What’s “nu”? — Word(s) of Wisdom

As a writer and an avid reader, I like to think that I have a reasonably good vocabulary. Most commonly used English words are recognizable to me, and even if I can’t define a word precisely, I usually have a sense of what it means. Unless I’m reading an essay by the late columnist William F. Buckley, who prided himself on his vast vocabulary, I’m generally on familiar turf. (Perhaps it’s a sign that I need a new Word-a-Day calendar!) So, it’s always a pleasant surprise when I come across a word that I haven’t seen before.

The word that recently sent me running to my dictionary is nugatory. Webster pronounces it as NOO-ge-tory, while the Canadian Oxford English Dictionary prefers NUH-ge-turry: Take your pick. When I found that it is defined as trifling or worthless, I was delighted. It’s a perfect word to work into conversation: “I just have a few nugatory tasks to take care of, and then I’m free to spend the evening reading a good book, or “Don’t worry about overlooking such a nugatory item.”

So, if someone asks you what’s new today, you have the perfect answer: nugatory!

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