Only A Word Wizard Will Know The Meaning Of These 35 Words


By: Ruby Scalera

6 Min Quiz

Image: Nastasic / E+ / Getty Images

About This Quiz

How many words do you know? 

The book reviewer James Nicoll once said, "We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifled through their pockets for new vocabulary." 

English is comprised of unique and exciting words, phrases and idioms from many different languages and parts of the world. While there is no true count of just how many words exist in the English language, some believe the number to be as high as one million, with something like 200,000 in modern circulation. Many of those words come from other languages or have been appropriated for the English tongue, and that is even before the conversation on types of English can start. (For instance, are "grey" and "gray" considered two different words?) English differs vastly from country to country, region to region and even year to year, which makes for an exciting journey of communication and creativity that never comes to an end. 

Whether you're a lifelong scholar of English or a voracious reader, it's still challenging to come across all the unique and beautiful words English has to offer. Put your knowledge of vocabulary to the test and see if you can't identify some of these unique words. Then test your friends! 

In which sentence is "calamitous" used properly?

If you recognize the word calamity, you'll know that the last sentence is correct. A calamity or calamitous situation is one in which disaster occurs and there are great loss and destruction, like a storm at sea. Calamities tend to cause lasting damage.


In what historical profession would you use a portolan?

A portolan, often called portolan charts, dates back to the 13th century, where early sailors exploring the Mediterranean needed new maps and directions to safely navigate. It is based on the Italian word "portulano" related to ports and harbors, and the artifacts are considered accurate even by today's standards.


What is an incunabula?

An incunabula is a book or pamphlet printed in Europe before 1501. Specifically, it had to be printed, not written by hand as most manuscripts were, because this era refers to texts printed in the early days of the printing press, though the year is up for debate among historians.


How does a person perambulate?

When you perambulate, you're just as focused on the journey as the destination. The walk is both pleasurable and leisurely, and almost always done on foot, like wandering a marketplace or park.


When you practice hypergamy, you:

Hypergamy is the act of marrying up. While society today is less considered with titles (though not necessarily less with money) historically it was challenging to move between social classes and this would have been considered an admirable feat.


When something is draconian, that means it refers to:

Draconian means severe or particularly harsh, specifically as it refers to laws or rules. It was written after a 7th-century B.C. legislator named Draco who wanted to make even minor infractions punishable by death.


Which decision would be considered capricious?

When a person or character is capricious, they tend to act on impulse or whim. Their actions are often difficult to predict and appear to come out of nowhere. Weather patterns are often considered capricious.


If you are engaged in a logomachy, what are you fighting about?

The word logomachy literally translates into "word" and "to fight" from the ancient Greek "logos" and "machesthai." It first went into recorded use in the 1500s and covers any argument about words.


What does "parlance" mean?

Parlance is used to refer to forms of communication. According to one definition, it is a formal, organization debate. According to other definitions, it is industry jargon or vocabulary specific to a group of people, e.g,: ironworkers' parlance.


When you ensorcel someone, you:

Ensorcel shows up a lot in classic fairytales and lore and it's not hard to see why it. It refers to bewitching or enchanting someone and can even translate literally into hexing or charming, with roots in witchcraft.


In order to practice defenestration, what do you need?

Defenestration is the act of throwing someone or something out of the window, in its most literal sense. It may also metaphorically refer to the quick ouster of a person, namely from political office.


A licentious person is someone who:

When a person is licentious, they go against the moral or legal code of their society, often in an explicitly promiscuous way. Licentious may also refers to someone who goes against the rules of a community, for instance, if a writer were to ignore grammar.


What famous landmark might be called catawampus?

When something is catawampus, that means it isn't straight. This can refer to anything from how the Leaning Tower of Pisa leans to simply walking diagonally across a field or lawn.


What position would you be in if you were supine?

If you do yoga or pilates, you may have heard of the supine twist, a twist performed while lying on your back and looking up. Supine may also refer to someone who spends all of their time lazing about.


Which of the following is a trouvaille?

A trouvaille is a lucky windfall or find. Its original is literally the French word to find and it can relate to artifacts like the kind found in a newly purchased home, oftentimes biblically related.


Which of the following might a person find ineffable?

