The word thesaurus literally means “repository” or “storehouse,” and it ultimately comes from the same root as the word treasure. There’s certainly some treasure to be unearthed in a thesaurus—like these 25 smart-sounding synonyms you can use to reboot your vocabulary.
1. Instead of paunchy, try using abdominous.
Derived from the same root as abdomen, abdominous means having a paunchy stomach, or a large, protruding belly.
2. Instead of bad language, try using billingsgate.
Billingsgate was a famous fish market in central London. Thanks to the foul language of the people who worked there, the name eventually became synonymous with all coarse or abusive language.
3. Instead of giggle, try cachinnate.
This word dates to 1824 and comes from the Latin cachinnare, “to laugh loudly.” It may actually have been meant to mimic the sound of boisterous laughter (as were giggle and guffaw, according to Merriam-Webster).
4. Instead of skillful, try using daedal.
Daedalus was the architect who built the Labyrinth in the ancient myth of the Minotaur. The word daedal, which is derived from his name, refers to someone who is is especially skilled or artful.
5. Instead of confuse, try using embrangle.
A brangle is a squabble or a noisy argument; to embrangle someone is to throw them into a quandary or to utterly perplex them. An embranglement is a tricky, confusing situation.
6. Instead of feverish, try using febrile.
If you’ve come down with the flu you might be feeling febrile, or feverish. It might only be a febricula (that’s a light or passing fever), but nevertheless, you might need a febrifuge (a drug that lowers your temperature).
7. Instead of slippery, try using gliddery.
If something glidders, it freezes over, which makes something gliddery very slippery, as if covered in ice.
8. Instead of goose bumps, try using horripilation.
That’s the medical name for this curious phenomenon, which is also called gooseflesh, henflesh, or goose-pimpling.
9. Instead of appropriate, try using idoneous.
It’s a little on the old-fashioned side, but idoneous, derived from the Latin word idoneus, makes a perfectly, well, appropriate replacement for words like proper, fit, and suitable.
10. Instead of boasting, try using jactance.
Derived from a Latin word meaning “to boast” or “speak out,” jactance or jactancy is vainglorious boasting.
11. Instead of recognizable, trying using kenspeckle.
A word from Scots dialect but with its roots in Scandinavia, kenspeck or kenspeckle means “easily recognizable” or “conspicuous.”
12. Instead of indifferent, try using Laodicean.
Laodicea was a city in ancient Asia Minor. According to the biblical Book of Revelation, the people of Laodicea were known for their religious apathy, their fair-weather faith, and their lukewarm interest in the church—all of which prompted a pretty stern letter from St. John. As a result, a Laodicean is an apathetic, indifferent, or unconcerned person when it comes to religion.
13. Instead of smelly, trying using mephitic.
A mephitis is a noxious, foul-smelling fume emanating from inside the earth, and anything that smells as bad as that is mephitic. Case in point: Skunks were known as “mephitic weasels” in the 19th century (and the scientific name of the striped skunk is still Mephitis mephitis).
14. Instead of miser, try using nipcheese.
As well as being another name for a ship’s purser (the steward in charge of the ship’s accounts), a nipcheese is a mean, penny-pinching person. Feel free to also call your most miserly friend a nip-farthing, a shut-purse, or a pinch-plum.
15. Instead of bend, try using obliquate.
If something obliquates, then it turns or bends to the side. The word is derived from the same root as the word oblique.
16. Instead of concise, try using pauciloquent.
Ironically, the thesaurus is full of weird and wonderful words for people who don’t say very much. In addition to pauciloquent, people who like to keep things brief can be laconic, synoptic, or breviloquent.
17. Instead of quintessence, try using quiddity.
Quintessence is already a fairly smart-sounding word, but you can up the stakes with quiddity. Derived from a Latin word meaning “who,” quiddity refers to the very essence or nature of something, or a distinctive feature or characteristic.
18. Instead of cheerful, try using riant.
The word riant, meaning “cheerful” or “mirthful,” is derived via French from the Latin word for “laugh.” A riant landscape or image is one that makes you happy or is pleasurable to look at.
19. Instead of twitchy, try using saccadic.
A saccade is an involuntary twitch or movement of the eye—and, figuratively, that makes someone who is saccadic characteristically fidgety, twitchy, or restless.
20. Instead of equivocate, try using tergiversate.
To tergiversate literally means “to turn your back on” something, but more loosely, it means to dodge a question or issue, or to avoid a straightforward explanation.
21. Instead of howl, try using ululate.
Probably originally meant to be onomatopoeic, ululation is a howling sound like that made by wolves. More figuratively, to ululate can be used to mean “to bewail” or “lament.”
22. Instead of predict, try using vaticinate.
Derived from the Latin word for a soothsayer or seer, to vaticinate is to prophesize or predict something.
23. Instead of unlucky, try using wanchancy.
Wanchance is an old Scots dialect word for misfortune. Derived from that, the adjective wanchancy has fallen into more widespread use to mean “unlucky,” “ill-fated,” or in some contexts, “uncanny” or “eerily coincidental.”
24. Instead of last night, try using yesternight.
There are more yester– words in the dictionary than just yesterday. In addition to yesternight, there’s yesterweek, yestereve, and yestermorn.
25. Instead of criticism, try using zoilism.
Zoilus was one of the harshest critics of the ancient Greek writer Homer, and he was known for his scathing, nit-picking attacks on Homer's Iliad and Odyssey. Derived from him, a zoilist is an overbearingly harsh critic, and unduly harsh criticism is zoilism.