499 Words Every College Student Should Know: A Professor's Handbook on Words Essential to Great Writing and Better Grades

499 Words Every College Student Should Know: A Professor's Handbook on Words Essential to Great Writing and Better Grades

by Stephen Spignesi

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Words equal credibility. The more articulate a person is, the more seriously they will be taken—by everyone.

On any given day, you might read “abrogate” used in a USA Today article; or “demagogue” or “fiduciary” used on CNN. You might hear “ensorcelled” and “torpor” in a TV drama; you’ll hear a political candidate described as “truculent.” You may hear “pedantic” used in a movie. How many of these words are part of most college students’ “arsenal of words”? Hopefully all of them, but if not, 499 Words Every College Student Should Know will provide them with what they need to become more articulate in their speaking and writing. It will also enhance their comprehension in their reading, ultimately culminating in what every student aspires to: earning better grades!

499 Words Every College Student Should Know teaches truly important vocabulary words and focuses on Professor Spignesi’s classroom-tested Trinity of Vocabulary Use. For each word, the vocabulary-enriched and educated student will be able to:
  • Understand the word in their reading
  • Use the word in their speaking
  • Make good use of the word in their writing
Using easy-to-understand, informative, and often humorous explanations of every word, 499 Words Every College Student Should Know also explores how to use the words in sentences, and in proper context. The majority of these words were individually chosen because they are fairly commonplace in media, books, online, and elsewhere, and students need to be able to understand them. Knowing them — in fact, using the words and making them part of their everyday language — will make any college student or those soon-to-be, more credible.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781510723887
Publisher: Skyhorse
Publication date: 08/29/2017
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 464
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Stephen Spignesi is the author of nearly seventy books including the Skyhorse titles: In the Crosshairs, 499 Facts about Hip-Hop Hamilton and the Rest of America’s Founding Fathers, and The Big Book of UFO Facts, Figures&Truth. Before retiring to write, edit, and lecture full time, he was a practitioner in residence for a decade at the University of New Haven, teaching English Composition and Literature, among other writing courses. He lives in New Haven, Connecticut.

Read an Excerpt


1. Abdicate verb (ab•dih•kate)

To give up a royal title; to fail to satisfy a responsibility

King Edward VIII abdicated the British throne in 1936 in order to marry Wallis Simpson.

A common topic of discussion in the United Kingdom is whether or not Queen Elizabeth II will ever abdicate and turn the crown over to her son Charles. The Queen's biographer said the monarch would never abdicate because she feels it's her duty to remain Queen until her death.

Used in Context

"I refused to abdicate and declared that I would gather troops together and return with them in order to help the Government to maintain order in the land." — The Kaiser's Memoirs, Wilhelm II

"Phillipe knew that my firstborn, his brother Pierre, wanted to abdicate, which he did, eventually, to join the church." — The Princess Diaries

"Should your brother continue to ignore the advice of His Government, He must abdicate." — The King's Speech

"On behalf of my country, and in the name of the other leaders of the world with whom I have today consulted, I hereby abdicate all authority and control over this planet to General Zod." — Superman II

Synonyms: abandon, abjure, abnegate, cede, relinquish, renounce, resign, retire, step down, surrender, vacate

2. Aberration

noun (ab•uh•ray•shun)

An event that is not normal or not what is expected

Abnormal chromosomes are known as aberrations.

The fantasy role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons has creatures known as "aberrations." They have bizarre anatomies and paranormal abilities.

A cardiac aberrancy is an aberration of the electrical function of the heart.

Used in Context

"The heatwave that has already killed hundreds across Eastern Europe is no aberration." — New Scientist, August 3, 2007

"No, it is no aberration. The behavior of these particles is quite unmistakable. Dust is flowing into this man, through his dæmon." — The Golden Compass

"The police commissioner defended the rising tide of crime as a statistical aberration tied to growing unemployment." — Gone Baby Gone

"I'm hoping to prove that within every normal system there exists an aberration. Something different." — Angus

Synonyms: abnormality, anomaly, deviation, disfigurement, impairment, irregularity, mutation

3. Abhor

verb (ab•hor)

To strongly dislike something, often verging on hatred

It is a very powerful statement to say you abhor something, or that something is abhorrent to you.