When something is ineffable, that means it is overwhelming, most often in a positive way. The reaction, such as one might have to thoughts of space exploration or ocean voyages, literally translates into something that cannot be expressed.


Where would you find a discobolus?

Discobolus comes from the Greek and Latin terms for both "disc" and "throw," which makes it easy to see why the word literally translates to "disc thrower" as you would find in the early Olympics.


When might a syzygy occur?

A syzygy refers to the configuration of three celestial bodies into a straight or near straight line. During a solar or lunar eclipse, that would be the earth, the sun and the moon.


If you are adroit, how do you handle a situation?

A person who is adroit is particularly skilled at using their resources and clever thinking skills to manage tough spots and keep themselves safe. While they may encounter difficulties, they are usually successful.


Which of the following is the color vermillion?

Vermillion sounds like it should be the color green (maybe something to do with chameleon?) but it's actually a bright red or orangish-red color. It can sometimes refer specifically to a pigment made with mercuric sulfide but is also a reference to that color scheme outside art as well.


Who is most likely to come across a cacophony in their job?

A cacophony is the coming together of mixed and incongruous sounds so the final effect is loud, uncomfortable and difficult to control. A busy classroom might easily turn into a cacophony of noise.


What does an orrery display?

Orreries are beautifully designed mechanical models that show the solar system in motion. They were used to make predictions or estimate where bodies in space would be at certain times of year before modern astronomy tools came into use.


What part of the world does thalassic refer to?

In both its Greek and French origins, thalassic is related to the inland seas. The modern version of the word dates back to the 19th century and it is rarely used in today's world.


If a person is a somnambulist, that means they:

If you walk or otherwise perform motor acts in your sleep like putting on your glasses or taking books off a shelf, you may be considered a somnambulist. It can also be written as an adjective or adverb.


When something is pyroclastic, what kind of natural phenomenon does it relate to?

Pyroclastic flow is most often the result of a volcanic eruption and is thick movement of gas and volcanic matter after the eruption. It can sometimes reach speeds of more than 400 mph and can be very dangerous.


What kind of ideas would a quixotic person have?

The term quixotic comes from the character of Don Quixote, written by Miguel de Cervantes. The character has impractical and romantic ideas and is known for "tilting at windmills" because his ideals are not rooted in reality.


True or false: This quiz can help you to become more sesquipedalian.

A sesquipedalian is either a word or phrase consisting of many syllables or a person who uses many long words. When you read, write, and take quizzes like this often, you'll become more sesquipedalian.


What might a cryptozoologist study?

A cryptozoologist is a person interested in legendary animals, who studies and tracks them with the intent to prove that they exist. The most common of these animals is Bigfoot (or Sasquatch) but others might include the Loch Ness Monster or Jersey Devil.


How would you use the word "foofaraw" in a sentence?

Foofaraw has several definitions with common themes, but most often refers to "much ado about nothing." For instance, when something is overblown in the media or if a large wedding is causing everyone stress, that would be an example of a foofaraw.


An agelast is someone who:

The term agelast is rooted in the Greek language and refers to a person who does not laugh. It also has roots in middle French and generally refers to a person who is gloomy or grave.


If a moment is ephemeral, that means it:

When something is ephemeral, that means it is fleeting or passing. It is often something pretty or enjoyable that is made more so by its short-lived nature, like the blooming of a flower.


What kind of animal is known to bombinate?

Bees bombinate! To bombinate is to produce a droning or buzzing sound. Word nerds may agree that it sounds like the word bombastic, which is a loud, high sound or statement that has little meaning.


How many years are in a chiliad?

A chiliad is actually the same as a millennium, though the word chiliad has been around for longer. Both refer to "a thousand," millennium based in the Latin root and chiliad in Greek.


What tool would you need to practice catoptromancy?

Catoptromancy occurs when divination is practiced with a mirror or crystal ball. It is also known as catromancy or enotropmancy and appears in both Greek and Roman mythology and religion.


Which is an example of a gasconade?

Like quixotic, gasconade also has its roots in literature, this time in the classic Three Musketeers stories by Alexandre Dumas, which features the town of Gascony in France, where the citizens were prone to bragging and boasting. Thus, the word refers to bragging and boasting today.


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