My Top 10 Words

I apologize that this Top 10 list is a little later than expected. And I apologize for two weeks without a post. I’ve had quite a busy few weeks at school. I’m the after-school drama director, and we just hosted the first round of the state drama festival. My students were wonderful, gracious, friendly, supportive, awesome hosts as usual, and their show was utterly amazing—so much that one judge commended us on our “exemplary ensemble work.”

However, we were not one of the three schools selected to advance to the semi-finals of the festival. As I read the comments to my students, one of them astutely pointed out that if we were exemplary, then we were the example to which others should look. Now I’m not claiming any sour grapes because I understand theatre is subjective. Maybe we were that judge’s first choice production (as the word exemplary suggests) but lower choices for the other two judges. It is what it is, and I couldn’t be more proud of my students.

But it got me to thinking about words and definitions in general, and it inspired this month’s slightly late Top 10 list of my favorite words:


#10 – Obsequious

Definition: adjective, obedient or attentive to an excessive or servile degree.

It’s not so much the definition that makes this word interesting to me—although I’d definitely enjoy having some obsequious minions to do my bidding. It’s the sound of the word. I remember first hearing it in middle school or early high school, and the squee sound in the middle makes it a really fun sounding word.


#9 – Inevitable

Definition: adjective, certain to happen; unavoidable.

Yeah, here it’s all about the definition. What I love about words is that we’ve made words to mean very specific things. You can say something’s unavoidable—like something large in the road ahead that you can’t swerve around—but that’s not what inevitable means. It’s more about an outcome than an obstacle. Death is inevitable. Taxes are inevitable. A cool Top 10 list every month is inevitable.


#8 – Verbigeration

Definition: noun, the constant or obsessive repetition of meaningless words or phrases.

This word came into my consciousness this past summer at the arts camp where I work. The kids had a creative project where they were given a motion prompt to create an alien character using a variety of craft and junk materials. Then each group was given a different sound as inspiration to design the world the creature inhabited. Finally, they had to write a short scene given the same uncommon word. This wasn’t the word they were given—and I don’t remember what was—but I was pushing for this one because of possible cool character quirks that could develop. Still, it’s a pretty awesome word. Awesome, I tell you!


#7 – Grawlix

Definition: noun, a string of typographical symbols used (especially in comic strips) to represent an obscenity or swearword.

In the event you were wondering what the @#$%&! to call those symbols, now you know. File this one in the oh-my-they-have-a-word-for-that category. This term was supposedly coined by Mort Walker, famous for the comic strips Beetle Bailey and Hi and Lois, in the mid-1960s. It’s a @#$%&! awesome word, and I dare you to find ways to integrate it into your daily speech.


#6 – Pistanthrophobia

Definition: noun, the fear of trusting people due to bad experiences with prior lovers.

First off, it’s cool that there’s a long list of words for all the possible phobias out there. But this is one we’ve all felt at one point or another. It’s natural to have difficulty trusting someone new if you’ve been badly hurt by someone before. Sure, it’s not necessarily fair to the new person because they haven’t done anything untrustworthy yet, but that little feeling of doubt is present. It’s a great word, but not necessarily a great feeling. As a single dad in the dating pool, I’ve sadly met a few too many women with signs of it.


#5 – Esoteric

Definition: adjective, intended for or likely to be understood by only a small number of people with a specialized knowledge or interest.

Some words are on this list simply because of the really cool story of how I learned—or in this case, was reminded of—the definition. I was teaching physics, and I described a particular concept or law as being one of the more esoteric ideas in physics. A student of mine asked me what esoteric meant. I stumbled through an explanation, and to save face, I consulted a dictionary. Upon reading it aloud, I burst into laughter. I had used the word correctly and as intended, but the class and I found it funny that at that moment, the definition of esoteric was…well, esoteric. It was a great private joke—an esoteric joke, if you will. But now that you all know it, it isn’t.


#4 – Arbitrary

Definition: adjective, based on random choice or personal whim, rather than any reason or system.

I cringe when people overuse words in incorrect contexts, particularly words like literally and random. I will correct my students when they do. Never tell me that some silly comment or joke or action I made in class was random. It can’t be random if I CHOSE to do it. This usually starts a conversation about what’s random and what isn’t. A student suggested that picking a number between one and ten is random. A dice roll is random, but the number you choose is arbitrary, as you’re selecting on a whim (unless you always choose your lucky number). I’ve already trained my daughters to say “That’s so arbitrary.” instead of “That’s so random.” Pretty arbitrary, don’t you think.


#3 – Rhinotillexomania

Definition: noun, habitual nose picking.

Yes, there’s a word for that. The morphology of the word is NOSE (rhino) PICK (till) OUT (exo) HABIT (mania). It’s not a very pretty habit, and it’s not a very pretty word to pick, but it’s a funny story. I went to a local community theatre group’s production of the musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. I knew the director well, and when she saw me arrive, she asked me if I was willing to be one of the guest spellers from the audience. Seriously, look this up to see how clever a concept that is. The instructions were to ask for the definition of the word and its use in a sentence and then legitimately try to spell it. I correctly spelled my first word (dengue, as in the fever), but this was my second word. I can’t remember if I was one L short, or if I gave an A instead of an O in the –exo- part of the word, or both. But I will never forget the word.


#2 – Penultimate

Definition: adjective, last but one in a series of things; second to the last.

Do I really need to give a reason why the penultimate word on the list is penultimate? That’s not me being arbitrary, but knowing me, such a pun was inevitable.


Before getting to the top word on the list, let’s take stock of the words and their respective parts of speech. Though many are fun to say, there aren’t any interjections on the list. Conjunctions, prepositions, and pronouns are useful but small words, and none appear here. Adverbs are mostly just adjectives with an –ly­ suffix, but many are really, really overused. I’ve got four nouns and five adjectives so far. I’m a writer; I like to describe things, I guess. But I end this list with a verb…



Definition: verb, throw something or someone out a window.

Coolest. Word. Ever! It’s in the there’s-a-word-for-that category big time. I can’t even explain why this is my favorite word except that it has been my favorite word ever since I first learned it. Sure, the noun form defenestration to describe the act of defenestrating is just as cool, but if you’re going to top a list of favorite words with such a specific action, you have to go with the verb form. It’s a great action. Why say “He threw his alarm clock out the window” when you can say “He defenestrated his alarm clock”? Let’s save some words. Even cooler is the idea that the word also applies to throwing people out windows. I’ve never done it, but there’s a word for it. Words are cool! And this list is out the window.


Agree? Disagree? What are some of your favorite words?

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