It's happened to all of us. You're holding court at work or a party, the conversation is flowing and you are on it. Until you aren't. You start stuttering, looking for that perfect word that's on the tip of your tongue. Darn it, if you just had the right word you'd sound so smart.
We know you're smart, you know you're smart, but sometimes it's just hard to articulate thoughts — if you brush up on some vocab, however, you'll be ready to spout off a ton of words that will totally let everyone know just how witty and together you are.
Whether you have a job interview, want to impress your boss, or just want to sound a little more intellectual on a regular basis, these 100 words will instantly make you sound like the smartest person in the room.
Definition: Bitterness, especially in vocabulary or mannerisms
Example: The discussion began with such acrimony, it was clear to the lawyer this was going to be a tense contract negotiation.
Definition: consent without objection, even after previously objecting
Example: When the salesman realized he was going to lose the sale unless he threw in a free tire rotation that the customer wanted, he acquiesced.
Definition: being highly skilled or well trained in a particular discipline; an expert
Example: She's an adept graphic designer and was headhunted by a rival company.
Definition: excessive praise, admiration or flattery
Example: The adulation from thousands of excited fans faced by Justin Bieber would make most people uncomfortable, but he seems to enjoy it.
Definition: uncertainty when choosing between two options (often involving fluctuating or contradictory emotions)
Example: Sienna knew she had to make a decision, but she just felt ambivalent, so she flipped a coin.
Definition: abnormality, often a red flag that there may be a greater issue
Example: Jennifer found an anomaly in the profit projections that proved to be evidence of embezzlement.
Definition: unorthodox, experimental or progressive work in any field (usually relating to the arts) or the group who forwards the concept (Tim Burton or E.E. Cummings)
Example: The new ad agency's concept may be too avant-garde for our more traditional image.
Definition: obvious or self-evident; based on one or more axioms
Example: It's axiomatic that great salespeople have solid communication skills.
Definition: striving for but lacking the sophistication of the ultra rich while also lacking the "authenticity" of the working class (often a pejorative term in the U.S.)
Example: The bourgeois attitude of modern culture has changed how many high-end retailers do business.
Definition: devious and surreptitious operation
Example: Lauren's high personal ethics made it difficult for her to work for such a byzantine company, so she tendered her resignation.
Originally published July 2013. Updated August 2017.
Definition: harsh, dissonant sounds
Example: The sudden sound of a cell phone only added to the cacophony of the boardroom executives' heated shouting.
Definition: to stop fighting or surrender (as in a social battle or negotiation)
Example: The CEO refused to capitulate to Terry's salary demands, so she tendered her resignation.
Definition: a lose-lose paradox in which the only solution to problem is prevented by circumstance or often a means of entrapment or political maneuvering (from the novel of the same name)
Example: Lolita's boss presented her with a catch-22 — she couldn't work another shift without a doctor's sign-off, but couldn't afford another doctor's appointment without a paycheck.
Definition: disdainful or unceremonious
Example: His cavalier attitude toward customers made the manager wonder if he had any respect for others.
Definition: something or a combination of things that's so odd or improbable that it shouldn't logically exist, but does
Example: The software suite of billing and graphic design software was a chimera, but the company managed to sell enough units to make a profit.
Definition: something done in secret, usually with a hidden or nefarious agenda
Example: The president had to fire her vice president when she found out he was making clandestine deals with the competition.
Definition: well-reasoned, logical and compelling
Example: Ally's points were well founded, but her inability to present a cogent argument left the stockholders wondering if she was the right woman for the job.
Definition: a difficult problem
Example: Jackie was charged with solving the shipping conundrum before the company lost money.
Definition: partiality to one's friends, often evidenced by favors or promotions they don't deserve or are unqualified for
Example: The boss' cronyism became apparent when he appointed his fraternity brother's deadbeat son as vice president.
Definition: to precisely describe or outline
Example: To ensure things ran smoothly, the team moved to the conference room to delineate their plan on the whiteboard before beginning the project.
Definition: to stray or depart (from a standard, course of action or the norm)
Example: If you deviate from your customer's expectations, they may buy from competitors who offer a more consistent experience.
