6 Strategies for Tackling Unfamiliar Words, Suggested by Students

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6 Strategies for Tackling Unfamiliar Words, Suggested by Students

Edward and Mario started with recognizable parts of their words to piece together the full definitions.

endoscopy | Edward, McAllen, Texas

While researching sterilization for a school project, the word “endoscopy” stood out from an article about locating ulcers. I had definitely heard the prefix “endo-” in my biology class and the word “scope” in my everyday life, so I assumed it meant to look into some part of the body. And to my surprise, the word does actually mean to examine the inside of an organ! I guess some words aren’t too hard to figure out if you split them up into little parts.

reinvigorated | Mario, El Salvador

I chose the word “reinvigorated” from the article “A Tense Lunar New Year for the Bay Area After Attacks on Asian Americans.” “Reinvigorated” quickly sparked my curiosity because of the complexity of the word’s etymology. Although I knew that the prefix “re-” meant something like “back or again,” I did not have a clue what “invigorated” meant. Once I discovered that the definition of “invigorate” is “to give strength or energy to something or someone,” I began to see daylight. Then it became easy for me to understand that “reinvigorate” stands for giving strength to something. According to the context of the article, it relates to the racist movement against the Asian American community.

Amy and Christian scoured the sentences surrounding their chosen vocabulary words. Familiar words nearby clued them into what their words might mean.

torrent | Amy, Elizabeth, N.J.

When I was reading the article “De Blasio Vowed to Make City Streets Safer. They’ve Turned More Deadly,” the word “torrent” caught my eye since I had never heard it before. With the use of context clues like “unleashed” and “anger,” I came to the conclusion that the word might be related to “outburst.” As it turns out, the word did have something to do with an overwhelming number or amount.

heralding | Christian Mereyde, Hoggard High School, Wilmington, N.C.

In the article “One Man’s Endless Hunt for a Dopamine Rush in Virtual Reality,” I discovered the unfamiliar word “heralding.” The paragraph was talking about how Mark Zuckerberg and other executives were “heralding” a digital world. Based on the context of that sentence, I guessed that the word meant to announce something, and upon further research I discovered that the word “herald” is defined as “to be a sign that something is going to happen.” A few synonyms are “proclaiming,” “declaring” and, yes, “announcing.”

Maybe a word reminds you of Latin class — or the “Harry Potter” series.

luminaries | Nicholas Wu, Hunter College High School, New York City

Toward the end of an episode of “The Daily” titled “The United States v. Elizabeth Holmes,” I heard the word “luminaries” used to describe certain Silicon Valley investors. I immediately thought of the “Harry Potter” flashlight spell “lumos,” a word whose bright connotations were startling to me when used in a dark podcast episode about fraud and dishonesty. I learned that a “luminary” is a figure who inspires and guides other people, much like the lumos spell itself.

adolescents | Hannah Reiterer, Leibnitz, Austria

I chose the word “adolescents” from an article about whether school should start later. At first glance, I immediately thought of a Latin lesson last year when we learned the word “adulescentes,” which means “young men.” When I looked up the word in the dictionary I found out that “adolescents” means “teenagers,” which confirmed my assumption that the word might be derived from Latin.