Used in Context

"You, my creator, abhor me; what hope can I gather from your fellow creatures, who owe me nothing?" — Frankenstein, Mary Shelley

"I abhor the use of violence." — Hellboy

"They have a similar philosophy in India. They abhor violence." — The Outer Limits, "Alien Shop"

"I loathe and abhor this place." — Strike!

Synonyms: abominate, be down on, despise, detest, hate, have no use for, loathe, scorn

4. Abjure

verb (ab•jer)

To give up a firmly held belief; to renounce something

Used in Context

"Obama is right to be realistic and to abjure bombastic rhetoric." — "Obama's Realism Doctrine," Richard Cohen, The Washington Post, May 10, 2009

"You have the authority to bind me. Speak the name, abjure and command me and I will be removed from this body." — Babylon 5, "The Lost Tales"

"But at the age of eighty, I seek quiet, and abjure contention." — The Domestic Life of Thomas Jefferson Compiled From Family Letters and Reminiscences, Sarah N. Randolph

"I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen." — Ugly Betty, "Nice Day for a Posh Wedding"

Synonyms: abandon, deny, disavow, disown, foreswear, give up, recant, reject, relinquish, renounce, repudiate

5. Abridge

verb (uh•brij)

To shorten a book or other writing by removing sections of text, words, or sentences

One of the synonyms for "abridge" is abbreviate and a general rule for using abbreviations in your writing is: don't. If sprinkled throughout with discretion, abbreviations can be okay, but you're not a Founding Father copying the Constitution by hand or a medieval monk looking to save time and effort. You can sometimes be accused of bad writing if you use too many, or inappropriate, abbreviations, but you can never be accused of that if you spell out everything.

Used in Context

"The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the right to marry the person you love is so fundamental that states cannot abridge it." — "Gay Marriage and the Constitution," David Boies

"No state shall make or enforce any law, which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States." — Thurgood

"I don't venerate drug dealers. To the contrary. What we're attempting to do here is check the government's attempt to abridge our civil liberties through informants, eavesdropping, unreasonable searches and seizure." — True Believer "Do not, please, madam, hasten your business or abridge it. I don't need no receipt." — Deadwood, "Amateur Night"

Synonyms: abbreviate, blue pencil, compress, concentrate, condense, contract, curtail, decrease, diminish, downsize, lessen, limit, reduce, restrict, summarize, truncate

6. Abrogate

verb (ab•row•gate)

To formally revoke, to nullify Article 13 of the Constitution abrogated slavery: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude ... shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."

The 21st Amendment abrogated Prohibition, which had been put in place by the 18th Amendment.

Many Biblical adherents and scholars believe that the Old Testament's Mosaic Laws were abrogated by the New Testament's "New Covenant."

Used in Context

"What must God think about this anthropoid, this overgrown monkey that dares to be intelligent enough to invent things that abrogate his eternal laws, his unchangeable laws, eternal and irresistible as God himself?" — "The Child That Never Was," Maria Virginia Estenssoro

"Nevertheless, you are going to have to abrogate and egress from the premises." — Skins, "Cook"

"Banning Muslim entry or creating a registry would violate First Amendment freedom of religion. Legislatively targeting news outlets based on their views would abrogate freedom of press. Promising to lock up political opponents upends long-held notions of fairness and due process." — " Donald Trump Is the Next Richard Nixon," Rep. John Conyers

"I have come to breathe new life into this community, to aid those who seek betterment, to abrogate those who would hold us back." — Boardwalk Empire, "William Wilson"

"We're starting a counteragent protocol that should abrogate the drug's effects." — Cult, "The Good Fight"

Synonyms: abate, abolish, annul, cancel, destroy, dissolve, invalidate, nullify, quash, reject, repeal, retract, revoke, scrub, torpedo, undo, vacate, vitiate, void

7. Abstemious

adjective (ab•steem•ee•us)