Definition: a division into two parts, often contradictory or mutually exclusive
Example: By attempting to work half an hour on the production line, the president only further illustrated the dichotomy that exists between executives and factory workers in our company.
Definition: to disturb, upset or confuse, as in demeanor or plans
Example: Salma was disconcerted by the accountant's sudden outburst during the meeting, but quickly recovered.
Definition: to deprive someone of a privilege or right
Example: Regardless of how hard their jobs are, the factory workers found it difficult to feel disenfranchised while working for a company.
Definition: to spread or disperse
Example: Celebrities have it rough these days, because the internet makes it easy and fast to disseminate rumors about their misdeeds.
Definition: disclose or reveal private or secret information
Example: Phishing scams are emails sent by spammers in an attempt to get you to divulge your banking or other private information.
Definition: a belief in the equality of all people (especially political, economic or social)
Example: Self-help groups succeed based on egalitarian principles — Charlie Sheen is no different than Joe Schmo.
Definition: to deprive of strength or spirit (often associated with male procreative power)
Example: Adding a provision that prohibits managers from reviewing the contents of company-paid cell phones effectively emasculates the rule against doing personal business on company time.
Definition: a disease or condition restricted to a particular area or department
Example: There's an endemic of petty theft from the third floor supply closet.
Definition: discontent related to boredom or lack of interest
Example: We created an iPad app to fight the ennui that children feel when accompanying Mom on errands.
Definition: discriminating or sophisticated tastes
Example: To appeal to customers with more epicurean tastes, our company uses only the freshest, organic ingredients from local farmers.
Definition: difficult to understand except by a chosen few; an interest that's special or rare
Example: When conversing with clients, be careful of esoteric, industry-specific terms.
Definition: not worth keeping or maintaining; something you can sacrifice (usually for the greater good)
Example: Xenia worked hard and always carefully researched things to ensure her employer knew she wasn't expendable.
Definition: to produce or create (in manufacturing); manufactured (with regard to facts), fake or untrue; imitation
Example: To get his boss to her surprise retirement party, Jamal fabricated a story involving angry clients and a meeting at her favorite restaurant.
Definition: playful (sometimes inappropriate) humor
Example: The manager often made facetious remarks to his subordinates, but took on a more serious demeanor in front of the company bigwigs.
Definition: critical; demanding; difficult to please
Example: The best customer service representatives can please even the most fastidious customers if they're willing to listen.
Definition: a total failure; a complicated situation that ends in failure
Example: My suit was wrinkled, my business cards got soaked in the rain and when I left, I found a huge piece of spinach in my teeth — the whole thing was a total fiasco.
Definition: to propel a person or people into activity or inspiration
Example: Gina gave a rousing victory speech, galvanizing her campaign volunteers to stay active on social media long after the election was over.
Definition: a remark or tactic used to redirect a conversation or seek an advantage
Example: Elena began to cry, but the officer was used to that gambit and gave her a ticket anyway.
Definition: anything political affecting the relationships or two or more countries
Example: Many people blame rising gasoline costs on geopolitical instability in the Middle East.
Definition: pertaining to the pursuit of pleasure or blatant self-gratification
Example: The Lonely Island's parody "I'm on a Boat" is a commentary on the hedonistic lifestyle glamorized by many modern music videos.
Definition: flawless; free from or incapable of fault or blame
Example: While he liked Kyle's more adventurous designs, the boss decided to put Kaylie, whose impeccable code is more reliable, in charge of the website.
Definition: penetrating, biting or remarkably clear (tone, words, etc.)
Example: Dan tried to counter the damaging points made by the defense attorney, but in the end, her points were too incisive and the jury sided with the defendant.
Definition: lacking in manners or good taste; tactless
Example: Juno indelicately remarked to the obese woman, "you shouldn't be drinking if you're pregnant!"
Definition: so small it can't be measured
Example: The effect of the change to the cheaper formula was so infinitesimal, it was hardly worth mentioning.
Definition: treacherous or deceitful (often related to entrapment)
Example: Email spammers who attempt to impersonate your friends are particularly insidious.
Definition: place two items close together and side by side (often referring to objects that may at first seem to be in opposition or contrast)
Example: To illustrate her point about how far the company had come, Mary juxtaposed the image of the company's original product with the modern version.
