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A New Yorker Lexicon: What Hath Sanguinity Wrought?

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Did you see the “100 Words Every High School Graduate Should Know” that the makers of The American Heritage Dictionary are touting? It’s a pretty good list, actually, although such an enterprise is always going to be a bit random. I confess there are more than a few terms (mostly science-related, e.g. “gamete”) that I would not be able to define to my own satisfaction.

I decided to run the words through The Complete New Yorker to see if The New Yorker “knew” them all. Sure, you’re thinking, it’s everything since 1925! They’ll all come up dozens of times, silly! But ah, I could counter, it’s only abstracts and keywords and hastily typed summaries we’re talking about here.

Anyway, it turns out that the CNY balked on seven words. I find it very suspicious that two of the words it didn’t “know” were “suffragist” and “enfranchise.”

Which of these words do you think would produce the most interesting set of results? The comments section awaits your opinion.

Here are the results. The winner, with yards to spare, was a surprise to me, as was the margin.

irony 435

totalitarian 59

infrastructure 52

wrought 48

metamorphosis 47

epiphany 39

hubris 32

lexicon 30

equinox 28

filibuster 27

kinetic 27

paradigm 25

nomenclature 22

euro 20

hegemony 20

impeach 20

obsequious 19

nihilism 18

soliloquy 18

vortex 17

gauche 16

incognito 16

reciprocal 16

facetious 15

vehement 13

bellicose 12

diffident 12

homogeneous 12

incontrovertible 12

precipitous 12

acumen 11

chromosome 11

feckless 11

lugubrious 11

tempestuous 11

auspicious 10

chicanery 10

fatuous 10

omnipotent 10

sanguine 10

tectonic 10

vacuous 10

fiduciary 9

respiration 9

abstemious 8

loquacious 8

plasma 8

taxonomy 8

antebellum 7

circumnavigate 7

deleterious 7

gerrymander 7

unctuous 7

yeoman 7

evanescent 6

kowtow 6

oligarchy 6

plagiarize 6

polymer 6

quotidian 6

supercilious 6

usurp 6

photosynthesis 5

reparation 5

belie 4

churlish 4

nanotechnology 4

nonsectarian 4

orthography 4

winnow 4

abjure 3

deciduous 3

hemoglobin 3

hypotenuse 3

parameter 3

ziggurat 3

laissez faire 2

recapitulate 2

tautology 2

thermodynamics 2

abrogate 1

bowdlerize 1

circumlocution 1

enervate 1

gamete 1

inculcate 1

jejune 1

mitosis 1

oxidize 1

parabola 1

pecuniary 1

quasar 1

subjugate 1

enfranchise 0

expurgate 0

interpolate 0

moiety 0

notarize 0

suffragist 0

xenophobe 0


  • A friend observes: “Jejune” is the month after “Mimay.”
  • I don’t really see why anyone needs to know the words “yeoman” and “moeity” in 2007. [I’d argue for “yeoman,” used sparingly, but what would George Orwell say about some of these slovenly Latinate clunkers? —Ed.]
  • “Quasar” has one hit—in which it is mentioned as a difficult word that nobody knows. It’s a cartoon from the 8/21/1965 issue by Alan Dunn. Mother to inquisitive son: “If you want to know what a quasar is, I’d say you’ve come to the wrong person.”
  • A story in the current issue (June 4, 2007) explicitly refers to “sanguine” as a difficult word, the kind of word someone would look up in a dictionary. In fact, Karl Rove looks it up in a dictionary.
  • For me, the big shockeroo is the total for “wrought.”

—Martin Schneider


What about the word, “indeed”? That’s a word I associate with TNY. Indeed, I always use the word, “indeed,” when I’m pretending to be a New Yorker person.

You’re onto something there, Carolita. “Indeed” gets a whopping 390 hits. Not “irony” numbers, but then nobody could realistically expect that.

I’d like to cross a few words off this list to prevent high school graduates from overusing them in the future; I’m disenchanted with “parameter,” “facetious,” “recapitulate,” and “interpolate,” among others. They’re all circumlocutions!

Also, how come so many of these words describe unpleasant personality traits? I request that the population as a whole cease its churlish, obsequious, xenophobic, jejune, supercilious, totalitarian, feckless, fatuous, vacuous, deleterious, plagiarizing, bellicose, diffident, nihilistic, and/or excessively ironic behavior. Then we will have little need for these words, which wil fall out of common circulation except when needed to describe characters in vintage novels and reality shows.

Hmmm. I defend “facetious” on the grounds that it covers intent better than “comic,” “funny,” “humorous,” etc. I’m with you on the others, and I’ll even add “paradigm.”

For more idiosyncratic reasons, I dislike “hegemony” and “enervate” as well.

I don’t really see why “orthography” makes this list.

To end this comment on a positive note, my favorite word here is “feckless”!

Where is “zeitgeist” and “schadenfreud”? I first read these in TNY as a college student and had to look them up. A short while back it seemed you couldn’t escape it. Last year it seemed “schadenfreud” was in favor. Maybe on the next random list.

I am waging a personal war against “quotidian”. It’s a fancy-schmansy way of saying “everyday”. Was it a New Yorker editor who said “Never use the two-dollar word where the ten-cent one will do?”

For the record, “schadenfreude” gets 6 hits, “zeitgeist” gets 19.

As a German speaker (true!), I dislike “zeitgeist” (in English) but like “schadenfreude” quite a bit.

Stephen: I’ve been Googling it, and as far as I can tell, both Strunk/White and Orwell made very much the same point without use of a monetary metaphor.

It’s definitely a challenge to use “quotidian” without being pretentious.

I googled the spelling of “schadenfreude” before posting. The New York Review of Books was my source, and they spelled it “schadenfreud”. Are there two ways to spell it?

Never mind! I now see that it was a play on words.

“Avoid the elaborate, the pretentious, the coy, and the cute. Do not be tempted by a twenty-dollar word when there is a ten-center handy, ready and able. Anglo-Saxon is a livelier tongue than Latin, so use Anglo-Saxon words. In this, as in so many matters pertaining to style, one’s ear must be one’s guide…” (Strunk and White 77)

I find it odd that “euro” didn’t come up more often. Can that be right? Surely the NYer did a bunch of articles related to the EU and the common euro standard? Hm.

I agree with Martin about facetious, though. And I’d argue that all high school students who want to attend small liberal arts colleges DO need to know “hegemony.” That’s bound to come up during orientation, when members of the hegemony have to stand to one side and promise not to speak for the first month of school.

notbatgirlMay 30, 2007

notbatgirl: Thanks for the backup on “facetious.” I wouldn’t have been surprised if the Euro had come up much more, but I’m also not surprised this way. If the search were full-text, if The New Yorker were The Economist, if The New Yorker were based in England…. all of these factors subtly bring the numbers down. It seems like it should have been a massive story for The New Yorker, but in practice you can only write one story every couple of months that’s even tangentially about it, which is about what the numbers show. Also, a hypothetical 40-page article that mentioned “Euro” five times in every paragraph would register as precisely one hit, so there’s that too. (The closest thing to that, for the record, would seem to be Isabel Hilton’s 4/27/1998 “Annals of Money” article.)

John: Well done! My Google searches were on variations of the phrase “word will do.” Do people know that the entire (pre-White) text of The Elements of Style is at Bartleby? Well, it is.

“Look to the left of you. Look to the right of you. In four years, one of these students will have embraced hegemony, and the other will be excessively facetious.”

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