Word Flashbacks

Aug 16, 2013

You know how certain smells can carry you back in time in an instant? I have words that are like that. Sometimes I remember where I first heard the word. Other times, something out of the ordinary or unusual happened while hearing it and seared it into my memory. Here are five just such words:

clandestine - kept or done in secret, often in order to conceal an illicit or improper purpose
This word made many appearances when I was reading The Zookeeper’s Wife. I wasn’t terribly familiar with it (maybe not at all), so I actually looked it up in an actual dictionary. I can vividly remember replacing it in my mind with “secret” anytime I came to it while reading.

angst - a feeling of persistent worry about something trivial
I first heard this word five years ago. At that time, almost all of Mike’s eight siblings were keeping blogs (not so anymore), and so we decided to play a game on our blogs (Mike’s family is nothing if not creative and competitive). Each person was given their own list of words they had to use in posts over a two-week time period. If you used one of your words, and someone guessed it, they got a point. But if they either didn’t notice or there wasn’t really an assigned word in the post, then you got a point. (It was great fun, especially since, unless you were in on the game, you couldn’t tell there was anything particularly unusual going on, except that we all suddenly had much richer vocabularies.) Anyway, neither Mike nor I knew what it was to exhibit angst (it has since become a MUCH more popular word . . . everyone is filled with angst these days), and so we decided we’d have better luck pretending it was a typo for “against.” This is how we used it to describe a game of ping pong: "okay, so maybe my meager ping pong skills are pretty useless angst him, but my competitive nature can’t handle defeat.” Sadly, most of Mike’s siblings caught it.

menagerie - a collection of wild animals kept in captivity for exhibition
This word impressed itself upon me when we read this line in The Circus Ship: "Mr. Payne looked high and low, but still he couldn’t see the fifteen circus animals of his menagerie.” I knew the word before, but I was delighted to find it in a children’s book, and I can’t hear it now without seeing the page it goes with in the book. 

snarky - rudely sarcastic or disrespectful; snide

Last year, my book club read Everneath, and we were lucky enough to have the author, Brodi Ashton, come to our meeting and talk about the book. The thing I remember most about that meeting is how often she said the word snarky. She called so many people snarky that I think she intended it as a compliment.

ineffable - too great or extreme to be expressed or described in words
This word is now forever linked in my brain with a British accent (Jim Dale’s British accent, to be exact). The word was dwelt on so much in Liesl and Po that you could almost call it a literary theme. The main character pronounced it in a very specific way--drawing it out and lingering on the f’s. Jim Dale’s interpretation was beautiful. I don’t think I’ve had an opportunity to use it out loud since I listened to that book, but when I do, you can be certain I’ll be British for the instant it takes to say it.

I have more words that maybe I’ll share at a later date, but tell me: Do you have any words with specific memories attached to them? Please share!


  1. When I saw your post I clicked on it immediately because I wanted to see if you included my all time FAVORITE word I learned while reading lauren Oliver's book Liesl and Po! YAY you did - INEFFABLE! Isn't that just the best word EVER!

    Its pretty funny you say the girl in Everneath was throwing out "Snarky" as a compliment. That's not exactly what I'd think of as a complimentary word.

  2. Some of my favorites. I adore clandestine and menagerie.
    Snarky is a big fav of mine too.

  3. I love magnanimous! I learned what it meant while preparing a RS lesson. The great thing about big words is that they convey 10x more meaning than a bumbling, long-winded phrase ever could. I also love quintissential

  4. This is so fun! I remember that my dad always used to use the words "arbitrary" and "capricious" all the time. Whenever I hear someone say that, I think of him. My favorite word is probably "surreptitious" -- and I'm really loving the word "germane" right now, too. So many great words to use. :)

  5. I would say a lot of words from Anne of Green Gables are like that for me. The first two that came to mind were foreboding and languid. I always think of the books/movie when I hear them

  6. Oh and I first heard about a chokecherry in the third book of the Enchanted Forest Series. Now my parents have a chokecherry tree at their house and anytime I hear its name I think of the invisible dusk blooming chokecherries in the book.


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