mot juste

“…what they want you to do is fill in the blank with the word that makes the resulting sentence least interesting.”

Geoff Nunberg on “SAT words” on NPR

I give my students vocab words every year, and in the “use it in a sentence” part of the assignment I often see that they grasp the general function of the word but not the subtle nuance of its meaning. As Nunberg notes:

“Esoteric” only comes into its own as a concept when it’s jostling in your mind with “obscure,” “arcane,” “recondite” and the rest.

and

…you can’t pluck the word out of its native habitat to put on a study list and imagine that its meaning will still be clinging to its roots.

I love that second sentence.