Describes someone who does not overindulge in drink or food

Used in Context

"My father was abstemious and he abhorred the salacious bon mot." — Home Improvement, "Something Old, Something Blue"

"The Russian president is known to be abstemious, however, and rushes through meals, in addition to being a bit of a health nut." — "With Obama and Putin in France for Dinner, Hollande Leaves Room for Seconds," Scott Sayare

"Today, the pendulum seems to have swung again. [Susan] Cheever says that most of our leading literary figures are fairly abstemious." — "America: Land of Lushes," Christopher Buckley

"I am an abstemious man. I find liquor and business do not mix." — Sugarfoot

Synonyms: abstinent, ascetic, austere, disciplined, moderate, restrained, self-sober, sparing, temperate

8. Abstract

adjective (ab•strakt)

A term that describes understanding something intellectually and conceptually rather than on specific objects and/or instances

Used in Context

"This was my first conscious perception of an abstract idea." — The Story of My Life, Helen Keller

"I figured it should be the one with the capacity for abstract thought, but if that ain't the consensus, then hell, let's vote." — O Brother, Where Art Thou?

"I've always particularly liked that poem. In the abstract. Now I find the image of my minute's last point a little too, shall we say, pointed." — Wit

"The nature of what we call democracy is sadly no longer an abstract discussion beloved of political science professors." — "American Democracy is Being Derailed. Can Faith Be Restored?," Richard Wolffe

Synonyms: abstruse, complex, deep, hypothetical, intangible, nonconcrete, nonrepresentational, philosophical, theoretical, transcendent, unreal

9. Abstruse

adjective (ab•stroos)

Describes something that is obscure, confusing, and puzzling

Used in Context

"My mind rebels at stagnation. Give me problems; give me work. Give me the most abstruse cryptogram, the most intricate analysis, and I'm in my proper atmosphere." The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, "A Scandal in Bohemia "

"But she is known for her more abstruse constructions, and those will be showcased at the Met." — "What the Comme des Garçons Show Means for the Met — and Fashion," Vanessa Friedman

"Admiral, I must register my protest at this interruption. Your summons intruded just as I was digesting an abstruse manuscript for Dr. Goodfellow." — Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, "The Golden Man"

"I like it, but perhaps it's too abstruse. What do you think?" — Kingdom Hospital, "Shoulda Stood in Bed"

Synonyms: abstract, Byzantine, complex, complicated, convoluted, deep, enigmatic, esoteric, Greek to me, heavy, hidden, incomprehensible, intricate, involved, muddy, obscure, perplexing, profound, puzzling, recondite, unfathomable, vague

10. Accede

verb (uh•seed)

To agree to something

Used in Context

"I don't accede to blackmail." — Striptease

"Your Honor, I believe, in this trial, we have done everything humanly possible to accede to the requests of the defense." — The Onion Field

"And, Carole, as I realize you have the best interests of this organization at heart, I want you to accede to a somewhat unusual request." — The Love Bug

"The Western aim in supporting such groups, Assad said, is to destroy his regime, because he has refused to accede to American demands." — "Assad Speaks," Dexter Filkins

"If K12 doesn't accede to the union's demands, the state Board of Education could use the audit as a pretext to shut the schools down. Thuggish government marches on." — "California's Charter School Mugging," — The Wall Street Journal

Synonyms: accept, acquiesce, allow, assent, cave in, commit, comply, concede, concur, consent, cooperate, endorse, give the green light, grant, let, okay, permit, play ball, subscribe, yield

11. Accretion

noun (uh•kree•shun)

A gradual buildup of something as a result of things being added Accretion can be used in the abstract, as in, "a gradual accretion of power."

