Top Words Exercise

I’m always seeking exercises that are fun ways to sharpen my writing. In 2007, I discovered that Merriam-Webster online <> tracks the top word lookups each month. I found the list and explanation for September’s 2007’s Top 20 at this address:

The top twenty words, in order, were metaphor, effect, google, pretentious, awkward, quixotic. integrity. apathetic. ambiguous, eclectic, affect, albeit, conundrum, hypothesis, whether, democracy, caveat, paradigm, egregious, and gorgeous.

I used the list to form an exercise: If you would like to maintain your writing at a high gloss, try it:

Compose a paragraph using the entire word list.

Of course, I would be a hypocrite if I hadn’t done it myself. Here’s my attempt:

It’s an gorgeous but eclectic list, with a number of ambiguous definitions, which makes it awkward to construct a metaphor for the quixotic hypothesis underlying the selection paradigm. In a democracy such as ours, the effect of this pretentious conundrum could be to become apathetic, albeit fascinated. One caveat: Whether or not we affect an egregious use of google to examine a googol of possibilities, we risk losing our integrity and falling into a sort of melancholy love with the problem.

A number of my students tried this exercise:

Dwayne changed the exercise slightly to make it a bit easier (but, anyway, who knows what defines a paragraph?):

What a conundrum; this is an ambiguous assignment. Use the 20 words in this list in a couple of paragraphs. Twenty in two? I want eclectic words, not those drawn from one source. The effect is too much affect from and their users. I’ll make quixotic choices in my structure, albeit whether or not they are awkward or paradigm-shifting. The reader must choose.

I’m a tad apathetic with this exercise. How can I show integrity and not sound pretentious? I must give a caveat – this writing is egregious, but I am trying to make sense of it all. I had to use my i-google account to find the definitions of several of these words. We live in a democracy, but oh rats, voting is not a metaphor I can use to work with such words. At least the weather here is gorgeous – NOT! It has been drizzling for 72 hours. Now I have to get up, don my slicker, and fetch the mail from the mailbox before it is soggy. My hypothesis is that we have been sitting under a low pressure system. Surely it will move on tomorrow morning.
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Don changed the exercise, too, making it more difficult:
My attempt added a rule: Use the words in the order given in the list. “Democracy” was the greatest challenge (read that any which way you may wish).

A metaphor should effect a deeper understanding. For example, “When he would google his own name daily looking for hits, he was as pretentious as an awkward boy hoping against hope to fulfill his quixotic dream of someday attaining more hits than Ted Williams.”

The integrity and usefulness of an analogy is not something about which a writer should be dismissively apathetic. If the comparison is too ambiguous or too eclectic, the reader may affect understanding – albeit of the weakest kind – all the while amassing hatred in his heart for this writer whose conundrum will not yield the treasure of its sense to any simple hypothesis. However, whether a given analogy is meet is not something determinable by tallying the votes of people living in a democracy. The caveat remains: “Let the writer beware.” The operative paradigm is straightforward. Every author is judged as egregious in his opacity or as gorgeous in his perspicacity based on the words he chooses to place on the page.
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One of the beauties of this exercise is that it can be repeated with each new word list. Here’s the top twenty from for September, 2010: pragmatic, affect, democracy, culture, holistic, didactic, effect, ubiquitous, reason, integrity, agnostic, hypocrite, irony, albeit, love, homogeneous.
Care to give it a try?
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Gerald M. Weinberg is a member of Book View Café and blogs here more or less regularly. His science fiction novel First Stringers: Eyes That Do Not See is available in the Book View Café bookstore, and may be found on, in eBook or paperback format. Two more of his novels, The Hands of God and Mistress of Molecules are also available on Amazon, and will soon be available in BookViewCafé’s bookstore.

For more about him and his fiction please visit his bookshelf here on BVC:
Or, visit his personal web page,


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