This article in the Sun Herald of Mississippi is great for a laugh or two. It presents some of the “favorite English words” of mainly middle school students.
Some of my favorite entries include:
Insipid: “Insipid means dull or stupid. It is my favorite word because I am not allowed to say the word stupid…If you use the right tone of voice, you can pass it off as a compliment, not an insult.”
Haughty: “It is not only one of the first words I learned in the seventh grade, but it really jumps out at you. The word haughty really describes me, because it means proud and vain to the point of arrogance. This is why I love the word so much.”
Infiltration: “I love the way it rolls off your tongue. Infiltration is when water seeps through the ground. I love this word although it also means when you send a spy to another country. But I really like the definition about water.”
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Other favorite words included mother, united, love, trust, kantikoy, and taters.
I might use this as a warmer in a class by first asking students to think of their own favorite word in English (and perhaps their own language) and explain what they like about it. If there was time and motivation to continue, I might write a selection of the words given as favorites in this article – say, eight or ten – on the board and ask them first if they know the meaning, and second to predict why someone would choose that word as a favorite. After this short discussion they could read the answers for those eight or ten words and see if they were right and what they think of the reasons given. There are also some good idioms in the responses which I could ask them to predict the meaning of (and teach if they can’t guess) : “it rolls off your tongue”, “pass it off”, “it jumps out at you.”
It could also lead into an interesting discussion about connotation (how some word with an ostensibly neutral meaning can be extremely offensive if they “take on” an additional meaning), pronunciation, or euphemisms (we say “pass away” instead of “die”, and “Johnny hasn’t been working up to his potential” instead of “Johnny is disruptive in class”).
For the record, one of my favorite words is “laconic” – because I learned it from Cutting Edge Upper Intermediate and it was used to describe Harrison Ford. I also like “kikiriki” – a Bosnian word – but I won’t go into the lengthy explanation of why.