When used carefully and correctly, rare words can elevate your writing. However, the best rare words are ones you can use in daily life. The key to using words that make you sound smarter is understanding how to use these terms properly and when to add them to your speech and writing.
Accismus is a useful term for pretending to be disinterested in something when you actually want it. Pull this word out when you see someone acting like he doesn’t want the last donut.
Example: "I know you want that donut. You're just displaying accismus by pretending you don't."
If you can easily make decisions or learn important things, you are displaying acumen. This positive word is a great term to use when paying someone a compliment.
Example: "His legal acumen makes him likely to win the court case."
When something doesn’t fit with its historical context, it’s anachronistic. This is a great word to use when writing history papers or talking about your favorite historical dramas. Pull it out when you point out the soda can in the background of a period movie.
Example: "Your drawing of Abraham Lincoln talking on an iPhone is charmingly anachronistic."
When someone gives human characteristics to something inanimate, that person is anthropomorphizing that thing. From personification in literature to your brother making his stuffed animals talk, this is a useful and unusual word to know.
Example: "When my brother anthropomorphized the Thanksgiving turkey and pretended to make it wave to us, everyone laughed."
A bastion is a place that is well-defended, but it can also be used to describe an institution or person who holds firm to principles. Use it when talking or writing about social institutions, politics, news organizations, and more.
Example: "The city library was a bastion to the importance of books."
You can use behoove as a verb that means to be necessary or appropriate for something else. It comes in handy when telling someone why they should do something or when writing a persuasive essay.
Example: "It would behoove the students to learn the vocabulary terms before the test next week."
Use this great adjective to describe someone or something that is great company. You can use convivial to pay a compliment to a group of people or use it to describe a gathering you enjoyed.
Example: "As the evening wore on, the atmosphere at the cafe became more convivial with people breaking off into small groups for conversation."
If you run into a problem that doesn’t have a clear solution or an obvious correct answer, you can call it a conundrum. This is a good word to have on hand when you’re writing a research paper.
Example: "The challenge of how to teach children with different learning styles presents a conundrum for educators."
Do you know someone who is gullible or willing to believe things without proof? Use the word credulity to describe this character trait. You’ll also find this useful in essays, especially about critical thinking.
Example: "He had a tendency to believe everything he read online, and this credulity got him into trouble when he tried to discuss politics with his in-laws."
You know how some animals are nocturnal and some are diurnal, but what about animals like deer that are active during dawn and dusk? These animals are crepuscular.
Example: "Gerbils are crepuscular, so they can serve as an alarm clock if you keep them in the bedroom."
Some things serve to build people up in a moral or intellectual sense. When you write or speak about something like this, use the verb edify.
Example: "John tried to use his free time to edify himself, reading any book he could get his hands on."
Sometime, you meet someone or encounter something that is overly refined - even to the point of uselessness. That thing is effete.
Example: "Her beautifully manicured nails were an effete affectation, getting in the way every time she tried to type."
Use egregious to describe something that is really extraordinary but negative at the same time. It comes in handy for writing or talking about people breaking important laws or rules.
Example: "His refusal to stop at the stop sign in front of our house is such an egregious driving error that I called the police."
If you’re trying to stay away from something on purpose, you are eschewing that thing. This is useful when talking about intentional choices in personal essays.
Example: "I'm eschewing all social media during the election season."
Sometimes you need to describe someone or something that is foolish or silly. That’s a great time to use the word fatuous.
Example: "The clown wore large shoes and a red nose and was generally fatuous."
If something is difficult to control and generally bad-tempered, you can describe it as fractious. This is useful when talking about cranky children or animals.
Example: "On the third day of the car trip, the children became fractious, bickering over who had more space in the back seat."
Another great essay word, galvanize means to stimulate someone to act. Certain life events or situations can inspire other actions and events, and they are perfect for this word.
Example: "My grandfather's battle with Alzheimer's galvanized me, leading me to choose medicine as a career."
If you need to describe a person or thing that is bossy and domineering for no good reason, use the word imperious. It’s ideal for personal essays about siblings.
Example: "Despite being the youngest and smallest person in the house, my little sister is imperious and insists on telling everyone what to do."
Something that makes something else happen is an impetus. You can use this word in many types of writing - from speeches to persuasive essays.
Example: "The number of children coming to school hungry served as the school's impetus for creating a free breakfast program."
Someone who is very calm and doesn’t seem bothered by the concerns of daily life can be described as insouciant. This is a great positive word to use in a variety of situations.
Example: "The rain began to fall, but she turned her face up to it with the insouciant joy of someone who doesn't mind forgetting an umbrella."
When you’re describing the participants of a conversation, you’re talking about the interlocutors. It’s a handy word for talking about discussions.
Example: "The interlocutors paused their conversation and turned to look as she walked into the room."
This awesome positive L word is a verb you can use to talk about celebrities and important historical figures and the way people view them. Lionize means to treat someone as a hero.
Example: "In the North, people began to lionize Abraham Lincoln soon after his assassination."
Anything that is a mixture of seemingly unrelated things is a melange. You can use this in the abstract to talk about apparently unrelated qualities or ideas.
Example: "His room was a melange of toy cars, books, tennis shoes, and collected rocks."
When you’re talking about a fundamental shift in how someone sees something, you’re talking about metanoia. This is a great unusual word to use in essays.
Example: "The conquering country required complete metanoia from those it ruled; they must believe in the ideals of the rulers, not just pay lip service."
