10 Words We Don’t Use Enough

The marvelous Jenny Hansen knows how much I love studying words and grammar, so she sent me a fabulous article on Important Infrequently Used Words to Know.

Among the words listed are some I’ve used with fair frequency, like alacrityegregious, gratuitous, hubris, poignant, sycophant, and veracity. But there are plenty I almost never use, like copacetic, fatuous, insipid, misanthrope, polymath, and unctuous — even though I know that they mean. (I won’t talk about the ones I had to look up!)

But there are plenty of other words I use, which maybe we don’t use quite enough. Here’s my own list of 10 words you might want to include in your vocabulary:

Boondocks. I thought everybody used this word, until I recently had a teenager read a story of mine and comment that she didn’t know that word and didn’t think anyone in her age cohort did. *sigh* It means way out there in isolated country. Like “I had to drive an hour outside of town to reach his lone shack out in the boondocks.” Although I’m more likely to use it as in, “Where is my car in this mall parking lot? Oh, yeah. I parked out in the boondocks.”

Conniption (Fit). So the word is conniption, but I never say it without immediately following with the word fit. What’s a conniption fit? Well, conniption means the full range of hysterics. So a conniption fit is what you have when you discover your two-timing boyfriend is at it again or your children have left another mess in the middle of your living room or the election ballot once again provides two completely unacceptable choices.

Hissy vs. Conniption Fit Mug - available from Zazzle.com
Available from Zazzle.com

Eschatology. Ever wonder when the world will come to an end and how? Then, you might be intrigued by eschatology, a branch of theology that deals with the end of the world’s history and/or humankind. It may sound a little depressing, but it’s quite interesting to hear all the theories of what a grand finale might look like.

FlabbergastedWhy go for simply “surprised” when you can amp it up and say you’re flabbergasted? Synonyms include “astonished,” “perplexed,” and “amazed.”

Gobsmacked. Need something even more than flabbergasted? Hello, gobsmacked. You gotta love a word that sounds like its meaning. Gobsmacked is like “surprised” on steroids. When you just can’t believe something, you’re gobsmacked.

Julie demonstrating "surprised," "flabbergasted," and "gobsmacked"

HippopotamiSure, you say hippopotamus, but do you look for opportunities to say hippopotami? Personally, I’m not entirely happy if I see a single hippo; it just sort of takes away from the pronunciation fun of punctuating that final long i. You can also extend the fun with other -us to -i words, such as cacti and octopi and radii and alumni. (Yes, I know you can also say hippopotamuses, but where’s the fun in that? 😉 )

That last entry is in honor of “Hip Jenny,” who is recovering from recent hip surgery.

Lackadaisical. Welcome to summer with teenagers! However, this word gets used in my house throughout the year. It means lazy, listless, idle, unambitious, slothful. You may live with someone who qualifies as lackadaisical or have a few days when you meet that definition yourself.

Persnickety. Got a nitpicking, finicky person in your life? This word entered my routine vocabulary with the arrival of my second son and his picky eating habits. But persnickety has come in rather handy in a number of other situations, when someone is a bit too fussy about this or that.

Rambunctious. Anyone who has children or has been to a rock concert needs this word. Google’s dictionary defines it as “uncontrollably exuberant; boisterous.” If you’re trying to imagine this word in action, just think Chuck E. Cheese. Pretty much everything going on in there describes rambunctious.

Surreptitious. I likely hear this word in mysteries more than any other place. Which makes sense, since it means “done in a secret way,” or on the sly. Surreptitious brings to my mind such actions as peeking, sneaking, and spying. That guilty pleasure of yours? Do that surreptitiously.

Which of these words do you use or want to add to your vocabulary? And what words do you use with some frequency that you don’t think we all use enough?

30 thoughts on “10 Words We Don’t Use Enough

  1. I love your list. I use most of the words on this list, daily. #3 is the only one I don’t use. Pet Peeve: using “hippopotamuses” instead of “hippopotami”

    1. Thanks! Yes, I much prefer hippopotami.

      (Unless I’m singing that absolutely ridiculous Christmas song, “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.” But how often does that happen? LOL.)

  2. Words!! I love these words! AND I use some of them (even boondocks). Although, I don’t get many opportunities to use hippopotami.

    Let’s see how many words like this we can use in July. Two word nerds together can only mean shenanigans.

    1. Ooh, shenanigans was considered for my list! But I don’t use it often enough. Maybe because I don’t have someone to do shenanigans with! Which will be remedied in July. 🙂

      (Actually, shenanigans was right there with tomfoolery in vying for a spot.)

  3. Hey, I knew all but one of your words. But then, since I’ve stopped teaching there has been little need to have a conniption fit. Sadly I rarely get to use any of them as I don’t speak English on a day to day basis and when I do I’m usually the best English speaker in the room so I stick to simple words.

    I don’t think we use the word susurrus enough. I always got very annoyed if I detected a susurrus in the classroom while the students were supposed to be writing an essay…

  4. I love all of them, but I wish you’d gone ahead and defined “hissy.” Count me among those who don’t know the difference between a hissy fit and a conniption fit.

    1. A hissy fit is an “angry outburst or tantrum.” It’s like your wife asking with a raise voice, “Can’t you ever put away your socks?” and then huffing around for a few minutes or spouting out a list of all the other things you never put away. Whereas conniption fit is a five-alarm tirade of the hysterical sort. A conniption fit may be a perfectly reasonable response depending on the infraction (obviously not sock misplacement), but it’s no-holds-barred, get-out-of-her-way.

      Hope this has helped, David! LOL.

  5. So – – okay – – here’s something – – I use every one of those except Eschatology. Does that mean my writing is good and understandable or pretentious? And who has never heard of Boondocks? There’s a country song called Boondocks (Little Big Town sings it). Wow, what are we teaching our children these days?

    Thanks for sharing this fun post. Obviously writers are a step above the average Joe in many, many ways.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

    1. I see these words in writing more than I hear them used in conversation. Do you use them in common speech as well? Because no, I don’t think you’re pretentious at all. But I do suspect that writers have larger vocabularies than the norm. I love that I learn even more great words from fellow writers.

      Thanks, Patricia!

      1. I do use those words in conversation. I don’t just randomly start talking about Hippopotami, but if the topic comes up, of course, I will use that term. It is the correct term after all.

        I use persnickety all the time. Love the way it rolls off the tongue and bounces around on the teeth.


  6. These are great words, Julie. I don’t get to use hippopotami as often as I would like. My father would never curse, so I grew up with interesting, often Latinate, curses. It slightly upset him when I took medieval Latin, and figured out all his curses. I’m a total word nerd, too. 🙂

    1. That’s actually one of my life regrets: that I never took Latin. So many of our English words have their origins in Latin, I suspect that would have helped with expanding my vocabulary. Good for you!

  7. I love words! I’m going to look at the longer list too, but love the 10 you’ve pointed out here. I think it’s great when there are words in a story I don’t recognise cos then I get to learn something new!

  8. LOL. Great list, Julie. I use quite a few of these verbally, but not so much in my writing. If I did use them, I’d have to depend on spellcheck to get them right. Rigamarole is one of my favorites, sadly because I seem to encounter the all the time 🙂


      1. Rigamarole is marvelous, Nigel! Why am I not using it more?? And when you say “right royal rigamarole”? Well, my British ancestors would be proud if I at least gave it a shot. 🙂

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