Used in Context

"We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self, this accretion of sensory experience and feeling, programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody when, in fact, everybody's nobody." — True Detective, "The Long Bright Dark"

"The accretion of detail is a windup for a piercing moral observation." — "The Unclassifiable Essays of Eliot Weinberger," Christopher Byrd

"The shaggy-dog accretion of material — phone numbers, long-ago concert dates, coded references to secret loves — all seemed to belong to somebody else." — "Letter From the Other Side — Return from a Traumatic Brain Injury," Tim Power

"The actual particulars of the event are unclear, obscured by the accretion of the myth." — Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer

"An unnatural arrangement which forces its participants into an unhealthy monogamy. An accretion of petty fights and resentful compromises which, like Chinese water torture, slowly transforms both parties," — Elementary, "An Unnatural Arrangement"

Synonyms: accession, accrual, accumulation, addition, amplification, augmentation, buildup, enlargement, expansion, growth, increase, increment, raise, rise, swelling

12. Acerbic

adjective (uh•sur•bik)

Sharp or bitter in tone or attitude


• "After David heard his teacher's acerbic comments, he was not motivated to complete his project."

• "Martin tried to ignore his wife's acerbic statements about his career path."

Used in Context

"There is no warmer, kinder me waiting to be coaxed out into the light. I am acerbic. I can be cruel. It's who I am." — Elementary, "On the Line"

"She was acerbic, flamboyant, she kicked against tradition and sometimes won. Like many women of her generation she understood that femininity is always a performance, and she performed it to the hilt. She was always winning, never a victim." — "Zsa Zsa Gabor Knew Femininity Was a Performance. She Played It Perfectly," Suzanne Moore

"David Thomson's new book Television: A Biography is an ambitious survey of television's history by an astute and acerbic critic." — "Television: The Life Story of Our Constant Video Companion," Neal Justin

"While Doctor Strange has his own solid fan base, he's not forced to carry the beloved childhood memories of several million grown men on his shoulders. That's the last thing Doctor Strange — cynical, acerbic, supremely confident of his role in the universe — would want, anyway." — "Benedict Cumberbatch Is the Alchemist with the Mostest in Doctor Strange," Stephanie Zacharek

"I'm begging you, please. I'm like a man without water. An acerbic comment, would it kill you?" — Man of the Year

Synonyms: acid, acidic, acrid, astringent, biting, bitter, caustic, cutting, harsh, sharp, tart, unpleasant

13. Acquiesce

verb (ak•wee•ess)

To agree to something reluctantly; to give in but without actually supporting what you're agreeing to

Used in Context

"I am disinclined to acquiesce your request ... Means no." — Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl

"The contribution made by supply-side innovation — that is, inventing new materials, devices or structures, or probing the complexity of nature — is undoubtedly a good thing. It is often touted by politicians as the main way in which research adds value in civil society. As scientists, we often acquiesce to this linear view because it is the route through which money tends to flow." — " Take the Long View," Ian L. Boyd

"Apple should be no more responsible if someone uses a gun image in the abstract than if someone happens to type the word 'gun.' As free citizens, we acquiesce to infantilizing digital infrastructure at our peril." — "Apple's Emoji Gun Control," Jonathan Zittrain

"It's the wood that should fear your hand, not the other way around. No wonder you can't do it. You acquiesce to defeat before you even begin." — Kill Bill, Vol. 2

Synonyms: accede, accommodate, adapt, adjust, agree, allow, approve, bow to, cave in, come around, comply, concede, conform, consent, cry uncle, give in, go along with, okay, shake on, submit, yield

14. Acrimony

noun (aah•kri•moan•ee)

Bitterness and animosity in speech and/or attitude

An acrimonious statement is like an acerbic statement, except there's a dark thread of bitterness in the context. For example: "During the campaign, the politicians engaged in acrimonious debate, accusing each other of gross malfeasance and misdeeds."

Used in Context

"One of us suffers a personal tragedy, falls ill and whatnot, we all feel it deeply, no matter what kind of acrimony is in the air." — The Sopranos, "Whitecaps"

"Befitting an election filled with acrimony, thousands of protesters converged on state capitols across the country Monday, urging Republican electors to abandon their party's winning candidate." — "Trump Cruises to Electoral College Victory Despite Protests," Stephen Ohlemacher

"I thought the English liked acrimony. You see them all screaming at each other in Parliament. I watch it on cable. It's ridiculous." — Ally McBeal, "Ally McBeal: The Musical, Almost"


Excerpted from "499 Words Every College Student Should Know"
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Copyright © 2017 Stephen Spignesi.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
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