Welcome to my Words page. From this page you can go to six different topic areas of words:
1) My list of 31,700 important English words that an educated person ought to know or should aspire to know. It is the largest such word list on the Net.
2) An abbreviated list of around 3000 words, taken from the larger list, which could be your basic word list for a spelling bee or for those wanting a deep dive into the English language and various fields. These words are selected with the intelligent (i.e., upper high school/college level) participant in mind. Published March 19, 2020.
3) A series of detailed, historically-oriented definitions of many of the words from the big list. Definitions in general run from 100-300 words. I posted definitions of my first 120 words by March 24, 2020. Click here for those essays.
4) A posting of my 2009 Book Word Wealth: 300 Words for Pleasure and Profit. I began to post these essays on March 24, 2020. Chapters of this book are the following:
5) A guide to around 400 English idioms and their meaning. Care will also be taken to introduce about 25 or more additional obsolete, or largely obsolete idioms (coming summer 2020)
6) A word game, to be posted by summer 2020, that I urge many of you not to investigate.
A Personal Narrative and Word of Thanks
My fascination with words (English at first) began in the fourth grade in my home town, Darien CT, a suburb of New York City. As I tell the story in my (third) autobiography, Like One Who Dreams: An Autobiography at 65, pp 22-23:
"Early in fourth grade (Sept, 1961), the pro-UN, pro-diplomat town of Darien was shaken when the Secretary-General of the UN, Dag Hammarskjold, died when his plane crashed in mysterious circumstances over Africa. Our fourth grade teacher, with genuine emotion in her voice, said that she and many others “lamented” the death of Mr. Hammarskjold. I didn’t feel the emotion, since I didn’t really know of the man, but I remembered the word. Without getting thrown out of class, I went and grabbed one of the Thorndike-Barnhart student dictionaries off the top shelf of the bookcase and looked up the word “lament.” It said: “to mourn.” Only problem was, I didn’t know what “mourn” meant. So I looked up that word. It said, “to grieve.” I was still having problems, and so I looked up “to grieve.” Yep, you got it; it said: “to lament.” Rather than being frustrated, I recall even to this day being strangely fascinated that there might be so many words that undoubtedly expressed meaning, meaning that I didn’t know. Now, more than fifty years later, I consider the key to my learning and writing method to be a heartfelt commitment to mastering all the words that there are. This morphed into a multi- lingual task several years ago."
A Word of Thanks
Though my fascination with words began early in life, it wasn't until 2004 that I discovered there was a thing called a National Senior Spelling Bee (I was just over 50 at the time and the rules required that you were 50 or older to participate), meeting annually in Cheyenne WY. First, however, I had to compete in an Oregon bee. Surprisingly, I did very well. I studied the dictionary relentlessly for the next two months, participated in the National Bee that summer and placed second. I was hooked. For the next seven years, until the lure of a series of eastern languages became too powerful, I focused on mastery of English spelling and on writing about my discoveries as I studied words. I looked forward to these Bees for the next several years.
But I wouldn't have been so committed without the strong encouragement and marvelous examples set by several people who themselves were committed to spelling and word mastery. I will only mention a few here.
1. Jeff Kirsch won the 2004 National Bee, in which I placed second. Jeff was a professor of Spanish and Portuguese at U of Wisconsin, Madison, with deep knowledge of all the Romance languages. He had had a notable run in the kids' bee as a youngster. I was eliminated on an Italian-derived word (cappelletti); I am sure Jeff was chuckling as he saw me go down in flames.
2. Hal Prince won the 2006 Bee, in which I placed either second or third. Hal was a techie from Palo Alto and had devised a system of word mastery that left the others of us breathless. He sailed through the competition, only making one careless mistake in the written competition.
3. Scott Firebaugh not only won the bee in a year after that (2008?) but has really become the face of Senior Spelling for the last decade. Scott brings not simply a fierce commitment to words and their meanings, but also a great understanding of how to build a spelling community online among people who, by their nature, tend to be loners or individualists. His humor, steady dedication to the task, and love for his family and the Scriptures come through in all his communications. He has been the "glue" holding things together ever since the Wyoming AARP stopped hosting the Senior Bee.
4. David Riddle won one of the Bees (2007?) in which I placed either second or third. I knew I was in for trouble when Dave showed up in Oregon to do a "dry run" for the National Bee three months before the national competition, and he beat us all. Dave was an attorney at the Defense Languages Institute in Monterey, and his precise mind, gentle spirit, and utter focus on spelling (aided by his wife), led to his success.
5. Tony Johnson won the Bee in one of those years, too. He, as I recall, was a Georgia dentist, and his meticulous care with words was no doubt replicated in professional life. Tony had such an amazingly precise recall of words, treating even the most difficult words with a kind of nonchalance that betrayed deep knowledge and a sharp mind.
6. Kate Karp never won a Senior Bee, but she has been one of the guiding lights, along with Scott, in keeping the spelling movement, and senior spelling, alive. She is from Southern California, where she periodically puts on competitions that one of those listed above sometimes wins.
7. Mike Petrina also won one of the Bees in those years. Mike hails from Virginia and participated in bees far and wide over the years. Whenever Mike showed up, the competition ran for cover.
There are many others whom I could mention, but I stop here to say a "Thank You" to you all. Without the commitment you displayed, as well as the expertise you showed, my own life with words would have been far different. Please consider these "word" pages as my gift to you for the example you set for us all.
To My nearly exhaustive 31,500 Word List of Notable English Words
To My 3000 Word List of Useful, but Difficult, English Words