I have a notoriously small vocabulary for a person of my education and employment. I frequently look up words that I know I’ve looked up a million times just to look them up again six months later. My GRE score? Perfect scores on the reading comprehension and the sentence completion, dismal scores on the analogies and antonyms.

So, as I have not yet determined a “purpose” for this blog, I’ve decided to start adding “features.” Why not learn something while you’re here?

Today’s new feature is Vocabu-cise. Let’s exercise our vocabularies! Since today is a Tuesday, I’ll go ahead and make this a Tuesday feature. On Tuesdays throughout 2010 I aim to introduce at least five new words to my readership/self. Hooray! Let’s learn about words and make sure that I don’t miss the word “maven” on my next GRE. (Honestly: I missed the word maven which was then featured on a television commercial. Embarrassing.)

deen (noun, also dīn):

  1. religion
  2. religious way of life (especially referring to Islam, but also used by Arab Christians)

Word origin: Three possibilities

  • Hebrew-Aramaic dīn, meaning “law, justice”, in Al-Fatiha appearing as yaum ad-dīn “Judgement Day”
  • Arabic dāna “debt, obligation”
  • Middle Persian dēn “revelation, religion”

Found in The Washington Post: I will describe myself as very ambitious and determined, especially in the deen. I strive to live my daily live [sic] according to the quran and sunnah to the best of my ability. I do almost everything, sports, TV, books . . . (of course trying not to cross the limits in the deen).

Use it in a sentence: Almost all religious peoples try to live according to the deen described by their religious books.


  1. (noun): (a) A staff that holds on its cleft end the unspun flax, wool, or tow from which thread is drawn in spinning by hand. (b) An attachment for a spinning wheel that serves this purpose.
  2. (noun): (a) a woman or women collectively; (b) work and concerns traditionally considered important to women
  3. (adjective, sometimes offensive): noting, pertaining to, characteristic of, or suitable for a woman; female.

Word origin: O.E. distæf “stick that holds flax for spinning,” from dis- “bunch of flax” + stæf “stick, staff.” A synonym in Eng. for “the female sex, female authority in the family,” since at least the late 1400s, probably because in the Middle Ages spinning was typically done by women.

Found in NY Times: As it turns out, the list of most-purloined fiction authors at many stores resembles the contents of the X-Case; it’s a list that is predominantly — and often exclusively — male. Why are thieves shunning the distaff?

Use it in a sentence: The distaff looked on with disgust while the sword* played football in the mud.

*Apparently while the “distaff” was used to refer to the female branch of the family, the words “spear” and “sword” were once used to used to denote the males.

Fun usage: Check out this group and their cafepress store!

embonpoint (noun): excessive plumpness; stoutness

Word origin: from French, from Old French en bon point, literally “in good condition.”

Found in Dictionary.com Word of the Day: His embonpoint expands by the day and his eyes are buried in the fat of his cheeks.

Use it in a sentence: Al Roker’s embonpoint has decreased considerably since he got his stomach stapled.

sobriquet (noun):

  1. an affectionate or humorous nickname
  2. an assumed name

Word origin: 1646, from the French sobriquet “nickname,” from Middle French soubriquet, literally “a chuck under the chin,” of unknown origin (first element probably from Latin sub “under”)

Found in: unknown

Use it in a sentence: I have always given my close friends ridiculous sobriquets such as “Beans,” “Smo,” and “Chubbs.”

vade mecum (noun):

  1. something carried about for frequent
  2. a book ready for reference; manual; handbook.

Word origin: “a manual” 1629 from the Latin, literally “go with me”

Found in NY Times: Of course, I made lots of exceptions, reprieving such books as “Miss Lonelyhearts,” “Last Exit to Brooklyn,” and other vade mecums.

Use it in a sentence: The MLA Handbook is the vade mecum for anyone trying to write English papers.