Vocabulary can change the world

June 11, 2010|By LISA PREJEAN

The pusillanimous act revealed that Sam was fearful of pursuing his goal.

From the context of that sentence, can you determine the meaning of the word pusillanimous?

The key word in the sentence is fearful. What kind of an act would reveal that a person is fearful? One that is timid or cowardly. Now you know the definition of pusillanimous.

Next question.

Could you spell pusillanimous correctly in an essay or could you identify an incorrect spelling of it and make it correct?

If so, you are in the same "verbal" category as the contestants in the National Spelling Bee. (Remember, they are in middle school.)


Or, you might hold your own in a high school vocabulary lesson.

In last week's National Spelling Bee, pusillanimous was one of the 25 words in the Round One written test.

Pusillanimous is also one of the vocabulary words we learn in high school English.

Earlier this year as I was reviewing the weekly vocab list with my students, we came to pusillanimous. After the students mastered the first syllable - "pyoo" - the rest was easy to sound out.

We have fun with words. Last year's seniors appreciated the word ennui, which is pronounced "an we." It means boredom, but I'm sure their fondness of the word had nothing to do with English class.

Uncommonly used words are interesting to learn for reading comprehension. Isn't it enjoyable to have the ability to understand what you read?

I was pondering that as I checked the list of words used in the National Spelling Bee's written test.

Of the 25 words on that test, five of them I've never seen before. Perhaps I can make it a goal to learn them this summer.

Who knows? We may receive a "tocsin" when a new "isocryme" drawn by a "cynophilist" will prompt a "bouleversement" caused by "misoneism."

Interpretation for those of you, like me, who have never seen those words before:

We may receive a "warning" when a new "line connecting points on the earth's surface having the same average temperature in the coldest month of the year" drawn by a "person who loves dogs" will prompt a "confused reversal of things" caused by a "hatred of innovation or change."

(Don't you just love the dog one? "Come here, Fido, you know I'm such a cynophilist!")

At the end of the school year, one of my students estimated that he learned about 50 new words this year. So what if he didn't remember every word we went over in class. He has made progress, and that's one thing we all need to celebrate, whether we're learning words in English class or from reading the newspaper.

With each new word we learn, we become better communicators, people who can change our world for the better.

And there's nothing pusillanimous about that.

To check out the complete list of words used in the bee, go to .

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at .

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