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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. Here’s how to improve your vocabulary in just one day.

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Rankle

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

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

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Qualm

Qualm (n.) A sudden feeling of uneasiness, uncertainty, or nausea. As in: “She was like a bride-to-be who begins to feel her sickening qualms as the day approaches, and dares not speak her mind” —Ian McEwan, Atonement. These are 14 of the hardest words to pronounce in the English language—and some of them are standard 8th-grade vocabulary words.

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Oblique

Oblique (adj.) Indirect; slanted. As in: “He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight.” —James Joyce, Dubliners

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Churlish

Churlish (adj.) Impolite, hard to work with. As in:  “‘Wretched inmates!’ I ejaculated, mentally, ‘you deserve perpetual isolation from your species for your churlish inhospitality.” —Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights. By the way: “ejaculate” is used here as a synonym for “exclaim.”

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Discordant

Discordant (adj.) Out of harmony; conflicting. As in: “And travellers now within that valley, /Through the red-litten windows see/ Vast forms that move fantastically/ To a discordant melody” —Edgar Allen Poe, The Fall of the House of Usher. Look out for these grammatical errors even smart people make.

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Upbraid

Upbraid (v.) To severely criticize; scold. As in: “‘That fiend!’ Mr. Darling would cry, and Nana’s bark was the echo of it, but Mrs. Darling never upbraided Peter; there was something in the right-hand corner of her mouth that wanted her not to call Peter names.” ― J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

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Adage

Adage (n.) An old and well-known saying. As in: “Einmal ist keinmal, says Tomas to himself. What happens but once, says the German adage, might as well not have happened at all.” —Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

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Oust

Oust (v.) To remove from power; supplant. As in: “Let faith oust fact; let fancy oust memory; I look deep down and do believe.”  ― Herman Melville, Moby-Dick. Check out more almost-extinct words you should start using right away.

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Haughty

Haughty (adj.) Disdainfully proud; arrogant. As in: “Out from the door of the farmhouse came a long file of pigs, all walking on their hind legs…out came Napoleon himself, majestically upright, casting haughty glances from side to side” —George Orwell, Animal Farm

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Malinger

Malinger (v.) To pretend to be sick or injured to avoid work. As in: “Pike, the malingerer, who, in his lifetime of deceit, had often successfully feigned a hurt leg, was now limping in earnest.” —Jack London, The Call of The Wild

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Voracious

Voracious (adj.) Having a huge appetite; ravenous. As in: “It occurred to me that the voracious ambition of humans is never sated by dreams coming true, because there is always the thought that everything might be done better and again.”  ―John Green, The Fault in Our Stars. Here are more classic books you can read in one day.

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Stoical

Stoical (adj.) Showing no emotion, especially in response to pain or distress. As in: “The stoical scheme of supplying our wants by lopping off our desires, is like cutting off our feet, when we want shoes.” ― Jonathan Swift, Thoughts on Various Subjects

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Waif

Waif (n.) A homeless child. As in: “Into them had spilled so many lives. The Ramsays’; the children’s; and all sorts of waifs and strays of things besides.” —Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

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Pallid

Pallid (adj.) Pale; lacking liveliness. As in: “They pried off the lid with their shovels, got out the body and dumped it rudely on the ground. The moon drifted from behind the clouds and exposed the pallid face.” —Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

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Plaudits

Plaudits (n.) Enthusiastic approval; applause. As in: “Not in the clamor of the crowded street, Not in the shouts and plaudits of the throng, But in ourselves, are triumph and defeat.” —Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, The Poets

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Promontory

Promontory (n.) A high point of land projecting into the sea. As in: “High on a rocky promontory sat an Electric Monk on a bored horse.”  ― Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency

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Prodigious

Prodigious (adj.) Amazing or impressive; enormous. As in: “There is prodigious strength in sorrow and despair.”  ― Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities. Check out these 11 other adjectives everyone should use more often.

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Irascible

Irascible (adj.) Easily angered. As in: “The threat sounded awful, but did not alarm Jo, for she knew the irascible old gentleman would never lift a finger against his grandson, whatever he might say to the contrary.” —Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

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Capitulate

Capitulate (v.) To stop resisting; surrender. As in: “I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names, to large societies and dead institutions.” ―Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance. Don’t get mixed up by these 10 similar word pairs that even good spellers screw up.

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Glut

Glut (v.) To fill to excess (think gluttony). As in: “To boundless vengeance the wide realm be given, Till vast destruction glut the queen of heaven!” —Homer, The Odyssey

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Rote

Rote (n.) Mechanical or unthinking repetition. As in: “I am afraid of getting married. Spare me from cooking three meals a day—spare me from the relentless cage of routine and rote.” —Sylvia Plath, Letters Home

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Dexterous

Dexterous (adj.) Skillful, especially with the hands. As in: “Just never forget to be dexterous and deft. And never mix up your right foot with your left.”  ― Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go! Here are 10 more fancy words that will make you sound smarter.

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Tractable

Tractable (adj.) Easily controlled or managed; malleable. As in: “…though far from clever, she showed a tractable disposition, and seemed likely to give them little trouble.” —Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

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Vaunted

Vaunted (adj.) Highly praised. As in: “And where is that band who so vauntingly swore/ That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion/ A home and a country should leave us no more!” —Francis Scott Key, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Next, make sure you correct these words and phrases you’re probably using wrong.

Originally Published in Reader's Digest