Dictionary, Shmictionary

Time to confess: tell us about a time when you used a word whose meaning you didn’t actually know (or were very wrong about, in retrospect).

The last time I used a word that I didn’t know how to pronounce, but whose meaning I understood just fine, was “epitome.”I had read it in context many time and understood its meaning. But how to say it out loud? I got it wrong.

Everyone laughed. I never forgot. I was 9-years-old.

I don’t now and never have used words when I don’t know what they mean. I look them up. That one little moment of humiliation was sufficient for a lifetime. I always wince with pain when I hear people misusing words. It used to require one find a dictionary to look it up — or at least ask someone “What does “phenomenology” mean?

These days, you just Google it. Some words, like “epistemology” and “cosmology” (as opposed to “cosmetology”) require a little more than a single sentence explanation. I avoid using them unless that’s what the post is about. Unless you are trying to lose your audience, find more easily recognized words.

It doesn’t make anyone look smarter to misuse 20 dollar words when a 5 dollar word will do the job nicely.

Meaning of life

From “The Meaning of Life” Serendipity, June 30, 2014

Revelation #3: It’s all in the wording.

You need the right lingo to dazzle your audience. Big words (4 or more syllables) used in the right context can showcase your education and intelligence. People will make little cooing sounds to show their admiration.

Big words enhance your likelihood of getting a management position. You can write important books. Have a blog like me (and I know you want to be just like me). Big words can take you a long way if you are skilled at deploying them.

Note: Make sure you know how to pronounce them. Mispronouncing big words will cause unexpected laughter … not good unless you are aiming for a stand-up comedy career.


Let’s start with epistemology. This is an excellent catch-all word you can drop into any conversation. Most people will have no idea what you are talking about but will be too embarrassed to admit it. On the off-chance you encounter someone who actually recognizes the word, you can use this handy-dandy definition from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the philosopher’s convenient source for everything:

Defined narrowly, epistemology is the study of knowledge and justified belief. As the study of knowledge, epistemology is concerned with the following questions: What are the necessary and sufficient conditions of knowledge? What are its sources? What is its structure, and what are its limits? 

I bet you still have no idea what it means. The awesome truth is that epistemology doesn’t mean anything because it means everything.

Anything that means everything means nothing. Equally, when something claims to do everything, it has no actual use. This applies to people, concepts, and kitchen appliances. In practical terms, everything and nothing are identical. (Remember infinite sets from college math? It’s like that.)


On to phenomenology. When I was studying religion in college, phenomenology was a way to prove the existence of God. Phenomenologically speaking, all human experience is proof of God. Except the same reasoning can prove there is no God. This is the joy of phenomenology.

Phenomenology can help you prove all things are one thing, all things are God. You are God. I am God. I am a warm cup of tea and you are a daffodil. If this doesn’t clarify it for you, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy offers further elucidation:

Phenomenology is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. The central structure of an experience is its intentionality, its being directed toward something, as it is an experience of or about some object.

In other words, you can use any and all human experience, your experience and anyone else’s, to prove whatever you want. Phenomenology is fundamental to all belief systems: religion, politics, and Fox News. Lots of people believe in religion, politics and Fox News, so maybe they will believe in you too.

Categories: #Writing, Ethics and Philosophy, Words

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19 replies

  1. Reblogged this on LIFE IS FUNNY.


  2. Just re-read the post, as I was coming here to add another bit of QoD witty repartee (at least in my own mind). Reminds me of being a paralegal for many years in what feels like another lifetime; there’s a lot of words used in that colony that aren’t a part of daily dialect.

    Having said that…. for eons, or at least decades, the word “irregardless” was used quite often by just about everyone I worked/wrote with. Boy oh boy, was I ever embarrassed when my at-that-time-teenage RosaSmartiePants informed me it wasn’t a word…. then proved it to me. I was way too old not to have known better. Just like a lemming jumping off the cliff. Likely one of my most embarrassing and prideful moments, all wrapped into one.

