Wordsmith – Test your wordpower

Aug 3, 2012 by

How many of these 18th- and 19th-century words, still in use today, do you know? Improve and test your wordpower by matching each of the words below to one of the multiple possible definitions.

Vocabulary Ratings
14-15 correct …………………………… excellent
12-13 correct …………………………… good
9-11 correct …………………………… fair



<b>(1) serendipity</b> <em>n</em><br /> <b>A:</b> a state of comatosed bliss. <b>B:</b> making happy discoveries by accident. <b>C:</b> extreme necessity

B: making happy discoveries by accident. Coined by Horace Walpole in 1754.

<b>(2) chin-chin</b><br /> <b>A:</b> violent argument. <b>B:</b> polite kiss. <b>C:</b> cheers!

C: cheers. “Chin-chin! Down the hatch.” An 18th-century pronunciation of the Mandarin ts’ing ts’ing.

<b>(3) cicisbeo</b> {chee-chis-bey-oh} <em>n</em><br /> <b>A:</b> married woman's male companion. <b>B:</b> luxurious dressing gown. <b>C:</b> dice game.

A: married woman’s male companion. “I need a cicisbeo to take me to the theatre tonight.” Italian.

<b>(4) Malthusian</b> {mal-thew-sian} <em>adj</em><br /> <b>A:</b> using moral restraint to keep the population down. <b>B:</b> outrageously greedy. <b>C:</b> over-excited about an unexciting thing.

A: using moral restraint to keep the population down. “He used Malthusian logic to justify remaining a bachelor.” From Thomas Malthus (1766-1834).

<b>(5) protege</b> {prot-erh-jay} <em>n</em><br /> <b>A:</b> violent political protest. <b>B:</b> someone promoted by a patron. <b>C:</b> steep roof.

B: someone promoted by a patron. French, meaning “protected” (past participle of proteger).

<b>(6) disportive</b> <em>adj</em><br /> <b>A:</b> keen on games. <b>B:</b> lazy. <b>C:</b> teasing in an annoying way.

A: keen on games. “George Best was disportive as long as he wasn’t in the pub.”

<b>(7) aspidistra</b> <em>n</em><br /> <b>A:</b> venomous snake. <b>B:</b> library stairs. <b>C:</b> bulbous lily.

C: bulbous lily. “The aspidistra in the hall was wilting.” Latin aspis (shield).

<b>(8) trihedron</b> <em>n</em><br /> <b>A:</b> three-headed monster. <b>B:</b> three-sided object, plus base or ends. <b>C:</b> irregular triangle.

B: a three-sided object, plus base or ends, “The pyramid is a trihedron shape.”

<b>(9) herbarium</b> <em>n</em><br /> <b>A:</b> collection of dried plants. <b>B:</b> kitchen cabinet. <b>C:</b> perfumed bag.

A: collection of dried plants. “His herbarium was packed with bay leaves.” Latin herba (grass).

<b>(10) flacon</b> {fla-kon} <em>n</em><br /> <b>A:</b> small bottle. <b>B:</b> poisoned arrow. <b>C:</b> self-criticism.

A: small bottle. “She kept perfume in a flacon.” French flacon (flask).

<b>(11) pentadactyl</b> {pen-terh-dak-til} <em>n</em><br /> <b>A:</b> five-fingered or five-toed creature. <b>B:</b> prehistoric bird. <b>C:</b> wing with five feathers.

A: five-fingered or five-toed creature. “Humans are pentadactyls.” Greek penta (five) and daktulos (finger).

<b>(12) freelance</b> <em>adj</em>

B: self-employed. Used by Walter Scott (1771-1832) in Ivanhoe to describe a “mercenary warrior”.

<b>(13) undine</b> {un-dean} <em>n</em><br /> <b>A:</b> tiny wave. <b>B:</b> female water spirit. <b>C:</b> defrocked vicar

B: female water spirit. Latin unda (wave).

<b>(14) testa</b> {tester} <em>n</em><br /> <b>A:</b> skull. <b>B:</b> witness in court. <b>C:</b> seed's outer covering.

C: seed’s outer covering. ‘The testa protected the seed from harm.’

<b>(15) kowtow</b> <em>v</em><br /> <b>A:</b> defer to someone. <b>B:</b> ritually slaughter. <b>C:</b> sail upstream.

A: defer to someone. Chinese ke (knock) and tou (head).

Related Posts

Share This