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Time to confess: tell us about a time when you used a word whose meaning you didn’t actually know (or were very wrong about, in retrospect).

There’s a word that dogs me, and I never remember exactly what it means: sardonic. It’s strange word, because it often in appears literature, but I’ve never heard it used in conversation or seen it in people’s writing; perhaps that’s the problem. I see its synonyms (acerbic, biting, caustic, derisive, mocking, sarcastic) used far more frequently. Now, I also noted the word “mordant” as a synonym: To me a mordant is a fixative used in dyeing, or a corrosive substance used in etching. I didn’t realize is actually had this meaning (sardonic) too.

I remember that one time in an interview I misused a word; I can’t remember which one I used, but it was one of these two:  assimilate: to take in and incorporate as one’s own; absorb; and simulate: to assume or have the appearance or characteristics of. I don’t remember the circumstances now, but I came out of the interview and realized that I’d made an error, and wondered what difference it made in the context in my answer to a question. As it happens I didn’t get that job — and I’m glad — got one that suited me better. What’s funny is that a friend of mind did! The number of computer teachers in my area is small enough that we kind of get to know one another! I subbed for her for two months when she had to go on bed rest during the last two months of her pregnancy with twins. (The interview was a number of years after that.)

I have lots of good words filed away in my brain, an I love knowing the origin of words. One author who always challenges me though is P.D. James. She’s not only a good author (except when her stories are too dark), but she throws out words that stump me. I almost have to have a dictionary at hand when I read her books, but I enjoy that challenge.

Looking at a dictionary humbles me — it lets me know how much I don’t know.