When you need to talk about a lot of something, especially diverse elements of a larger whole, use the uncommon word myriad. It’s surprisingly useful in daily conversations too.
Example: "There was no single reason she decided to move across the country; a myriad of factors influenced her choice."
If you need to describe something that is harmful or really annoying to the point of near harm, use the word noisome. It’s also ideal for describing something that smells bad.
Example: "The cooler of fish, forgotten in the trunk of the car, began to emit a noisome odor after a few days."
Have you ever seen someone make something more confusing than it needs to be? That person is obfuscating a concept.
Example: "While making bread is really a very simple process, his explanation of the different types of yeast and flour served to obfuscate the concept."
The word odious is ideal when you need to describe something that is horrible and unpleasant, even disgusting. Think of it as a more extreme and vivid version of “obnoxious.”
Example: "With his sweaty t-shirt exposing six inches of his midsection and his politically offensive baseball cap, the odious man did not seem like a good suitor."
Sometimes, something appears to be true, but it may not be. That thing is ostensibly true.
Example: "Sam was ostensibly going to the grocery store, but even his wife knew he was really meeting his girlfriend."
When something is scarce, there is a paucity of it. This is a good and uncommon word that is extremely useful when talking about a lack of evidence for a claim.
Example: "The number of people who text and drive shows there is a paucity of common sense in the modern world."
It’s easy to describe the first thing and the last thing, but what about the second to the last thing in a series? That thing is the penultimate.
Example: "Someone will always take the penultimate slice of pizza, but everyone is afraid to take the last slice for fear someone else may want it."
Some habits or actions are especially destructive, even to the point of being deadly. These things are described as pernicious.
Example: "Smoking cigarettes is a pernicious habit that causes lung cancer."
If you need to pay someone a compliment for their good judgement and clear thinking, you can describe that person as perspicacious. It’s a great word that is as rare as it is positive.
Example: "His perspicacious good sense gave him the advantage in the orienteering contest."
Calling someone a philistine is less of a compliment. It means a person who is closed-minded and doesn’t care about the culture and values around him or her.
Example: "When it comes to breakfast, Jason is a philistine who drinks instant coffee and eats Frosted Flakes right out of the box."
Ever need to describe someone who won’t give a straight answer to a question or who tends to dance around a topic without directly addressing it? That person is prevaricating.
Example: "When her mother asked about the last time she'd seen her boyfriend, Stella began to prevaricate, talking about school, the latest movies, and what she should wear to prom."
Some people are just extremely playful and full of mischief. If you need to describe them in an essay or other work, call them rapscallions.
Example: "The boys were true rapscallions, setting off fireworks behind Mr. Smith's motorcycle so he would think it was backfiring."
Know someone who is wise and always uses great judgement? That person is sagacious.
Example: "When the stock market crashed after a long period of ups and downs, he appeared sagacious for having invested in gold and silver."
Another great adjective to use to describe someone is sanguine. It refers to a person who is cheerful and confident.
Example: "Even the icy rain and strong wind could not affect her sanguine disposition."
Have you ever experienced a happy accident, such as finding a lost $20 bill in your pocket right when you needed it? That’s serendipity.
Example: "It turned out to be serendipity when he missed his flight and had to wait for hours in the airport bar, since this is where he met his future wife."
Do you know someone who is extremely self-absorbed and doesn’t think about the perspectives or needs of others? That person is a solipsist.
Example: "Adam was a solipsist and was not particularly concerned with whether his family would enjoy camping with him in sub-zero temperatures."
A synecdoche is a figure of speech that uses a part to represent a whole. You’ll find these are surprisingly common, making this a useful word to know. Some synecdoche examples include “head” to represent cattle, “wheels” to talk about a car, and “Kleenex” to represent tissues.
Example: "She referred to all lip balm as 'Chapstick,' unaware that this was synecdoche."
Someone who is scared, fearful, or simply shy may be described as timorous. This is useful term when writing narratives and describing characters.
Example: "Aidan was a timorous child, darting into his bedroom at the first sign of visitors."
Another really useful word that isn’t common is ubiquitous. It means something that is everywhere at the same time.
Example: "Cell phones are now ubiquitous with everyone from elementary children to senior citizens using them."
Do you wake up before dawn and feel anxious? That moment and experience is described by the Old English word uhtceare.
Example: "On the morning of his surgery, he awoke with a severe case of uhtceare."
If a person offers opinions that extend beyond his or her knowledge, that person is an ultracrepidarian. This is a useful word for narratives and character descriptions.
Example: "He was an ultracreidarian, rambling on about the politics of the time in a nearly incoherent way."
When something looks like the real thing, it has verisimilitude. A great example of this would be vinyl flooring that looks like stone.
Example: "The faux bois paint effect on the wall had such incredible verisimilitude that everyone thought it was actually made of wood."
Have you ever felt something so deeply that it affected you on an emotional level? You had a visceral reaction to that thing.
Example: "She had a visceral reaction to violence in movies and had to walk out of the theater many times over the years."
A figure of speech in which one word has a double meaning within a sentence, zeugma is a useful term for language arts papers. An example of this would be, “He stole my heart and my car.”
Example: "In a statement of zeugma, she said she liked her men like she liked her tea: sweet, strong, and fragrant."
The key to using these rare words is understanding their meaning. If you’ve ever seen someone misusing words, you know how that kind of mistake can reflect negatively on perceptions of intelligence. Take a few moments to quiz yourself on the meaning of these uncommon words so you can break them out in your next essay or speech.