Ennui, Obfuscate, Imbroglio and other words that make you sound clever

Of all the presents I got for Christmas, one of my faves was a book called How to Sound Clever: Master the 600 English words you pretend to understand when you don’t by Hubert van deb Bergh and it’s a dazzling collection of sumptuous words such as denouement, anthropomorphise and obfuscate.

I recently chatted to a chap at a mulled wine and organic cheese party (yes, really) who used the word contemptuous (expressing contempt) when he was actually looking for the word contemporaneous (happening during the same period of time).

What do you say in situations like this? Do you correct the person in question (Oi, dufus, I think you mean…) or do you smile sweetly and nod eagerly? (I chose the latter.)

Mind you, I once answered a maths question at school with the utter belief that approximately meant exactly, on the button, accurately – rather than the exact opposite. (In my defence, I was only 10.)

So here are a few words from the book that you may or may not know. But see how many you can squeeze in tonight when you’re out partying.

  • Anachronistic (adj): Very old-fashioned
  • Anthropomorphise (verb): To attribute human form to something not human
  • Behemoth (noun): A huge thing, especially an organisation
  • Conflation (noun): The act of fusing two or more ideas together
  • Denouement (noun): Climax of several actions when the outcome becomes clear
  • Dichotomy (noun): A contrast between two things that are polar opposites
  • Ennui (noun): Dissatisfaction when nothing exciting happens for a while
  • Fetid (adj): Unsavoury smell
  • Garrulous (adj): Talkative, especially on unimportant matters
  • Halcyon (adj): A happy and peaceful time in the past
  • Imbroglio (noun): A messy and embarrassing situation
  • Obfuscate (verb): To bewilder
  • Quango: A quasi non-governmental organisation like the Press Complaints Commission
  • Perfunctory (adj): Done carelessly, as a matter of routine
  • Parse (verb): To examine something closely by breaking it up into parts
  • Sanguine (adj): Optimistic, upbeat
  • Vicarious (adj.) Experiencing feelings via someone else’s description

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