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11 fun word lists to drill your vocabulary on
Word from Shakespearean insults, '70s songs, and more
 
Time to see how your pirate vocab measures up.
Time to see how your pirate vocab measures up. (Facebook.com/Pirates of the Caribbean)

I was feeling pretty smug about my big, nerdy vocabulary when I tried out the word challenge at Vocabulary.com, but it didn't take long for the game to find my weak spots. That's because it quickly adapts to your level and learns to predict what words you don't know. There's also an app version you can take around with you, which is good, because while there are lots of ways to kill time on your phone while waiting in line, this one actually pays off in words learned. In the past few days I've gained osculate, litotes, and flagitious.

You can customize by choosing particular word lists to work on, and while many of the lists are organized around sober, practical topics — SAT prep, current events, historical documents, great books — there are a number of lists that are just plain word fun. Here are 11 of the best themed lists from Vocabulary.com for you to master, or just enjoy.

1. WORDS FROM SHAKESPEAREAN INSULTS

Knave, sere, dissembling, scorn… cut down your rivals with Elizabethan flair.

2. WORDS FOR FRUSTRATING SITUATIONS

Vex, dumbfound, stupefy, perplex… develop a more engaging way to describe your bad day.

3. WORDS FROM '70S SONGS

If your example sentences come from The Clash (feckless), Warren Zevon (fray), or Stevie Wonder (dissipate), you might remember them better.

4. WORDS FOR WAYS OF WALKING

There are so many ways to get around. Do you amble, careen, falter, somnambulate… ?

5. WORDS FROM LATIN CADERE, TO FALL

A bunch of lists are organized around words that relate to a particular Latin root. Can you see how falling relates to casualty, deciduous, and catapult? It might help you learn them.

6. WORDS WITH PREFIX CON- (TOGETHER)

Grouping words with the same prefix can also help them stick. Look for the togetherness in concerted, conciliatory, concurrently…

7. WORDS RELATED TO MINECRAFT

Can't get your 8-year-old to study? Try example sentences like this one, for "access": "A portal is the only way to access the Nether and its contents."

8. WORDS FROM DIALOGUE WRITTEN BY HAROLD RAMIS

Or maybe you've got a Ghostbusters fan who would do better with movie quotes from Harold Ramis. Rational: "Sorry, Venkman. I'm terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought."

9. WORDS FROM STEPHEN SONDHEIM LYRICS

You can get a lot out of the Sondheim songbook: précis, abstention, apse…

10. WORDS FOR WRITING ABOUT CHEESE

They picked out the good ones from a New York Times article about cheese: rustic, earthy, dulcet…

11. WORDS PIRATES MIGHT LIKE TO SAY

At first it's not clear what these words have to do with pirates. Arbitrary? Artichoke? Then you realize they are words pirates might like to say. Focus on that first syllable. Draw it out a little. Draw it out a little more — now you're ready for Talk Like a Pirate Day!

 
Arika Okrent is editor-at-large at TheWeek.com and a frequent contributor to Mental Floss. She is the author of In the Land of Invented Languages, a history of the attempt to build a better language. She holds a doctorate in linguistics and a first-level certification in Klingon.

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