Five-Dollar Words: Defining Academic Vocabulary

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Recently I was thumbing through a new writing textbook and came upon a glossary of vocabulary. As I skimmed through the pages, it became clear that, though I had heard some of these terms referenced at one time or another, I wasn’t exactly sure what some of them meant. As an instructor, writer, and writing consultant, I thought if I didn’t know what some of these words meant, then I would bet $5 students might not know what some of these five-dollar words meant either.

Students whose first language is not English have an additional burden of learning a foreign language in addition to learning the sometimes foreign language used in college classrooms. You might find that you are familiar with some of these terms listed below. You might find that the term sounds familiar, but you might not be able to define its meaning. Some of the words below might actually look like a foreign word!

A few of the terms below are specific to English academic writing and arguments in particular. Many of the terms may have a slightly different meaning in another language. You may never run across some of these words again in your academic career. Some of the terms are common in academic classes and critical to know; some terms are useful but not critical; and some are interesting, but not really useful (  If you recognize any of these terms from previous classes, it might very well turn up again, so it never hurts to be prepared.

Vocabulary List

Allegorical: from “allegory”; a poem, play, picture, etc. in which the apparent meaning of the characters and events is used to symbolize a deeper moral or spiritual meaning; a symbolical narrative. 

Antithesis: the direct opposite; opposition; contrast. The antithesis of an argument paper is the opposite position of the thesis (anti-thesis).

Assonance: the use of a repetitive vowel sound in successive words or stressed syllables, as in a line of verse. Examples are time and light or shade and made.

Collocation: arrangement of words in a sentence, specifically what nouns go with specific verbs; a co-occurrence of lexical (see below) items, as perform with operation or commit with crime.

Enthymeme: syllogism (see below) or other argument in which a premise or the conclusion is unexpressed; in an enthymeme, part of the argument is missing because it is assumed.

Expository: expounds, sets forth, or explains; a type of essay that informs reader through exposition or explanation.

Gerund: a word with characteristics of both a noun and a verb (by adding the “ing” suffix to the noun);  Reading is easy.

Idiom: a language, dialect, or style of speaking peculiar to a people; unpredictable meaning for words used:  “It was raining cats and dogs.”

Infinitive: the simple or basic form of the verb, as come, take, eat, used after auxiliary verbs, as in I didn’t come, I can’t eat, or this simple form preceded by a function word, as to in I want to eat.

Lexical: the words (or vocabulary) of a language, generally distinguished from its grammatical and syntactical (see below) aspects.

Nominalization: to convert (another part of speech) into a noun, as in changing the adjective lowly into the lowly or the verb legalize into legalization.

Participle:  a form of a verb that is used to indicate a past or present action and that can also be used like an adjective.

Peremptory: leaving no opportunity for denial or refusal; admitting of no contradiction.

Syllogism: deductive reasoning; an extremely subtle, sophisticated, or deceptive argument; a formal argument in logic that is formed by two statements and a conclusion which must be true if the two statements are true.

Syntax/Syntactical:  the organization of words in a sentence; the rules and principles that govern the sentence structure of any language



















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