46 Uncommon But Useful Words

Good additions to the counselor’s vocabulary.

Posted May 24, 2017

Max Pixels, Public Domain
Source: Max Pixels, Public Domain

This is the first in a five-part series on vocabulary.

A good vocabulary signals a good mind. That’s useful whether you’re a helping professional or not, in your worklife and outside.

For example, if you are a counselor, a good vocabulary helps ensure you understand what your client is saying. And if your response reflects that, you’ve also enhanced your credibility. Of course, use an uncommon word only if you feel confident the person will understand it and know that you’re choosing that word because it more accurately reflects what you’re trying to say, not that you’re trying to show off.

Another plus for a good vocabulary is that on encountering uncommon words while reading, you’re less likely to need to stop to look it up.

And of course, a good vocabulary is valuable when writing although the use of uncommon words risks your appearing like a show-off.

For all those reasons, when I read or hear a word I don’t know but have encountered before, I write it in a Microsoft Word file named “vocabulary,” look it up on Merriam-Webster.com or Dictionary.com, write a definition and, if helpful, that entry’s use of the word used in a sentence.

Here, I’ve selected 46 words from my list that would seem useful to psychotherapists, counselors, and coaches. Most are more precise in meaning than a common word yet are understandable by enough people. That makes them worth adding to your vocabulary. You might simply take the first five you don’t know and learn those. In ten days, you’ve significantly boosted your vocabulary.

For each word, I include the most common definition plus the word in a sentence that’s relevant to people in counselor roles.

Rather than list the words alphabetically, they’re in estimated order of likely utility:

abject: contemptible. The lawyers so dragged out the proceedings, that both parties ended up in abject poverty.

enervate: weaken mentally or morally. After being “laid off” three times in a row, she felt too enervated to look for another job.

effete: over-refined. His manner was effete, from his cocked cap to the way he lifted his tea cup.

fatuous: silly yet smug. His self-satisfaction when telling inane jokes made him a laughing stock.

credulity, readiness to believe. Having gone broke, her credulity opened him to get-rich-quick schemes.

remonstrate: argue in protest. The child knew he’d get his way if he remonstrated long enough.

n’est-ce pas (pronounced ness-pah): Right?  No one is going to support you so you better support yourself, n’est-ce pas?

reprobate: without scruples. That reprobate would do anything to get a sale.

insouciant: carefree, nonchalant. His insouciant manner attracted women who liked the dandy type.

risible: laughable. In the face of round after round of layoffs, the corporate slogan, “Our people are our most important product” is risible.

mien: demeanor. Her mien was demure, insouciant.

mawkish: insincerely emotional. She doesn't want to appear like the cold fish she really is, so she makes mawkish expressions of empathy.

execrable: detestable. Not having seen their aging parents in two years is execrable.

fulsome: insincere, mawkish. The employee’s fulsome praising the boss didn’t fool him a bit.

fractious: irritable. Everyone was afraid the fractious guy would explode.

abjure: renounce. I abjure all rights to child visitation in exchange for no longer having to pay child support.

fulminate: denounce forcefully. She fulminated against the president even when watching him on TV.

importune: beg persistently. She was so eager to marry that she importuned him until he felt so pressured, he dumped her.

proscribe: command against. The regulations proscribe even the smallest deviations from the law.

imperious: domineering. The chef’s imperious manner intimidated the entire kitchen staff.

descry: catch sight of. They quickly pulled their clothes back on lest someone descry them in the act.

roué: cad. Every woman in town was wary of that roué except of course for those who were attracted to bad boys.

martinet: demander of conformity. The boss was a martinet; who insisted that everyone had to punch a clock and divide the work precisely equally.

cavil: quibble. Siblings can cavil even over who gets to wash their hands first.

querulous: peevish. Ever so querulous, you’d think she was looking for an opportunity to argue with you.

tendentious: biased. Today, many people are more tendentious than even-handed.

timorous: beyond timid, fearful. He was understandably timorous as he awaited the psychiatric evaluation.

expiate: make amends for. He went all out to expiate himself for having cheated on his wife.

calumny: slander. To get that promotion, my coworker said such unfair things about me, such a calumny.

apotheosis: supreme example. She is the apotheosis of the modern spouse: superb at work and at home.

impecunious: having too little money. The lack of good jobs has made many formerly middle-class people impecunious.

interlocutor: a go-between. The parents were so at odds that they needed a therapist if only as an interlocutor.

noisome: annoying, noxious. The noisome office culture led to high turnover.

orotund: bombastic. The professor’s orotund voice was commanding if intimidating.

asperity: harshness. The teacher’s asperity yielded a quiet classroom but the kids hated her.

ipso facto: a logical extension. He suddenly opened a secret account. Ipso facto, she concluded he was hiding money from her.

obeisance: deference. At family gatherings, everyone paid obeisance to grandma.

solipsism: self-centeredness. The politician always talked about the community but in reality was a monument to solipsism.

sapient: wise, usually said ironically. Oh sapient professor, why do your theories so rarely work in practice?.

dissimulate: hide under false appearance. As an actress, she was trained to dissimulate, so she had no trouble hiding her feelings off-stage.

parvenu: newly rich. Her conspicuous consumption suggested she was new to the game, a parvenu.

sententious: pompous moralizing. People rolled their eyes at the sententious, fire-and-brimstone sermon.

cynosure: center of attention. At a party, she always needed to be the cynosure.

portmanteau: amalgam of qualities. His portmanteau of intelligence, looks, and money, made him irresistible.

sang-froid: equanimity. Despite the intense questioning, he maintained his sang-froid.

Weltschmerz: worn down by the world's ills.. After years of fighting the system, he was weighed down by Weltschmerz.

This series' other installments:

The Meaning Behind the Meaning: A short-short story about lexical love.

The Beyond-the-GRE Word Quiz, plus the 325 words that were on my to-learn list.

Saying What You Intend: 27 distinctions you should make.

41 Useful Words and a Fun Way to Learn Them

The 2nd edition of The Best of Marty Nemko is now available. You can reach career and personal coach Marty Nemko at mnemko@comcast.net.