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Words That Make a Difference



valiant; brave: now used humorously with a somewhat archaic flavor

Rising toward 5 in the morning, when the desert stars are just starting to pale, the doughtier visitors make their way back up to the hermitage to watch the dawn.

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the ideal expression of something; the perfect representation of a whole class

Escoffier thought strawberries a sufficiently royal delicacy to name a dessert he invented - strawberries macerated in orange juice and curacao, served in a crystal bowl with creme chantilly - after the Russian royal family, the Romanovs. In England, brimming bowls of strawberries during the Wimbledon tennis matches still epitomize the summer social season.

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fertile; fruitful; prolific

Just what is it about Shakespeare's work that accounts for his enduring ability to engage the popular imagination, his accessibility to so many eras and cultures? The usual reasons offered for his greatness-the richness of his language, the range and depth of his characterizations, the fecundity of his imagination-do not explain why he, rather than, say, Dante or Chaucer, has become and remained a household name. Nor do paeans to his storytelling gifts: after all, he lifted most of his plots from pre-existing works.

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joie de vivre
delight at being alive; enjoyment of life: French, joy of living

It was 1953, and Paris was inexpensive and romantic, and it was possible then, as it had been possible in Hemingway's time, to make writing not only a vocation but an entire way of life. And so a group of young Americans went to Paris, where they wrote and drank and played tennis and sat up all night at cafes, and where they started a little magazine that ran on talent and enthusiasm and youthful joie de vivre.

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Words That Make a Difference from Levenger Press, © 2000 Robert Greenman. Passages from The New York Times are reprinted with permission from The New York Times Company.

Test Your Masterly Way With Words

In addition to citing passages from The New York Times to show the masterly use of language, author Robert Greenman offers many linguistic sidelights in Words That Make a Difference - etymology, history, even a recipe or two - that feed words lovers' appetite for language all the more. We've turned three of these sidelights into a quiz for you.


1. When is an umpire a numpire? When the language incorrectly separates an article (a) from a noun (numpire). These three words have also been wronged in this way. What do we know them as, as a result?   nadder   ewt   napron

2. What American leader invented the word belittle?

3. Who coined these words: apostrophe, educate, accommodation, laughable, monumental?

Bonus question: What did the (incorrect) word nickname start off as?


1. A nadder is an adder; an ewt is a newt; a napron is an apron.

2. Thomas Jefferson, in 1780. It was belittled by the English when it first came into use.

3. Shakespeare, who also gave us premeditated, eventful, hot-blooded and impartial. In terms of words we still use, the Bard contributed more to the language than did any other writer.

Bonus question: Nickname started off as an eke name, meaning "an also name."

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