WORD LISTS

Time's "Nine Minutes, Nine Texts, Nine Words"

March 19, 2014
For National Reading Month, Time columnist Katy Steinmetz gives us " 9 Great Things to Read in (Roughly) 9 Minutes," devoted to reading in contexts other than great books of the "big, blubbery" Moby Dick variety.

Steinmetz quotes Vocabulary.com lexicographer Ben Zimmer: "You can take any text, whether it’s a movie script or the lyrics of a song, and pull out the vocab words." In that spirit, she collected nine vocabulary words from nine delightfully variegated non-book texts.

We were thrilled she turned to the Vocabulary.com Dictionary as a resource, linking to our word blurbs and definitions that enrich our understanding of this delightful list.

Click "learn this list" on Vocabulary.com or in the Vocabulary.com app, and we'll add those words to your learning. Or click on the "practice" tab to see questions exclusively on these words.
bedlam
The term bedlam comes from the name of a hospital in London, “Saint Mary of Bethlehem,” which was devoted to treating the mentally ill in the 1400s. Over time, the pronunciation of “Bethlehem” morphed into bedlam and the term came to be applied to any situation where pandemonium prevails.
“A woman’s scream rose above the bedlam and suddenly a lovely, dark-haired girl was in Walter Mitty’s arms."
--“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” by James Thurber, written in 1939 (and turned into a Ben Stiller movie in 2013), about a man with an imagination
hurricane
When a hurricane comes through your town, you should board up the windows and stay inside. Hurricanes have sustained winds that rotate in a circle, which is why they are often referred to as cyclones.
Here comes the story of the Hurricane
The man the authorities came to blame
For somethin’ that he never done
--“ Hurricane,” by Bob Dylan and Jacques Levy, a protest song about the imprisonment of Rubin “ Hurricane” Carter
avarice
Avarice is a fancy word for good old-fashioned greed. Do you want more and more money? Or cookies? Or anything? Then your heart is full of avarice. When people talk about greed, it’s clearly not a good thing, but avarice has an even worse flavor to it.
" Love always departs from the dwelling place of avarice."
--The Art of Courtly Love, by Andreas Cappelanus, contains this set of rules about love, dating to the 12th century
pyrrhic
Use the adjective pyrrhic to describe a victory that is won, but at too great a cost. The word pyrrhic comes from the Greek general, Pyrrhus, who defeated the Romans at the Battle of Asculum but lost so many troops that he couldn’t defeat Rome itself.
Even as men saluted the greatest and most grimly Pyrrhic of victories in all the gratitude and good spirit they could muster, they recognized that the discovery which had done most to end the worst of wars might also, quite conceivably, end all wars–if only man could learn its control and use.
--“The Peace The Bomb,” written by author James Agee at the end of World War II
gash
A gash is a deep cut, like a gash on your knee from a biking accident, or a gash in the earth caused by workers who are digging up a broken sewer. The noun gash describes a wound or cut, so it makes sense that as verb, gash describes the act of making that wound or cut.
I cannot go to school today,”
Said little Peggy Ann McKay.
“I have the measles and the mumps,
A gash, a rash and purple bumps.
--“Sick,” by Shel Silverstein, chronicles a young lady’s attempt to get out of going to school, with a surprising ending
responsibility
Responsibility comes from the Latin responsus, which means “to respond. It can be another word for trustworthiness, and it can be used to describe the social force that motivates us to take on individual responsibilities.
Not one of them was capable of lying,
There was not one which knew that it was dying
Or could have with a rhythm or a rhyme
Assumed responsibility for time.
--“Their Lonely Betters,” a poem by W.H. Auden from 1950, explains why people talk and plants do not
export
To export something is to move it from its current location to a different territory. The verb export comes from the Latin word exportare which means “to carry out” or “send away.” To export something is to move it across borders.
Here’s the thing: We used to lead the world in making things. But we stopped making things. We don’t make anything anymore. I miss that. Hollywood still makes things. We still export a couple billion dollars’ worth of product overseas.
--From Esquire, which for years...has been asking great people what they have learned and summing up their wisdom, like a 2011 piece investigating the mind of George Clooney
prosperous
If you have a new car and some flashy new shoes, then you could be described as prosperous, meaning you have material success that seems like it will continue to grow. The adjective prosperous often describes a person or a person’s future, but it can apply to anything that’s experiencing growth and success. Prosperous derives from the Latin word prosperus, meaning “doing well.”
I submit that this is what the real, no-bull-value of your liberal-arts education is supposed to be about: How to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default-setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone, day in and day out.
--From author David Foster Wallace, now deceased, in a speech to the graduating class of Kenyon College in 2005
dexterous
If you’re dexterous, you’re good with your hands, but it can mean any skillful or clever physical movement. A kid’s dexterous ball handling and footwork can aid him on the soccer field. Dexterous can also be used to describe mental skill and agility — like the dexterous handling of an uncomfortable situation at work.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft.
And never mix up your right foot with your left.
And will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and ¾ percent guaranteed.)
--Oh, The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss, which lays out the somewhat brighter outlook for the future

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