The editors of the American Heritage dictionary recently compiled a list of “100 words they recommend every high school graduate should know.”
I always like to check out lists like this, and see how many of the entries I am already familiar with. The answer is, invariably, “nearly all of them.” Not because I have a stellar vocabulary, but because I cheat.
Not on purpose, of course. But, when performing this exercise, I’m always struck with “well that’s what I meant” syndrome. You know how it goes. You see the word, you say to yourself “that means X,” you check the definition, and when it turns out that it actually meant Y, you say, “ah, well, that’s I meant. And, jeeze, X and Y are practically the same thing … so, I’m going to give myself this one.” By the time I’m done, I have magnanimously “given” myself all of them, and have no idea how many I actually knew before I started.
So this time I tried something new: I wrote down my definitions first, and then compared them to the actual definitions afterwards. You can see the results in the comments.
If you’d like to do the same, here’s a little tool I wrote. First, select how many words from the American Heritage list you’d like to get tested on. (I wouldn’t recommend 100–that took me forever–but 23 is good.) You will then be given the opportunity to provide your definitions for each. You can then grade yourself, in comparison to the actual meanings. Lastly, the script will print out a final report, which you can then put
in the comments of this psot on your own site. (Apparently Movable Type strips tables from comments, so posting ‘em here ain’t gonna work after all.)
By providing your own definitions first, you should get a somewhat more accurate picture of how many of the words you could truly use correctly in a sentence. But if you just want to grade yourself without providing your own definitions first, you can do that instead. Whatever. We aim to please.
You can find my results here (but, if you intend to test yourself, don’t look until you have done so, as the definitions of the words appear on that page).