine approval.


What is another way of saying fat?

Corpulent is another way of saying fat. The word finds its origins in the Latin “corpus” for body, so the word denotes being “fleshy.” Corpulence is used to describe someone who is obese, not just slightly overweight.


If someone requested that you stop being so vapid, what would they be asking?

Vapid is an adjective that describes a person who is dull and uninteresting. The word initially described drinks which lacked flavor. So an encounter with a vapid character can be likened to sipping on a flavorless beverage.


If a wise person cautioned you to beware of hubris, about what are you being warned?

Hubris describes a sense of excessive pride or arrogance. In Greek tragedies, as in “Oedipus Rex,” critics point to hubris as the personality trait that brings about the downfall of a hero. Oddly, it’s also the characteristic that leads a character to undertake heroic tasks in the first place.


If a person is extremely talkative, what might you call them?

From the Latin root, “loqui,” to speak, loquacious describes a very chatty person. The word doesn’t necessarily have a negative implication. It can be used to show that a person has a high capacity for speaking eloquently and effortlessly. However, one may apply the word sarcastically to mean that a person talks too much.


What does it mean for something to be ironic?

While the concept of irony is complex and has many variations, one common understanding of it can be described as an occurrence that goes against what you would expect. More specifically, this describes situational irony. Another form of irony is dramatic irony, where the audience understands something different from how the character on stage understands it.


The judge requested that the prosecutor present tangible evidence. What was she requesting?

Tangible evidence can be perceived by the senses, and the word tangible usually refers to the sense of touch. This emphasis makes sense, as the word comes from the Latin “tangere"—to touch. The word more broadly connotes an experience that can be concretely perceived, as opposed to an abstract experience.


What is a word for someone who dislikes people in general?

A misanthrope dislikes people in general or may distrust humankind in its entirety. Miriam Webster explains that the word, which means hating humanity, was probably made famous by Moliere’s play “Le Misanthrope,” in which an embittered man chooses to live in isolation rather than be in contact with people.


What is a word describing the outer limit of a space or experience?

The “periphery” describes the outer range of a space or experience. Someone on the periphery of war, for instance, may see a bombing on the horizon but not be directly affected by the damage it causes. The word “purview” may seem quite similar, but it refers to the full range of a person’s experience or knowledge, not just the outer limits.


If someone told you that your hair is looking rather catawampus, what would you think they meant?

Catawampus sounds like a made up word, and it may well be. But aren’t all words made up at some point? This one entered American slang in the 1830s. If something is catawampus, it is askew or out of order.


Which word describes the loud and discordant piano playing of a toddler?

A cacophony is a jarring and discordant sound, as opposed to a symphony, where sounds play together in harmony. The word comes from the Greek for bad, “kak,” and sound, “phone.” A cacophony is a bad sound, no matter how cute the child who is emitting it.


If someone is vexed by small children, what would make them most happy?

To be vexed means to be troubled or agitated by something, so if someone is vexed by children, they would likely be made most happy by not having any children in sight. Vex can refer to a wide range of agitation, from physical pain to a slight annoyance.


When my professor told me that gorillas were his ken, what was he telling me?

Ken refers to the range of a person’s knowledge, understanding, or perception, unlike kin, which describes familial relations. In English, ken originally described the range of vision out at sea. The word also has a verb form, which means to know or become aware of.


If something seems to be everywhere, what is it?

The adjective ubiquitous describes the sense that something appears all over the place. For instance, cellphones are ubiquitous in city life. The word finds its origins in the Latin word for everywhere, “ubique.”


Which word describes a merciless, unrestrained action?

The word wanton describes a merciless, unrestrained act. The meaning of wanton has changed over time. It used to be commonly used to describe a person lacking sexual restraint, but now more often refers to acts of cruelty or unrestrained violence.


Which word could apply to the phrase “a cold summer day”?

Since the word oxymoron refers to a contradiction that is put together, a cold summer day could be called oxymoronic. The word has the same roots as the word moron, which comes from the Greek for stupid. Oxy- means sharp or pointed. So, an oxymoron is something pointedly stupid.


A xenophobic person afraid of _________.

Xenophobia describes the fear of people who are foreign or perceived as foreign. The word is often used to describe racist fears in general terms, but it more accurately refers to a fear of what is foreign or strange. Of course, racist fears often stem from a feeling that other races are foreign and strange.


What does it mean when someone calls you a Luddite?

A Luddite is a person who resists new technology. The term comes from British textile workers (known as Luddites) in the early 1800s who destroyed factory machinery based on a belief that the turn to machines would reduce employment. Modern-day Luddites often harbor sentiments that technology will negatively affect the quality of life.


If your date says that the meal was ineffable, what do they likely mean?

The adjective ineffable describes the sense that an experience exists beyond our capacity to express it. From the Latin roots, “in,” not, and “effari,” to speak out, ineffable refers to the inability to speak about what you have experienced. While the word is often used to describe experiences of beauty and joy, it can also apply to negative feelings, like disgust.


If you experienced a profound spritual transformation, how might you describe it?

Metanoia is a profound spiritual transformation, which involves radically changing one’s mind. The change of mind, heart and life also resonates with the experience and practice of repentance, when repentance is not a verbal formality but a change of heart and direction.


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