Vaughan’s Vocabulary

Min-Hsun Chiang, associate professor at Columbia University, describes the importance of vocabulary with a series of similes. I have selected four of my favorites of Dr. Chiang’s vocabulary similes.

A writer’s vocabulary is like a chef’s pantry and words are like ingredients. The more ingredients there are in the pantry, the wider the variety of culinary possibilities. Vocabulary is like your wardrobe; it’s the first thing everyone notices and the last thing they’ll remember. Learning vocabulary is like football practice: if you don’t regularly build up your muscles and skills, that is, words and memory, you will be dramatically handicapped.

And one more: A large vocabulary is like a hammer to a master carpenter. It helps you hit the nail on the head every time.

Before you take this week’s quiz, verbally pronounce each of the four vocabulary enhancers and define each one in your own words. For example, a reader might say, “Arbitrary- hmm, up to the person’s choosing.”

[1.] arbitrary (ARE-buh-trair-ee)

A. subject to individual will or judgment without restriction

B. dependent on majority rule

C. costly, expensive

D. weak in judgment


[2.] prestigious (press-TEE-jus)

A. commodious

B. having a high reputation; honored, esteemed

C. quick, almost presto

D. having the tendency to press someone for information


[3.] endow (in-DOW)

A. to make a grant of money providing for the continuing support or maintenance of

B. to increase

C. to ameliorate

D. to borrow for nonprofit purposes


[4.] aloofness (uh-LOOF-nis)

A. showing tendencies of being physically or emotionally distant

B. showing qualities of amiableness

C. showing qualities of trustworthiness

D. None of the above


[5.] estivate (ES-tuh-vate):

A. to spend a summer in a particular place

B. to form an approximate judgment or opinion

C. to annihilate

D. to transfer control from one party to another

No. 1, arbitrary, is A. Meg and Mike each made an arbitrary decision: she decided to go to the beach and he decided to stay in the hotel room and read.

No. 2, prestigious, is B. My essay was published in a prestigious journal.

No. 3, endow, is A. The grant will be used to endow the research.

No. 4, aloofness, is A. Jennifer’s aloofness at the party irritated the host.

No. 5, estivate, is A. This is James and Portia’s third summer to estivate in lovely Hampshire County, Massachusetts.

Editor’s Note: Don R. Vaughan, Ph.D., is the pastor of Mt. Vernon Baptist Church near Eupora and is on the faculty of East Mississippi Community College, Golden Triangle Campus. Contact him at