We use our proprietary methodology to produce these rankings. Learn more →

The Top Ten Big Words on Campus

Students taking a test

These Top Ten Big Words on Campus are near and dear to the hearts of educators. Without an understanding of these words, such as "Plagiarize", you will be doing a disservice to yourself, and could possibly have severely negative consequences if you indeed do, even unknowingly, plagiarize, such as expulsion from school.

Having a large vocabulary and correctly using words (which can have nuanced meanings) can expand your thinking and writing, thereby improving them greatly. The more nuanced and subtle that your thinking becomes, the more finely-spun your distinctions will be, and the clearer your meaning.

In many courses, the purpose of writing a paper, or any written-word assignment, is to convince the professor that you've grasped the concepts pertinent to the study, and having a good vocabulary is more convincing to this end than an average vocabulary, no matter the subject.

If you have a smart phone, download a dictionary app such as Merriam-Webster or Dictionary.com. In addition to giving the definitions of words, these apps also have a word-of-the-day feature and an origin feature (which gives a brief synopsis of a word's etymology). Both are helpful.

If you do not own a smartphone, keep a pocket dictionary on you. The importance of an expansive vocabulary cannot be overstressed. Educated language has the double advantage of clarity and brevity.

The ability to express your ideas clearly and succinctly is a skill invaluable in college and in your career. It is also just as important, as a way to test your understanding of any given concept, to explain your meaning in plain language, no matter how technical or sophisticated the concept.

If your meaning cannot be expressed in words of a few syllables, and relies too heavily on technical jargon, it is likely that the idea isn't adequately understood, and should be studied until it can be grasped enough to be simply explained. Merriam-Webster sees an increase at the beginning of the school year of certain words being searched online, and has compiled a list of the Top Ten Big Words on Campus.

Digging into the origin of words, understanding their roots and how they were formed, how our ancestors used them (and thus how our ancestors thought), is helpful in understanding the words on a deeper level, rather than just memorizing the word's meaning. This is beneficial not only in understanding particular words, but in grasping larger concepts in which these words exist and have their meaning.

Your ability to convince any reader of your work that you've grasped and understand the subject is markedly improved with an agile and nuanced vocabulary; what some educators refer to as a "purple prose".

Your understanding of words and concepts, and thus your writing and communication ability, can always be improved, which will vastly improve your college and professional careers.

In addition to having pragmatic educational and vocational benefits, knowledge of words and their meaning opens up new worlds of understanding, and makes the universe a larger place.

For example, "vocabulary" and "vocation" both stem from the same Latin root "vocare", which means "to name, call". What is the calling for you and your career? Use our helpful Degree Finder now to find out which subjects really interest you, and request more information.

The Top Ten Big Words on Campus

1. Culture

Understanding the word "Culture" can be tricky because the word is used in various ways. A Culture can be within a school or business, or any organization. "Corporate Culture" is a popular term, and means the culture within an organization (which can be almost any size).

Culture can also mean the broader society at large. It means, in short, the norms, beliefs, and behaviors (and their resulting effects) of a group of people.

1. a: the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group

also the characteristic features of everyday existence (such as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time

popular culture

Southern culture

b: the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution or organization

a corporate culture focused on the bottom line

c: the set of values, conventions, or social practices associated with a particular field, activity, or societal characteristic

studying the effect of computers on print culture

Changing the culture of materialism will take time …—Peggy O'Mara

d: the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations

2. a: enlightenment and excellence of taste acquired by intellectual and aesthetic training

b: acquaintance with and taste in fine arts, humanities, and broad aspects of science as distinguished from vocational and technical skills

a person of culture

3: the act or process of cultivating living material (such as bacteria or viruses) in prepared nutrient media

also a product of such cultivation

4: CULTIVATION, TILLAGE

We ought to blame the culture, not the soil.—Alexander Pope

5: the act of developing the intellectual and moral faculties especially by education

6: expert care and training

Merriam-Webster

2. Irony

Irony means when one thing relates to another in a peculiar, clever, interesting, and often accidental way.

1. a: the use of words to express something other than and especially the opposite of the literal meaning.

b: a usually humorous or sardonic literary style or form characterized by irony.

c: an ironic expression or utterance.

2. a (1): incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result.

(2): an event or result marked by such incongruity.

b: incongruity between a situation developed in a drama and the accompanying words or actions that is understood by the audience but not by the characters in the play.

3a pretense of ignorance and of willingness to learn from another assumed in order to make the other's false conceptions conspicuous by adroit questioning.

Merriam-Webster

3. Metaphor

a figure of speech in which a word or phrase literally denoting one kind of object or idea is used in place of another to suggest a likeness or analogy between them (as in drowning in money)

Merriam-Webster

4. Rhetoric

1. the art of speaking or writing effectively: such as

a: the study of principles and rules of composition formulated by critics of ancient times

b: the study of writing or speaking as a means of communication or persuasion

2. a: skill in the effective use of speech

b: a type or mode of language or speech

also insincere or grandiloquent language

3verbal communication DISCOURSE

Merrian-Webster

5. Allegory

1: the expression by means of symbolic fictional figures and actions of truths or generalizations about human existence

a writer known for his use of allegory

also an instance (as in a story or painting) of such expression

The poem is an allegory of love and jealousy.

2: a symbolic representation.

Merriam-Webster

6. Heuristic

involving or serving as an aid to learning, discovery, or problem-solving by experimental and especially trial-and-error methods

heuristic techniques

heuristic assumption

also of or relating to exploratory problem-solving techniques that utilize self-educating techniques (such as the evaluation of feedback) to improve performance

Merrian-Webster

7. Aesthetic

1. a: of, relating to, or dealing with aesthetics or the beautiful

aesthetic theories

b: ARTISTIC

a work of aesthetic value

c: pleasing in appearance ATTRACTIVE

… easy-to-use keyboards, clear graphics, and other ergonomic and aesthetic features …—Mark Mehler

2: appreciative of, responsive to, or zealous about the beautiful

also: responsive to or appreciative of what is pleasurable to the senses

his aesthetic sensibility

3: done or made to improve a person's appearance or to correct defects in a person's appearance

Merriam-Webster

8. Diversity

1: the condition of having or being composed of differing elements VARIETY

especially the inclusion of people of different races (see RACE entry 1 sense 1a), cultures, etc. in a group or organization

programs intended to promote diversity in schools

2: an instance of being composed of differing elements or qualities an instance of being diverse

Merriam-Webster

9. Plagiarize

transitive verb: to steal and pass off (the ideas or words of another) as one's own use (another's production) without crediting the source

intransitive verb: to commit literary theft: present as new and original an idea or product derived from an existing source

Merriam-Webster

10. Pedagogy

: the art, science, or profession of teaching

Merriam-Webster