When you purchase through links on this site, I may earn an affiliate commision.

Digital reading may never measure up to the experience of holding a paper book, but it certainly has its perks. With my Kindle, I can download nearly any book ever published and begin reading immediately. I can tote multiple books around with me at all times (my Kindle lives in my purse); I can amass a large TBR without cluttering up my real-life bookshelves; I can read in bed at night without a reading light; and (thanks to the handy stand on my Kindle case) I can use it to read hands-free, which is a necessity when reading during an elliptical workout, while eating, or with a child on my lap (situations that make up a bulk of my reading opportunities).

Of its numerous benefits, my favorite qualities of digital reading are 1) the ability to highlight passages for future reference, and 2) how easy it is to look up words or terms I encounter as I read. I make heavy use of my Kindle dictionary, often looking up words I already know because I’m curious about a pronunciation or specific definition. It’s not uncommon for me to look up words I encounter in physical books, too, but the Kindle saves me an extra step. AND the Vocabulary Builder on my Kindle keeps a record of the words I’ve looked up.

I enjoy pursuing my Vocabulary Builder history from time to time. Today, I’m taking that one step further by sharing 28 (of the hundreds of) words I’ve looked up during my reading this year. For each word, I’m including a definition as well as the title of the book in which I encountered that word and the sentence in which the word was used. If you’re up for a challenge, read through these words before glancing at the definitions to see how many you know! (And please don’t judge my lesser vocabulary skills if most of these words are familiar to you….)

1. pinniped — an order of carnivorous aquatic mammals that comprises the seals, sea lions, and walrus. They are distinguished by their flipperlike limbs.

“He can’t remember which pinniped is native to the Pacific Northwest.” – Remarkably Bright Creatures

2. manse — the house occupied by a minister of a Presbyterian church

“The rectory where they lived was an impressive stone manse set back from the road on the lightly wooded acreage behind the church.” – A Strange Habit of Mind

3. ennui — a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement

“When he gathered with the guys for whiskey and cigars and they started discussing the 1973 Dodge Challenger one of them was restoring in his garage, Winter would silently recite poetry to himself to keep the ennui from killing him where he sat.” – A Strange Habit of Mind

4. inveigh — speak or write about something with great hostility

“In the video, he was standing on the floor of the House of Commons, inveighing against a global tax plan that he felt would strip the United Kingdom from its national sovereignty.” – A Strange Habit of Mind

5. aliyah — immigration to Israel

“The contingent of Bernsteins had made aliyah a few years earlier.” – The Latecomer

6. vicissitude — a change of circumstances of fortune, typically one that is unwelcome or unpleasant

“It was good to be able to talk about our mother, her many vicissitudes and shortcomings.” – The Latecomer

7. kilim — a flat-woven carpet or rug made in Turkey, Kurdistan, and neighboring areas

“There were sheepskins and huge kilims and those thick creamy sofas you only ever saw in magazines.” – The Love of My Life

8. hagiography — the writing of the lives of saints

“When we don’t write a misty-eyed hagiography, and instead publish a truthful account of the deceased—crime, bigotry, sexual misdemeanors, and all—they tend to send furious letters.” – The Love of My Life

9. ersatz — made or used as a substitute, typically an inferior one, for something else

“It was beautiful, Sam thought, and perhaps, he worried, a tad ersatz.” – Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

10. echt — authentic and typical

“There was no echt Sadie in this view, he decided.” – Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

11. tautology — the saying of the same thing twice in different words

“Sadie knew this to be a tautology but it also happened to be true.” – Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

12. ludic — showing spontaneousness and undirected playfulness

“He organized the micro feedback into a spreadsheet, with categories like sounds, delays, mechanics, prose, graphics, pacing, HUD, controls, general ludic thoughts.” – Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

13. jejune — naive, simplistic, and superficial; dry and uninteresting

“Sam thought it sounded jejune.” – Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

14. zaftig — (of a woman) having a full, rounded figure; plump

“The driver’s seat had a wooden bead overlay that supposedly gave a message or did something for circulation; maneki neko, the zaftig hospitality cat, waved from the dash.” – Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

15. cicerone — a guide who gives information about antiquities and places of interest to sightseers

“Marx had been a Harvard Yard tour guide, and even if he hadn’t been, he was the kind of well-traveled cicerone who always knew the best parts of any city.” – Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

16. portmanteaus — consisting of or combining two or more separable aspects or qualities

“Sadie leaves, and a nurse comes into the room to deal with the dueling portmanteaus of waster and nourishment that hang by your bed.” – Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow (Kudos to Gabrielle Zevin for the extensive vocabulary in this book; I could have filled this list with words from this one novel alone!)

17. grok — understand something intuitively or by empathy

“He just did not grok how deeply his younger sibs had suffered.” – All That Is Mine I Carry With Me

18. drub — defeat thoroughly in a match or contest

“He was drubbed in 1964 when he ran for governor and drubbed again in ’72.” – All That Is Mine I Carry With Me

19. peroration — the concluding part of a speech, typically intended to inspire enthusiasm in an audience

“When the funeral finishes the peroration—Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate—he looks up.” – All That Is Mine I Carry With Me

20. reportorial — of or characteristic of newspaper reporters

“In her unwavering, reportorial tone, Aunt Kate repeats Jane’s description of that night.” – All That Is Mine I Carry With Me

21. mille-feuille — a rich dessert consisting of many very thin layers of puff pastry and such fillings as whipped cream, custard, fruit, etc.

“She licked her lipsi n anxious anticipation for a gooey bite of mille-feuille.” – The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender

22. bain-marie — a container holding hot water into which a pan is placed for slow cooking

“I joined the line, shuffling past the bain-maries, and filled my plate.” – Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone

23. screed — a long speech or piece of writing, typically one regarded as tedius

“Last week, Rose posted a long screed on her blog about the history of redlining in America.” – Model Home

24. fey — giving an impression of vague unworldliness

“A fey gleam lit in his eye, as if he were rather hoping the young man would attempt to chastise him.” – The Ten Thousand Doors of January

25. temerarious — reckless; rash

“Locke so often complained, I could sometimes be quite improper, willful, and temerarious (a word I assumed was unflattering from the company it kept).” – The Ten Thousand Doors of January

26. turgid — tediously pompous or bombastic

“My pulse beat turgid and reluctant in my skull.” – The Ten Thousand Doors of January

27. snug — a small, comfortable public room in a pub or inn

“‘Pie,’ he shouted into the snug.” – The Souvenir Museum

28. jitney — a bus or other vehicle carrying passengers for a low fare

“Willa’s college had a jitney that made several runs to the airport before any major holiday.” – Clock Dance

Do you ever look up the meanings of words you encounter in your reading? I’d love to hear the craziest or funniest or most interesting word you’ve learned!

Get In Touch