Still waiting for the perfect “antediluvian” moment

One of my favorite things about reading is the inevitability of coming across new words. It’s nearly certain that with every new book I read, there will be at least a few words that I’ve either never seen or heard before or haven’t taken much notice of if I have. Once I do recognize and finally fully understand a word, it of course starts popping up everywhere—and I wonder how I could ever have missed its existence before.

The best thing, however, about these words is how often certain ones show up in literature, but rarely in conversation. There are always those terms that the general reading population can collectively correctly define, but have never and will probably never utter out loud. You might write them in a letter and you will most certainly read them, but use them in day-to-day speech? Probably not. (Exceptions are those that you come across that are just so great that you wait for the perfect opportunity to use in real life—which is an extraordinarily difficult task because of course you want it to sound natural and not rehearsed or forced, but it’s such a unique word that the situation has to be exactly right. But it’s so satisfying when it finally happens! I had a wonderful experience with “indefatigable.”)

Of course, when these words are never spoken aloud, thus never really heard by anyone, there can be grievous errors in pronunciation. For years I thought the word “bedraggled” was pronounced “bed-raggled.” And that made sense! I mean…someone who’s bedraggled surely would look like they had just come out of bed and were…raggly? I never really thought about it, and it wasn’t until I think some time in high school when a teacher used it in a lecture. I still think it took me some time before I realized that her pronunciation of “bedraggled” and my understanding of “bed-raggled” were in fact the same word and not two that were both similar and conveniently meant the same thing.

Tell me! What are the best words you’ve learned from reading? Have you been able to use them in real life without sounding like you meant to? How off have you been on the correct pronunciation of a word that you really thought you were incredibly familiar with?

10 Responses to Still waiting for the perfect “antediluvian” moment

  1. Donn says:

    For years I thought a hiccough (pronounced hic-off, obviously) was a completely different thing to a hiccup, and I wondered why I’d never been afflicted by a bout of it, whether maybe that was because modern medicine had eradicated it like polio or smallpox.

    And I still remember the adults staring heads-tilted at me when I announced one story as complete hyper-bowl at Christmas dinner when I was twelve.


    I think such moments are the real reason why the International Phonetic Alphabet was invented. Forget about preserving dying languages – it was all about avoiding just such kinds of social embarrassment.

    • Rachel says:

      Hiccoughs and hiccups still give me trouble. Even though I know they’re one in the same, both definition and pronunciation-wise, that doesn’t mean I won’t always read the former as “hic-coff.”

  2. Shalon says:

    Yes! I love those weird new words we learn when reading. The first one that came to mind was the word ‘voluble’ which I think I first really noticed in my favourite series by C.S. Lewis, The Cosmic Trilogy. He uses it describe the part of himself that he is struggling with: “the voluble self”. Ah! I love it!

    Another word which has more recently come to me as a curious word is ‘piebald’. Now, if I hadn’t read this post, I probably would have gone on a few more times before actually looking it up, but for sport of it, I picked up my old, leather-bound Oxford, and here is what it had to say: “a. Of two colours irregularly arranged, esp. black & White (usu. of animal, esp. horse); (fig.) motley, mongrel.” Hmmm… interesting. See, I thought it had something to do with being bald.

  3. I had a “bedraggled” moment in grade school, when I finally realized the correct pronunciation of “wholly”. For some reason, I thought it was said “wally”. It was definitely an “ohhhh” moment when I got it.

    I did once get the opportunity to use “antidisestablishmentarian” in a normal conversation. It was glorious.

  4. How was I to know that ‘awry’ wasn’t pronounced ‘aw-ree’?

  5. Benighted. Which means: to be in a state of mental darkness. I had a manager I secretly loathed once when I was working my way through college, and one day in front of a large group of people I smiled and said that I so admired him, he was the most benighted person I knew.

    He smiled and thanked me. I still wonder what his face looked like when he went to his office to look it up.


  6. I had to laugh when I read about bedraggled. Several years ago, I was reading something from Martha Stewart dealing with a “beribboned wreath.” I kept staring at the photos of the wreaths wondering what exactly was a berib-bone until it dawned on me that it was a be-ribboned wreath. I’m glad I wasn’t reading that aloud to someone.

  7. Dale says:

    I read a lot as a child; many of the books were above my comprehension level, so I learned a lot of new words that I never heard anyone say. When I would use them – or try to use them – in conversation, my mother often thought the result was hilarious. I will never forget her not-so-gently telling me that “rendezvous” is not pronounced “ren-dezz-vuss”.

  8. Draven Ames says:

    There are a lot of words like this. When reading, it is fun to write down words that catch our dreams. Pseudonym comes to mind. As a child, I’m embarrassed to say that my mind read it as “Sue-dough-nim.” It came from being little, reading a book about pseudo-dragons.

    Favorite words? I’m a lover of Sapphire. Ladlit is a silly word. Fan of evisceration.

    Draven Ames

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