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33 Middle School Vocabulary Words Adults Still Get Wrong

Think you have a strong vocabulary? See how many of these common 8th grade reading words you can recognize when some of history's greatest authors use them.

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Wanton (adj.) Showing no care for the feelings of others; out of control. As in: "As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods. They kill us for their sport."  —William Shakespeare, King Lear (Not to be confused with a similar 8th grade vocabulary word: wonton, as in the soup. Check out these surprising words invented by Shakespeare.)

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Citadel (n.) A fortress that commands a city; a stronghold. As in: "She seemed to know, to accept, to welcome her position, the citadel of the family, the strong place that could not be taken." —John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

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Blasé (adj.) Showing a lack of interest; affected boredom. As in: "Believe me, I may be a bit blasé, but I can still get any man I want."  ―F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gatsby Girls (Putting the word in the context of an 8th grade vocabulary: I may be a bit blasé, but I can still pass notes to any 9th grader I want.) These funny words were added to the dictionary in the 2010s. 

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Tawdry (adj.) Cheap and gaudy in appearance. As in: "The more wonderful the means of communication, the more trivial, tawdry, or depressing its contents seemed to be." ―Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey

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Mien (n.) Demeanor. As in: "Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien, and the report which was in general circulation within five minutes after his entrance, of his having ten thousand a year." —Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (Check out these other common words that even smart people mispronounce.)

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Retentive (adj.) Able to retain or remember many things. As in: "I am an omnivorous reader with a strangely retentive memory for trifles." ―Arthur Conan Doyle, The Complete Sherlock Holmes

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Servile (adj.) Submissive; slavish. As in: "Throw a stick, and the servile dog wheezes and pants and stumbles to bring it to you. Do the same before a cat, and he will eye you with coolly polite and somewhat bored amusement." —H.P. Lovecraft, Something About Cats

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Simper (v.) To smile insincerely. As in: "If you ever find a man you love, don't waste time hanging your head and simpering. Go right up to him and say, 'I love you. How about getting married?'"  ― Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

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Rankle (v.) To cause anger or irritation; to fester. As in: "Blasted as thou wert, my agony was still superior to thine, for the bitter sting of remorse will not cease to rankle in my wounds until death shall close them forever." ―Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

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Mendicant (n.) A beggar. As in: "An artist without ideas is a mendicant; barren, he goes begging among the hours."  ― Irving Stone, The Agony and the Ecstasy

View Slides 11-20
Originally Published in Reader's Digest