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\'Word Warriors\' Web site promotes use of magnificent but neglected words

December 24, 2008

What's in a word? Plenty!

Remember how your elementary school English teacher insisted that you learn those esoteric, 50-cent words? But if you were like many young students, you were convinced that people just don't use words like that in the "real world." So you retained them in your gray matter just long enough to pass a vocabulary exam, then consigned them to wherever forgotten words go. Little did you realize you were robbing yourself of a valuable communications tool that could serve you well throughout life - the ability to express thoughts and feelings clearly and concisely.

In an effort to bolster individual communication skills and to encourage use of words that make English, arguably, the most expressive and precise language on the planet, Wayne State University in Detroit is launching the Web site "Word Warriors" ( The URL is derived from the university's nickname, Warriors.

The site lists words that "deserve retrieval from the linguistic closet." There, curious and adventuresome visitors will find such mellifluous but seldom-used words as mendacious, obsequious and supercilious. Accompanying each word on the list is a definition, a phonetic spelling and a sample sentence. Because the site is new, the list is modest in size. But the creators foresee rapid expansion as people become familiar with the initiative. Visitors are invited to submit words for consideration.

The idea for Word Warriors emerged from a casual lunch conversation among four Wayne State employees: the associate vice president for marketing and communications, dean of the Honors College, director of editorial services, and a journalism instructor. While none of them recalls exactly who first came up with the concept, all agreed that it is an idea whose time has come.

"We were sitting at the table talking about nothing in particular when the subject of word usage came up," explains Jerry Herron, dean of WSU's Irvin D. Reid Honors College. "Somehow the idea of a Web site promoting use of expressive words evolved. The English language has more words in its lexicon than any other. By making use of the repertoire available to us, we expand our ability to communicate clearly and help make our world a more interesting place. It's one way of broadening our horizons."

Herron points out that thoughtful, precise use of the language also is the mark of an educated, well-rounded person. To paraphrase the introduction on the Word Warriors home page: the glorious variety of words in the English language provides an unparalleled capacity for nuance and precise expression.

Herron and Jack Lessenberry, veteran journalist and commentator who is on the journalism faculty at Wayne State, are heading up an informal group overseeing the fledgling effort. The site is maintained by WSU's Marketing and Communications unit.

The monitoring team reserves the right to decide which words recommended by site visitors will be added to the list. Visitors can vote on whether or not they would be inclined to use a newly entered word. There also is a page for comments.
"The site is for everyone, but particularly those who appreciate the inherent beauty and unparalleled capacity of the English language for nuance and precision," Lessenberry explains.

Wayne State University is a premier institution of higher education offering more than 350 academic programs through 13 schools and colleges to more than 31,000 students.