Definition: to stop something
Example: Mom quickly put the kibosh on Bobbie's plans to wear a skimpy dress to prom.
Definition: to exert influence on to gain the desired effect (in business)
Example: A buyer can limit the leverage of the seller if she doesn't seem desperate.
Definition: a long list or recital (of excuses, reasons, etc.)
Example: Meagan had a litany of excuses for her miscalculation — many were valid, some were not.
Definition: tactics that are cunning, often deceptive, in which the end result is more important than morality
Example: Diana's Machiavellian attempts to get her coworker Michael fired weren't well received by his friends.
Definition: to flow or sound sweet or smooth
Example: Peggy was nervous about her speech, but her mellifluous words brought the crowd to their feet.
Definition: a professional soldier often hired by a foreign army; motivated by profit rather than loyalty
Example: Brianna left the DA's office to become a mercenary of sorts — she began providing consultations on how to survive a cross-examination by the DA.
Definition: volatile or erratic; fickle; flighty, animated or lively (often quick-witted)
Example: The lead singer's mercurial nature was well loved by fans and the media, but loathed by his bandmates.
Definition: the incorrect or an unsuitable name (not a misunderstanding or popular misconception)
Example: Calling that dog sweet pea is a misnomer; he just bit me!
Definition: a novice; beginner
Example: Layla may be a neophyte, but you'd never know by looking at her sales numbers.
57. Non sequitur
Definition: a response that doesn't logically follow the statement it follows
Example: After Nan pointed out that the stock prices were dropping, Melanie interrupted with a total non sequitur by saying, "Who wants lunch?"
Definition: to talk or write about a subject in such a way as to make it unclear or hide the full truth
Example: Olivia attempted to obfuscate her husband's surprise party by telling him they were going to his favorite restaurant because she'd snagged a Groupon.
Definition: extremely showy; loud
Example: Guy Fieri is the Food Network's most ostentatious celebrity chef.
Definition: cure-all; magic elixir (usually not literal in modern English)
Example: E-learning isn't a panacea for all educational issues; we still require teachers to direct a child's learning, even over the internet.
Definition: superior, supreme
Example: The issue of paramount importance is whether the baby is healthy. Everything else is something we can deal with.
Definition: skim, review
Example: Alexis was annoyed when Dan only perused the document before declaring her work unimpressive.
Definition: a person who is lacking in or hostile toward accepted cultural values or social refinement
Example: You don't like Shiraz? You philistine!
Definition: highly controversial
Example: The prostate cancer awareness advertisements featuring male celebrities in the buff (with only their key parts covered) is polemic, but effective.
Definition: natural tendency, disposition
Example: Trying to curb her proclivity for micromanagement, Diamond gave her employee carte blanche on the first draft of the proposal.
Definition: to seek and gain ownership of something
Example: Michelle was able to procure a computer that was able to read a floppy disk.
Definition: the authority to represent someone else in an official capacity
Example: Rosalida acted as a proxy, paying the bills and taking care of her siblings while her mother took a month-long business trip.
68. Quid pro quo
Definition: something given for something taken (you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours)
Example: Jazmin and Nathan had a quid pro quo arrangement — she took his desk near her friend and he got her desk near the girl he has a crush on.
Definition: a perfect example or the pure essence of something
Example: Having learned to cook from her mother, who's from Cabo San Lucas, Lisa had confidence she could open the quintessential Mexican restaurant in the states.
Definition: pursuing a seemingly unreachable or ambitious goal; idealist, impractical or both
Example: Dawn's quixotic vision paid off when, to her boss's surprise, her formula worked.
Definition: results, consequences or implications
Example: As she drove back to work, Catriona was nervous about the ramifications of losing her company's biggest client.
72. Red herring
Definition: something intended to divert attention from the actual problem or situation
Example: To prevent the competition from knowing what they were really working on, the tech company introduced a red herring in the form of a false rumor.
Definition: a clever or witty response
Example: Emily's sparkling rejoinders made her popular with the group very quickly.
Definition: reluctant to speak or speak freely (often confused with reluctant, which means unwilling)
Example: Laura was reticent on the subject of her children because her son is in jail.
