100 Words

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.

How many words?

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).


I want to drive a phenomenal amount of traffic to my site, but I don’t want to go through the bother of writing something funny or clever or thought provoking. So maybe I’ll try my hand at spawning a blogmeme instead.

These are my URL ABCs:

How to find your URL ABCs: Type the letter ‘a’ into your location bar, copy the first URL that your browser autosuggests as a completion, and paste it into the corresponding field below. Repeat for letters ‘b’ through ‘z’. You may add a comments as well, but they are not required. You can skip a letter if you’d like, or you can supply a comment for a letter even if you omit its URLs (to explain that nothing came up for that particular letter, for instance). When you are done, click ‘Format My URL ABCs’ and this script will return the HTML code you can paste in the comments of the URL ABCs post , use on your own site, or print it out and enclose it with your next Kelly Osbourne fan letter. Whatever.

Letter URL Comment
List my URL ABCs as a bulleted list: yes no

Print comment following URL (e.g. “A is for apple.com — I love my iPod!”):
yes no

Use comment as link’s title attribute (e.g. “A is for apple.com “):
yes no

Note: This may only be an interesting exercise with Firefox or Mozilla, both of which offer autosuggestions in descending order of last accessed (the sorting algorithm may also take the frequency of access into account as well). I don’t know what IE does. If it just cough up URLS in alphabetic order — and, after a little experimentation with my rarely used copy of IE, I think this might be the case — then picking the first one off the top doesn’t really reveal much about you.

Update: I just realized that my spam filter — which automatically blocks comments that contain > 20 hyperlinks — has been preventing people from posting their ABCs in the comments. Sorry about that — the filter has been temporarily disabled.

defective yeti Momalizer

The problem with journalism today is that it’s all so damned depressing: North Korea has nukes, the US has deficits, Harrison Ford is dating Calista Flockhart, and so on. Just skimming the Yahoo! News page is enough to induce an anxiety attack. If only there was some way to soften the blow …

Well now there is! Just enter your email address below*, select the news story you wish to read, and the defective yeti Momalizer will put it into the most comforting format possible: a friendly email from your dear old mom.

Enter your email address:

* You email address will not be used for evil ** . If fact, it’s not even stored anywhere.
** For real.