15 Big Words Worth Knowing

“Adults who use big words in order to seem intelligent are annoying, especially those who are not intelligent.”

Mokokoma Mokhonoana

It may be hard to disagree with author Mokokoma Mokhonoana on someone using big words in order to impress others. It really is annoying, isn’t it? But the reason why we may feel annoyed might lie in that person’s desire to mislead us. If so, it has nothing to do with big words, which are long, difficult words that express serious or important ideas. Such ideas are great, and it’s necessary to be able to discuss them. Moreover, big words are a good way to impress the examiner who you will talk to in a speaking test, or who will be checking your opinion essay. And of course to know the words means to understand certain books, documentaries and lectures, to obtain a university degree, etc. Extensive vocabulary is always a good thing, and Enguroo Online English School aims to help you increase yours in an interesting and effective way. Here’s our list of big words worth knowing:

1. Meritocracy /ˌmerɪˈtɒkrəsi/ a system or society in which people have influence or status according to their abilities and achievements rather than because of the social class to which they belong (adj: meritocratic): 

  • The institutions of the country have managed to mix meritocracy and corruption, competence and incompetence, and they have somehow kept the country moving onward and upward.
  • The new underclass is the other side of the meritocratic elite /ɪˈliːt/.

2. Autocracy /ɔːˈtɒkrəsi/ government or control by one person who has complete power; a country or organization that is completely controlled by one person (adj: autocratic):

  • His autocratic government has reduced the nation to poverty and desperation.
  • Many poor countries are abandoning autocracy.

3. Existentialist /ˌeɡzɪˈstenʃ(ə)lˌɪst/ someone who believes that humans create their own moral values and are responsible for the results of their own actions (the concept is existentialism):

  • Such was the existentialist worldview of US President and Nobel Peace Prize laureate /ˈlɔːriətTheodore Roosevelt, a major advocate of American expansionism: “A just war is, in the long run, far better for a man’s soul than the most prosperous peace.”
  • Nihilism and certain forms of existentialism in the 20th century have plucked freedom from its roots and severed its fundamental ties with responsibility and love of others.

4. Nihilism /ˈnaɪɪˌlɪz(ə)m/ the belief that nothing in life has any importance or value; the belief that political and religious organizations should be destroyed (nihilist; nihilistic):

  • The nihilist denies the very existence of truth, while the fundamentalist claims to be able to impose it by force.
  • One day you will understand the sheer horror of what’s happening in that part of the world and you will be ashamed of your contemptibly nihilistic attitude.

5. Fundamentalism /ˌfʌndəˈment(ə)lɪz(ə)m/ the belief that the original laws of a religion should be followed very strictly and not be changed; the belief of some Christians that every word in the Bible is exactly true (fundamentalist):

  • Other modern scourges /skɜː(r)dʒsuch as fundamentalism, terrorism, epidemics and drug-trafficking have been added to an already hostile socio-economic environment.

6. Expansionist /ɪkˈspænʃ(ə)nɪst/ (disapproval) relating to the efforts of a government or country to increase its land or power (the concept is expansionism):

  • It has resorted to terror and violence to implement expansionist and settlement policies.

7. Relativism /ˈrelətɪˌvɪz(ə)m/ the belief that things like truth and morals change depending on a particular culture or situation (someone who believes this is called a relativist):

  • Cultural diversity is not to be confused with cultural relativism.
  • He took a relativist position – what is considered immoral depends on the social structure.

8. Multiculturalism /ˌmʌltiˈkʌltʃərəˌlɪz(ə)mthe belief and practice of giving equal importance to each of the different cultures in a society (someone who believes this is called a multiculturalist):

  • They promoted mass immigration and multiculturalism.
  • The Dutch populist leader Geert Wilders, for example, has denounced Queen Beatrix on several occasions as a leftist, elitist, and multiculturalist.

9. Elitist /ɪˈliːtɪst/ supporting or based on a system in which a small group of people have a lot of advantages and keep the most power and influence (the concept is elitism):

  • We should not encourage further unjustified elitism.

10. Leftism /leftɪzəm/refers to the beliefs and behavior of people who support socialist ideal (adj: leftist (=left-wing) + noun):

  • Their intention was to eliminate all traces of leftism and liberalism.

11. Liberalism /ˈlɪb(ə)rəˌlɪz(ə)ma belief in liberal ideas and principles, especially in political and social matters (noun, adj: liberalist; adj: liberalistic):

  • There are many shadows of the fashionable economic and social liberalism.

12. Rightist /rtɪst/. If someone is described as a rightist, they are politically conservative and traditional. Rightists support the ideals of capitalism. Rightist is also an adjective:

  • Are you a leftist or a rightist?

13. Socialism /sʃəlɪzəm/ a set of left-wing political principles whose general aim is to create a system in which everyone has an equal opportunity to benefit from a country’s wealth. Under socialism, the country’s main industries are usually owned by the state (adj, noun: socialist):

  • During the socialist era, government planning, without regard to efficiency or comparative advantage, determined agriculture and food production.
  • If you advocate freedom for all, then you’re a true socialist.

14. Populism /pɒpjʊlɪzəm/ political activities or ideas that claim to promote the interests and opinions of ordinary people (adj, noun: populist):

  • Until now, populism has been the missing note in African political culture.

15. Communism /kɒmjʊnɪzəm/ the political belief that all people are equal and that workers should control the means of producing things (adj, noun: communist):

  • Despite all the horrors and excesses, communism had always stood for hope and waiting.
  • Elsewhere, communist regimes /reɪʒm/ seemed almost to run from power.

You must have noticed that most words on the list use the suffixes -ism (concepts) and -ist (people). In fact, those are Greek suffixes. The origin of the suffixes -acy (meritocracy, autocracy) and -ic (meritocratic, autocratic) is Latin.

Do you think English borrowings are always related to science, politics, art, etc., but they are not the words used most commonly? In fact, many English words which we all use every day are borrowings too! For example, money, fruit and table are of French origin, and village, picture and figure are of Latin origin! (source: “How English Became English” by Simon Horobin).

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