The New York Times, one of my favourite papers in the world and one for whom I proudly worked (very briefly, in both time and content) published a list the other day of the words that most frequently stumped its readers. I found this list both life affirming and humbling, based on the words I use frequently, and the words I had to look up. I've provided a definition of the first 10 on the list, but I'm not going to tell you which ones I had to look up, and which ones I knew already.
The NY Times was able to compile this list because of an incredibly cool feature on NYTimes.com, which I only just learned about. If you're reading a story online and are stumped by a particular word, if you double click it, a question mark will appear. If you then click on the question mark, it will give you the definition.
This list also reminds me of an incredibly vexing school assignment that my brother was given when he was in 7th grade. He was given a list with various Wow Words (though they didn't call it that). My parents took one look at the list and said, "Let's call Grandpa. He reads the New York Times every day. He's bound to find these words." I was able to find one word-- placid-- in a book I was reading at the time, but my contribution was immediately rejected by everyone because it came from a "Girl's Book."
So without further delay, here's some new words for you to add to your vocabulary. Drop them into a sentence at your next party to impress your friends!
Most Frequently Looked-up Words on NYTimes.com, 2010
Date Range: 1/1/2010 through 5/26/2010
1 inchoate (definition: undeveloped)
2 profligacy (definition: recklessly extravagent)
3 sui generis (definition: unique)
4 austerity (definition: The 2008-2010 Recession Aftermath. Kidding!)
5 profligate (definition: the adjective version of the noun found in No. 2)
6 baldenfreude (Fake Word, so don't bother getting out your dictionary)
7 opprobrium (definition: state of being abused)
8 apostates (definition: person who has abandoned religion, cause or political party)
9 solipsistic (definition: theory that only the self is the only thing that can be verified)
10 obduracy (definition: obstinate)
19 mirabile dictu