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Posted at 11:13 AM ET, 10/16/2010

It’s Dictionary Day! Learn some weird words

By Valerie Strauss

Noah Webster, considered the father of the American dictionary, was born 252 years ago today, so it seems an appropriate occasion to pay extra attention to the glory of words and maybe learn a few new ones.

Dictionary Day is one of those “holidays” that doesn’t seem to have any official sponsor or accompanying celebration. But it does serve to highlight the importance of dictionaries and vocabulary, and any excuse to do that seems like a good thing.

Webster was a lexicographer, journalist and author who was descended from Gov. William Bradford of Plymouth. He published his first dictionary of the English language in 1806, and a dozen years later, the first edition of his “An American Dictionary of the English Language,” with 12,000 words that had not appeared in any earlier dictionary. He published a second edition in 1840.

Webster changed the spelling of many words in his dictionaries to make them more phonetic, which explains why many English words are spelled differently in differently countries.

Take a few minutes, open or click onto a dictionary, and learn a few new words. There are some doozies at www.worldwidewords.org, where a list of “weird words” is maintained. Here are a few:

CIRCUMBENDIBUS: a roundabout process or method; a twist, turn; circumlocution

ELEEMOSYNARY: related to, or supported by, charity

KATZENJAMMER: a hangover; anxiety or jitters; a discordant clamor.

HEBESPHENOMEGACORONA: an irregular solid figure with 21 faces, 18 of them triangular and the other three square.

SARDOODLEDOM: a play with an overly contrived and melodramatic plot.

SHEMOZZLE: a state of confusion and chaos.

ZENZIZENZIZENZIC: the eighth power of a number.

If you’d rather not learn weird words, you can stick to the more conventional ones and commit to memory, once and for all, the spelling of some of the most commonly mispelled words in English: separate, acceptable, rhythm, privilege, embarrass and weird.

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By Valerie Strauss  | October 16, 2010; 11:13 AM ET
Categories:  Reading  | Tags:  dictionaries, dictionary day, noah webster, webster, weird woods, words  
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Comments

Um... Pot Calling Kettle Black Department: In your very exhortation to learn and practice proper spelling (last para.), you have misspelled the word "mispelled". Perhaps it should be added to your list.

Posted by: nan_lynn | October 16, 2010 3:40 PM | Report abuse

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