The Best Words by Robert Hartwell Fiske

Order from Amazon

"Fiske's The Best Words contains delightfully expressive words that are as useful as they are colorful; the choice of words,the illustrative sentences, and the pronunciation guide are nothing less than superb." — Rod L. Evans, author, Thingamajigs and Whatchamacallits

"If you're a lover of words, you'll enjoy this entertaining, illuminating book. And if you're a writer, you'll enrich your work with the evocative, unique words you'll learn here." — Kelly James-Enger, author, Goodbye Byline, Hello Big Bucks

"When I require the choice vocable, the tastiest morsel of verbal victuals, done not medium but rare, I make my way to Fiske's table and am always delighted. Robert Hartwell Fiske is America's master finder of the apt word." — Bill Casselman, author, Where a Dobdob Meets a Dikdik

"The Best Words is the Dean & Deluca of the word-loving gourmand, full of words rich in history and meaning — and uncommon enough to win over even longtime logophiles. Those with a craving for superlative words will find this an uberous source. The Best Words will definitely be on my best-of-the-word-books bookshelf." — Mim Harrison, author, Smart Words and Wicked Good Words

"Many previous books have introduced readers to words they might not have known before. Robert Hartwell Fiske's new entry has the advantage of displaying its words in flattering contexts, showing how good writers — and sometimes great ones — have put them to real use. The result is fun and instructive." — Ward Farnsworth, author, Farnsworth's Classical English Rhetoric

The point of learning new words is not to impress your friends or to seem more intelligent than they. The point is to see more, to understand more. An ever-increasing vocabulary uncovers connections, introduces spheres, and — in reminding us that there are words for all thoughts, all feelings, all behaviors, all things — upholds all humankind.

The Best Words are words you actually will have occasion to use; they are not the sort of "weird" or "wonderful" words (such as "infrendiate" and "dromaeognathous") you might encounter only at insipid cocktail parties where one person tries to impress, or, as likely, insult, another. These words are meant to be spoken and written, and if you use them, you will learn them.

Since the average English speaker has a vocabulary of 10,000 to 20,000 words, and uses far fewer than that, learning these best words may be a very good use of your time — better, certainly, than reading about the mind-numbing tedium of your friends' daily lives on Facebook or Twitter. — From the Introduction

Nominated by Vocabula Review readers and selected by the author, The Best Words includes choice expressions useful for everyday speaking and writing. Concluding with 150 challenging quiz questions to test comprehension, this collection also features sidebars with further explanation, derivations, and literary asides, making it ideal for students, writers, grammarians, and word lovers alike.

  You can order The Best Words from Vocabula or Amazon.

Here are a few examples from the more than 200 entries in the book:




a place to hide something, valuables, especially.

He spelled it. "Abditory. Place to hide things. Blaney says it's a scientific term. The office is full of them. I haven't had a chance before now since Tuesday night but with him up in Westchester I'm going to take a look. With a nut like Blaney you can never tell." — Rex Stout, Trouble in Triplicate, 1949




1. fond of alcoholic beverages. 2. absorbent.

The 31st Infantry had the distinction of being the only American infantry regiment in the Philippines out of 22,000 U.S. Army troops in the Philippines. But their reputation was more for bibulosity than for bravery; hence their moniker, the "Thirsty-First." — John Glusman, Conduct Under Fire, 2006

Ex-Soviet aircraft have long suffered mockery for their rickety construction, chewing-gum repair jobs, and bibulous crews. — Graeme Wood, "Prepared for the Worst," The Atlantic Monthly, 2009










a thin membrane, a portion of the amniotic sac, that sometimes covers a newborn mammal at birth.

I was born with a caul, which was advertised for sale, in the newspapers, at the low price of fifteen guineas. Whether sea-going people were short of money about that time, or were short of faith and preferred cork jackets, I don't know; all I know is, that there was but one solitary bidding, and that was from an attorney connected with the bill-broking business, who offered two pounds in cash, and the balance in sherry, but declined to be guaranteed from drowning on any higher bargain. Consequently the advertisement was withdrawn at a dead loss—for as to sherry, my poor dear mother's own sherry was in the market then—and ten years afterwards, the caul was put up in a raffle down in our part of the country, to fifty members at half-a-crown a head, the winner to spend five shillings. I was present myself, and I remember to have felt quite uncomfortable and confused, at a part of myself being disposed of in that way. — Charles Dickens, David Copperfield, 1850

The book remade me as a writer, because it appealed to something in me that had been waiting restlessly for a liberating touch. Inside me had been a romantic artist, a romantic poet, straining to emerge from some sort of caul. — Clark Elder Morrow, "Memory Between the Covers," The Vocabula Review, 2009

In medieval times, a caul enveloping a newborn's head was considered a sign of good luck. Eventually, it was thought that a baby's caul would give its owner luck and protect that person from drowning. Prized by sailors, cauls were often sold to them for large sums of money.