    That is why, to this day, I still insist my kids call it a Lie-Berry instead of library. 😉


    • Irregardless IS a word, but a meaningless word. It is so commonly used that it has become a word, even though it’s inherently meaningless because it’s a double negative. I used to look up a lot of words when I was younger. Now, reading on Kindle, you don’t have to look them up. You can highlight them and the definition appears at the bottom of the page. What a great learning tool! I still bump into words whose meaning I don’t know. Sometimes, I realize I’ve heard a word a few thousand times and actually don’t know what it means. Sometimes — like epistemology — I can look it up a few thousand times and it STILL won’t mean anything. Some words really don’t mean anything.


  3. AWESOME POST! As always, I’m smiling. 🙂 ❤


    • Thank you. Most people don’t realize it’s supposed to be funny. They think it’s serious.

      I have a thing about long words that, if you analyze them, don’t mean anything. The moment I bump into “epistemology” in a book, I leap to my feet and shout BULLSHIT. Because using the word is a flag and says “I am pompous, I am trying to IMPRESS you.” 🙂


  4. There are some words that for some reason I just struggle pronouncing, like ‘peculiar’. I have no idea why. Then there are the ones like you mentioned, you see them in writing but it is rare to hear someone say it. I’ve mangled a few of those and I was older than nine. I recently posted a blog article about how I just botched the meaning of “beg the question” because every instance I have seen it used it was used incorrectly! I’m getting old, and my memory gets fuddled on some obscure vocabulary, so when I’m typing and want to use one of them thar fancy words, I quickly look it up. The problem doesn’t really happen in speaking (not for definition, but yes, pronunciation), for the reasons you mentioned. Congrats, I thought today’s prompt was uninspiring. Yours is the second post I’ve read today that did something with it.


    • Well, it’s a subject I’ve written about before … and mispronunciation is a lot more common than using the wrong word — though idioms are commonly misused and it’s sometimes interesting to look them up and discover what they really mean. One of the great things about Kindles are you kind highlight the word and get both the meaning and the pronunciation, which is very cool 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Ha! I wrote in a post a while back about an executive vice president who was reading aloud an employee recognition award from a narrative that someone had prepared for him. When he got to the word “epitome” (as in “this employee is the epitome of a diligent associate”) he pronounced it in such a way that it rhymed with “Thunderdome.”

    And he was older than 9 years old!


    • Oops. I’ll bet he recovered eventually from his public humiliation. It’s one of those words that doesn’t look like it’s pronounced And most people — not us of course — don’t use it in common conversation 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I had an epistemology when my kids were born. It was everything and absolutely nothing all at the same time… it hurt like hell for awhile, then I got over it.


  7. For most of my youth I thought epitome was pronounced epi-‘tome’, like the word for book? Sometimes you haven’t got a clue though because you’ve never heard it said! At least these days we can jump online and find it being spoken somewhere… even if we run the risk of sounding like Microsoft Sam or Anna 😀 Have a good weekend 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yup, that’s exactly how I pronounced it. Like it looked. I used it correctly, just pronounced it wrong. Like Tucson which when I first read it I pronounced Tuck-son. I knew about Tucson … but I did connect the spelling with the sound of the world. But I was a KID.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Monsieur. I used to be able to pronounce this correctly. But too many viewings of Duke Wayne in “The Comancheros” and I say “MON-soor”. You got a problem with that, Pilgrim?

      Liked by 2 people

      • I recall an old episode of “The F.B.I”. Steve Forrest guest starred as a Communist double agent here in the States. Effrem “Inspector Lewis Erskine” Zimbalist, Jr. caught onto the Commie spy when he pronounced Tucson as “TUK-sun”. The Pinko was booked with a picture of J.Edgar in the background. Hoover was wearing a suit this time.


  8. Sometimes, I will throw out a word without realizing it, and people will look at me like I am crazy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I used to do that in Hebrew. Zion, pronounced “Zy-on” means penis. So calling Israel “the ‘land of Zion'” — well — it fit in an awful kind of way. Turns out, the word in Hebew is “Tsee-Own,” meaning the country. I used to reduce grown men to tears of laughter.

      In English, I just find another word because I’ve got a lot of words in there… especially when I write, but for 9 years in that Other Country, I was a moron.


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