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Editors of The American Heritage Dictionaries

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Title: 100 Words to Make You Sound Smart
Author: Editors of The American Heritage Dictionaries
Year: 2006

100 Words to Make You Sound Smart is the first book I read out of a plethora of books aiming to improve the reader’s English, in this case vocabulary. Since I’m interested in English as a language, I thought it might be worth it to see what one of these books had to offer. Quite a lot, it turned out.

Not surprisingly, this book contains one hundred words, presented with meaning, etymology and usage (usually with at least two examples) and sometimes also general commentary. I like the fact that the examples are fairly long, which gives a deeper sense of context than a single sentence would. The examples are also fairly good in that they really show what the word means (it’s actually quite hard to write example sentences in this way). The extra commentary is welcome whenever it appears, but I would have liked to see more like that.

What about the words, then? The book should probably have been called “100 Words to Avoid Sounding Stupid”, because most words here aren’t that complicated. I made a count and found that I knew how to use 73 of them, understood another 14 and had no idea about the last 13. However, I realise that the level might be just right for other readers. Most interestingly, I found one word which meaning I was wrong about, and that’s worth a lot (the word is “quintessence”, which I thought meant the most important or salient feature of something, rather than a prime example, which is the correct definition).

This book is fairly good and I can recommend it. I will definitely have a look at similar books in the future, trying a new approach to improve my English. It’s a fairly relaxed way to do it and I think it’s possible to expand at least passive vocabulary without serious studying. Lastly, there are a couple of other books in this series, so even if you think this particular one might be on the wrong level, perhaps another will be just right for you.

Update: The words used in this book can be found here.

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