- ambiguous (adj) ambi- both + agere to do
having more than one meaning or interpretation : In her poem, the meaning of the cloak is intentionally ambiguous.
Form: ambiguity = quality of having more than one interpretation
Root family: [ambi-, amphi-] ambidextrous (able to use both hands skillfully), ambivalent (having mixed feelings), amphibian (an animal that lives partially in water and partially on land), amphitheater (an outdoor theater with seats surrounding (on both sides of) the stage)
Don't confuse with: ambivalent (having mixed feelings)
- anomaly (n)
something that deviates from the norm or expectation : Astronomers scan the night sky looking for anomalies such as radiation bursts or unusual planetary motions.
Form: anomalous = out of the norm
Synonyms: incongruity, aberration
Don't confuse with: animosity (strong hostility)
Don't confuse anomalous with anonymous (unnamed).
- diversion (n) di- away + vertere to turn
- an entertaining activity to distract one from everyday concerns : In the mountains, our diversions include hiking, fishing, and reading.
Form: diverting = entertaining
- an action intended to distract someone : I will create a diversion while you sneak into the house.
Form: divert = to cause something, such as traffic or a river, to change course; to distract someone's attention from something Root family: [di-, dis-] discredit (harm the reputation of something or someone), dispassionate (not influenced by strong emotions), disparate (very different; variegated), discrepancy (a lack of compatibility between facts or claims), disseminate (to cast widely), disperse (to spread or scatter), disputatious (argumentative), diffident (lacking in self-confidence), diffuse (spread over a wide area)
Root family: [vers, vert] adversary (enemy), diverse (various), adverse (harmful), subvert (undermine), averse (opposed), versatile (adaptable to different functions)
Don't confuse with: diverse (various)
- divulge (v) di- widely + vulgare to make public
to make widely known, particularly information that was previously kept private : I cannot divulge the information that was discussed in our private meeting.
Form: divulgence = the act of making something widely known
Root family: [dis-, di-] disparate (very different; variegated), discrepancy (a lack of compatibility between facts or claims), disperse (to spread or scatter), diffuse (spread over a wide area)
Root family: [vulg] vulgar (crude and unrefined)
Don't confuse divulgence with indulgence (an act of being excessively generous or lenient)
- elusive (adj) e- out + ludere to play
difficult to catch, find, understand, or achieve : The snow leopard is one of nature's most beautiful yet elusive creatures, rarely seen by human eyes.
Form: elude = to evade capture or understanding
Synonyms: evasive, impalpable, intangible
Root family: [e-, ex-] extol (to praise highly), extemporaneous (without planning), exuberant (filled with liveliness and energy)
Root family: [lud, lus] collusion (a secret understanding that has a harmful purpose), delude (to make someone believe something that is not true), illusion (something that gives a false impression of reality), ludicrous (foolish and ridiculous), allusion (to hint at indirectly)
Don't confuse with: illusory (giving a false impression), allusive (providing or pertaining to an indirect hint)
- empirical (adj)
pertaining to or based on observation or experience : Although string theory provides elegant mathematical solutions to many vexing problems in physics, it lacks any empirical evidence.
Form: empiricism = the belief that all knowledge is derived from sensory experience
Mnemonic: Imagine an empire in which everyone, especially the emperor, is a scientist, with telescopes on every rooftop and chemistry labs in every basement, where they constantly gather empirical data.
- enigma (n)
someone or something that is difficult to understand : King Lear's motivation remains an enigma.
Form: enigmatic = difficult to understand
Synonyms: conundrum, quandary, riddle
- idiosyncrasy (n) idios unique + syn with + krasis mixture
a mannerism or quirk peculiar to an individual : One of the stranger idiosyncrasies of professional athletes is their tendency to refer to themselves in the second or third person during interviews.
Form: idiosyncratic = quirky
Synonyms: quirk, peculiarity, eccentricity, mannerism, foible
Root family: [idio] idiom (a common phrase that has a nonliteral meaning, such as “at the end of your rope”), idiot (stupid person)
Don't confuse with: ideology (a system of ideals central to the political power of a group), iconoclast (one who attacks cherished beliefs), idiotic (stupid)
- inscrutable (adj) in- not + scrutari to search
beyond understanding : I find quantum physics to be almost as inscrutable as the motivations of my girlfriend. Synonyms: enigmatic, abstruse
Root family: [in-, im-] insipid (flavorless), insuperable (impossible to overcome), inert (lacking vigor), interminable (unending), innocuous (harmless), indefatigable (untiring), ineffable (inexpressible in words), impassive (unemotional), incongruous (not consistent with expectations)
Root family: [scrut] scrutinize (to examine closely)
Don't confuse with: unscrupulous (showing no moral principles)
Mnemonic: Something that is inscrutable is un-scrutinize-able, that is, it's impossible to examine closely because it is beyond our understanding.
- intrepid (adj) in- not + trepidus alarmed
fearless and adventurous : The intrepid explorers set out for the summit.
Root family: [in-, im-] insipid (flavorless), insuperable (impossible to overcome), inert (lacking vigor), interminable (unending), innocuous (harmless), indefatigable (untiring), ineffable (inexpressible in words), inscrutable (beyond understanding), impassive (unemotional), incongruous (not consistent with expectations)
Root family: [trepid] trepidation (fear)
Synonyms: undaunted, stouthearted
Don't confuse with: insipid (flavorless; uninteresting)
Mnemonic: The aircraft carrier Intrepid, now a museum moored off of Manhattan, is an impressive ship that represents the fearlessness of the U.S. Navy.
- nebulous (adj) nebula mist
vague; hazy; having the form of a cloud : The ghost appeared first as a nebulous near-human form.
Synonyms: amorphous, obscure
- paradox (n) para- distinct from, beside + doxa teaching
a logically self-contradictory statement or state of affairs : It seemed to be a paradox that light could behave both as a wave and as a particle.
Root family: [para-] paralegal (a lawyer's assistant), parallel (next to and aligned with), paramedic (a first aid professional) Root family: [doc, dox] doctrinaire (seeking to impose rigid doctrine), orthodox (conforming strictly to traditional teachings), docile (compliant and easy to instruct)
Don't confuse with: paradigm (a worldview; a typical model or example)