1. veneration or worship of words. 2. excessive regard for words.

We are told that the learning of a second and third language, especially if it is a dead language, is a splendid means of cultivating the mind—another superstition, which rests upon no evidence whatever as far as I have been able to ascertain; and we are told that the acquisition of the dead languages is morally and intellectually elevating, a safeguard against materialism, a refining and spiritualizing influence, without which a man remains destitute of all high and worthy motives, sunk in debased and sordid aims and pursuits. I have examined this assertion again and again, and I can find no evidence whatever to support it. It is an assertion as baseless as that the wearing of a charm will ward off misfortune; and the same cast of mind that entertains the one superstition cherishes the other. And the devotion of disproportionate time and attention to languages, whether dead or living, in the scheme of education, is not merely waste; it is actively pernicious and baneful. It does irreparable harm to the growing mind. It fosters and increases that logolatry, that worship of words, that inability to distinguish between words and things, that pseudo-solution of problems by the invention of neat phrases, that pursuit of such flimsy will-o'-the-wisps as socialism, war to end war, destruction of militarism, efficiency, democracy, spiritual influence, and so forth, which to nearly all the people who use them have no clear meaning, but are mere "words of power" like Abracadabra and Ko-gula. — Charles Mercer, "Education and the Acquisition of Languages," Intellect, 1918

There's one did swear in his sleep, and one cried Murder. Murder equals redrum. That's poetic justice. I waste a lot of time in logolatry. I am a verbalist, Cynthia—a tinklin I am the founder and leader of the new school of literature—The Emblemists. I wear a wide black hat, a dirty shirt, boots with spurs, and shave once a month. Traces of egg can be seen at the corners of my mouth. I am hollow-cheeked, ex-ophthalmic, prognathous: I express my views at any and all times, savagely, and with a conscious minimum of tact. — Conrad Aiken, Blue Voyage, 1927




having broad buttocks.

In her book on Les Vénus stéotopygues, L. Passemard disagreed with Piette on the basis that "these celebrated statuettes called steatopygous are almost all platypygous" (1938, p. 132). In other words, they suffered from an excess of fatty flesh at the sides of their hips, not at the back. — Sigfried Giedion, The Eternal Present: The Beginnings of Art, 1962

  You can order The Best Words from Vocabula or Amazon.

Remarks About The Best Words

It's a wonderfully useful and delightful book which I've already enjoyed greatly. — Clark Elder Morrow

I'm so fond of The Best Words that I'd like to have a copy for my Kindle. Do you have it in portable document format? Thank you — Waking Joseph

I think it is splendid and I am enjoying reading it! — Bill Casselman

Awesome book! — Jevon Jaconi

I'm enjoying your book immensely, by the way — even though I feel a bit lacking not knowing a number of these words. But that's okay: it's good to be humbled, especially by those we admire. — Mim Harrison

Send us your remarks about The Best Words.

Robert Hartwell Fiske is the editor and publisher of The Vocabula Review. Also available, from Simon & Schuster, Robert Hartwell Fiske's Dictionary of Unendurable English. To learn about other Fiske books and book proposals, email the author.

*This free offer is for buying The Best Words only, not for buying other books by Fiske.

Books by Robert Hartwell Fiske
Robert Hartwell Fiske's Dictionary of Unendurable English
The Dimwit's Dictionary, Third Edition
The Best Words
The Dictionary of Concise Writing
Vocabula Bound 1
Vocabula Bound 2
The Dictionary of Disagreeable English
101 Wordy Phrases
101 Foolish Phrases
101 Elegant Paragraphs
Silence, Language, & Society
Speaking of Silence

Back one page Print this page
About TVR  |  Site Index  |  Write for TVR  |  Subscribe to TVR  |  Essay Archive  |  Back Issues  |  Tell or Treat

.Back to Top Vocabula logo TVR HomeTVR Home