When you see inferno in a news story about a fire, know that this is not a trivial blaze, but rather a fast, furious flame that's difficult to fight.
An overnight bus crashed into a highway barrier and burst into flames Wednesday in southern India, killing 45 passengers who were locked inside the cabin — many of them burned alive in the inferno
, officials said.
-- India bus inferno kills 45; many burned alive
, The San Francisco Chronicle, Oct. 30, 2013
Notice essence or even essential inside the adjective quintessential, and you'll have a clue that it describes the very nature of something's being. The word dates back to alchemists' belief that after earth, wind, air, and fire, there was a fifth (or in Latin, quint) element, or essence: the purest one.
But critics of General Tohamy say he was the quintessential
Mubarak man, the handpicked guardian of the system of corruption and impunity that was a central grievance of the revolution of January 2011.
-- Ousted General in Egypt Is Back, as Islamists’ Foe
, The New York Times, Oct. 30, 2013
Beware words like signal whose meanings, taken out of context, seem obvious. Here, we're used to signal meaning "a sign," or "to give a sign," as in "The traffic cop signaled the car to stop." In this context it's being used in a passive sense, to mean "to show or foretell," as in "The car's speeding up signaled to the cop that he might want to jump out of the way."
Gloss is a good word to know when reading about how a politician's promise materializes as actual law. In this context it means "to skip over or deceive." No connection to strawberry-scented lip products favored by preteens.
Blunt means "dull" in the context of knives and "direct" in the context of communication. It's a word not often used to describe domestic or international diplomacy, where great subtlety is the name of the game.
As a verb, malign means "to say something harmful about someone else." Here calling Iran's "influence" over Iraq "malign" turns out to be just another way to say "bad influence" without sounding like a parent begging a teen to find new friends.
In the movies, when a bank robber scales a rope with a hook on its end that he's tossed up to the roof of a building, the hook at the end of the rope is a grappling hook. As a verb, grapple means "holding something fast," as a grappling hook would do. It suggests a wrestling match or a fight, so when it's used here to refer to a problematic website, you know that this is not just a few surface fixes, but rather a moving target that must be pinned down.
If you're following Republicans' new line of attack on the Affordable Care Act, mislead is a good word to have under your belt. It's also a good example of a word's whose meaning you can figure out by looking at morphology clues: mis- means "bad or wrong" (think misery) and lead means to take someone somewhere. Thus mislead means to take someone somewhere bad, give wrong directions, or just bad information.
From contra, meaning "against," and diction meaning speech, contradiction refers to two or more statements that can't both be true. With Republicans up in arms about the contradiction between Obama's promises about the Affordable Care Act and its roll out, contradiction is a word to get used to.
With a Twitter initial public offering on the horizon, it's hard to remember a time when media wasn't delivered via stream, but whatever the valuation of the company, they have been a party to the change in the way we ingest (and digest) information.
Twitter’s principal form of advertising, known as a sponsored tweet, also appears in the stream of messages from users, and advertisers can post sponsored tweets with images in them.