Definition: the effective use of speech, especially that which is exaggerated to make a potentially erroneous point
Example: Despite the fact that Leslie agreed with Tom's analysis, she distanced herself from his over-the-top rhetoric.
Definition: abundant, abounding; prevalent
Example: The store was rife with customers, so the manager was forced to open a new register.
Definition: to think about something thoroughly and in great detail
Example: Elysia ruminated about her hiring decision for several days before choosing raw talent over experience.
Definition: accepting even negative circumstances with a positive attitude
Example: While it would make her job more difficult, Theresa was sanguine when she was told she'd have to complete the project a week earlier than expected.
Definition: sternly disciplined, rigorously simple, frugal or austere
Example: He made plenty of money, yet lead a Spartan lifestyle in his 600-square-foot apartment and drove an early model Honda Civic to work each day.
Definition: a loyal and reliable member or supporter
Example: Even after she retired as librarian, Pearl remained a stalwart supporter of local book drives.
Definition: free from passion, including happiness and grief (think Spock)
Example: Ebony attempted to remain stoic as her boss explained why she was being let go.
Definition: a new level of quality or perfection; unduplicated
Example: The chef's food was so sublime, the harshest critic in the area came back once a week for the rest of his life.
Definition: excessive, unnecessary or needless; extra
Example: To make extra space on her hard drive, Doreen asked the technician to eliminate the superfluous files.
Definition: a person who controls or dominates another, usually with selfish motives (from evil hypnotist character in Maurier's Trilby)
Example: Raven knew Michael was far too caring and submissive to be the Svengali her coworkers portrayed him to be.
Definition: a brownnoser; someone who flatters others in an attempt to serve their own interests
Example: Jenny realized she'd misjudged her boss when her hard work got her the promotion over the lazy sycophant she was up against.
Definition: a partnership or combination that works well to the advantage of both
Example: The goal of the Apple TV is to create synergy between your various Apple devices: iPhone, iPad and iMac or MacBook.
Definition: equivalent in significance or effect, though not identical
Example: The public relations head told us that saying anything that could make people stop buying our products is tantamount to stealing.
Definition: unsubstantiated or weak
Example: The link between the appetizer and entree was tenuous, though both were executed beautifully.
Definition: a private conversation between two people
Example: After the board meeting, the marketing director was called aside for a tête-à-tête with the president, making the entire marketing team nervous.
Definition: present everywhere; everywhere at once
Example: Try as competitors might, the iPhone has become ubiquitous.
Definition: indefensible, usually in relation to a difficult or impossible situation
Example: Aliyah was in an untenable position; she couldn't keep telling the employees to cut costs while staying in five-star hotels on business trips.
Definition: suave, sophisticated, refined; being or appearing to be high-society
Example: Even in a low-end suit from last season, Claudia struck all she met as urbane.
Definition: to go back and forth between two points
Example: Nina vacillated between the lamb and fish for so long, her friends just ordered for her.
Definition: probable or realistic; the appearance of truth
Example: The ad campaign has a certain verisimilitude that customers seem to identify with.
Definition: able to perform a variety of tasks; adaptable
Example: A versatile employee, Kim is just as comfortable troubleshooting software as she is making sales.
Definition: to do or feel on behalf of another
Example: Kat can't stay away from celebrity news; she lives vicariously through the Kardashians.
Definition: insistent and inflexible
Example: Eva was so vehement that the salespeople would follow up with customers within two days of dropping off the proposal; anyone who didn't would be fired.
Definition: a metaphor for an individual's area of comfort or expertise (in business)
Example: Sandra, whose degree was in accounting, was asked to calculate the team's sales projections because that type of work is in her wheelhouse.
98. White elephant
Definition: something that costs more to keep or maintain than it's actually worth
Example: Because of the constant discounts we have to give to move this product, I think it's a white elephant. We should consider discontinuing it.
Definition: a young person who succeeds, usually in business
Example: After creating Facebook while in college, wunderkind Mark Zuckerberg recently married the love of his life.
Definition: enthusiastic, often to the point of fanatical
Example: Penelope's zealous chatter about her cats was a real turnoff to her coworkers.