100 Words Every Middle Schooler Should Know

American Heritage Dictionaries normally feature about 70,000 entries. From that multitude, the editors have chosen 100 words that are neither obscure nor outlandish that could give middle schoolers more aplomb and aptitude in their verbal encounters. If you're not sure whether that is something you need, study this list.
Words selected by the Editors of the American Heritage® Dictionaries. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
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definitions & notes only words
  1. adversary
    someone who offers opposition
    The students are united by shared suffering, and by a common adversary.
    New York Times (Nov 10, 2014)
  2. aplomb
    great coolness and composure under strain
    I wish I had handled it with aplomb.
    New York Times (May 18, 2014)
  3. apprehensive
    in fear or dread of possible evil or harm
    Virga still feels apprehensive when visiting an unfamiliar zoo.
    New York Times (Jul 3, 2014)
  4. aptitude
    inherent ability
    I was recently asked in an interview, what is more valued by companies – aptitude or attitude? 
    Forbes (Sep 12, 2014)
  5. attentive
    taking heed
    You make sure to be extra attentive to your friend.
    Time (Oct 2, 2014)
  6. banish
    send away from a place of residence, as for punishment
    Napoleon loses so big that he is banished to an island.
    New York Times (Dec 5, 2014)
  7. barricade
    block off with barriers
    The Secret Service ordered nearby streets and parking lots barricaded for security.
    Washington Times (Dec 1, 2014)
  8. bluff
    frighten someone by pretending to be stronger than one is
    Sporting a pith helmet, Nixon observed that “whoever is talking the loudest is pretty sure to be bluffing.”
    New York Times (Sep 19, 2014)
  9. brackish
    slightly salty
    Brackish water can be used, but freshwater is easier and less costly.
    New York Times (May 14, 2014)
  10. brandish
    move or swing back and forth
    Hart brandished a “Free Hugs” sign as he stood alone in front of a police barricade.
    MSNBC (Nov 30, 2014)
  11. circumference
    the size of something as given by the distance around it
    That's almost 10 times the circumference of the Earth, which is a surprisingly small 24,859.82 miles.
    BBC (Dec 1, 2014)
  12. commotion
    confused movement
    Moments later came commotion, followed by shouts of “Stop pushing me!”
    MSNBC (Sep 26, 2014)
  13. concoction
    any foodstuff made by combining different ingredients
    There are some food combos that blend beautifully with each other to create truly tasty concoctions.
    US News (Sep 4, 2014)
  14. conspicuous
    obvious to the eye or mind
    Today, the link is more conspicuous: highlighted in blue, it appears directly beneath the site’s login form.
    New York Times (Oct 23, 2014)
  15. contortion
    a tortuous and twisted shape or position
    There was tumbling, human pyramids and bodies stretched into extraordinary contortions.
    BBC (Aug 25, 2013)
  16. counter
    speak in response
    The seller can then accept, counter or reject the offer.
    US News (Dec 9, 2014)
  17. cunning
    shrewdness as demonstrated by being skilled in deception
    Moreover, it was no secret that Cleopatra had ruthless cunning and superior intelligence.
    Sterling Biographies®: Cleopatra: Egypt's Last and Greatest Queen
  18. debris
    the remains of something that has been destroyed
    The blast rattled their homes and sent debris flying onto nearby properties, they said.
    Washington Times (Dec 4, 2014)
  19. defiance
    a hostile challenge
    Schools still could expel students for violating school rules or laws and could suspend students for willful defiance of authorities in grades 4 through 12.
    Washington Times (Sep 27, 2014)
  20. deft
    skillful in physical movements; especially of the hands
    To make it work requires a deft hand.
    Forbes (Sep 25, 2014)
  21. destination
    the place designated as the end, as of a race or journey
    Airports get stacked up with planes that can’t take off for their destinations.
    Forbes (Dec 9, 2014)
  22. diminish
    decrease in size, extent, or range
    By Friday morning, most of the heavy rain is expected to diminish.
    Los Angeles Times (Dec 10, 2014)
  23. disdain
    lack of respect accompanied by a feeling of intense dislike
    In the visage of Grumpy Cat, it seems, her fans found the perfect holy expression of indifferent disdain for all things.
    Washington Post
  24. dismal
    causing dejection
    It’s been a pretty dismal month, as far as world events go, but the news wasn’t all bad thanks to some very entertaining on-air mishaps.
    Time (Aug 28, 2014)
  25. dispel
    force to go away
    For most of us, dispelling the darkness is as simple as turning on a light.
    Time (Oct 23, 2014)
  26. eavesdrop
    listen without the speaker's knowledge
    They eavesdrop on the noises that other birds make while hiding food in order to steal the stash later, new research shows.
    Science Magazine (Nov 21, 2014)
  27. egregious
    conspicuously and outrageously bad or reprehensible
    Prosecutors questioned him about killings and other egregious human rights abuses perpetrated by his regime.
    Los Angeles Times (Oct 4, 2014)
  28. ember
    a hot, smoldering fragment of wood left from a fire
    “Every hot spot is an ember that, if not contained, can become a new fire,” Obama said.
    Los Angeles Times (Dec 2, 2014)
  29. emerge
    come out into view, as from concealment
    They say that program has helped them emerge from the shadows, making possible a work permit, a Social Security number and enhanced self-respect.
    Washington Post
  30. engross
    consume all of one's attention or time
    I don’t know how long I was reading; I was so engrossed in the paper that I did not hear any footsteps.
    Long Walk to Freedom
  31. exasperation
    a feeling of annoyance
    Like many a teenager on his school holidays, Parys is in bed, his mother explains with exasperation.
    The Guardian (Aug 2, 2014)
  32. exhilarate
    fill with sublime emotion
    “To see Yosemite Falls coming to life this morning is truly exhilarating,” Park Superintendent Don Neubacher said in a statement. 
    Los Angeles Times (Dec 3, 2014)
  33. falter
    move hesitatingly, as if about to give way
    “The rocket has faltered, but it won’t crash,” he said.
    New York Times (Nov 20, 2014)
  34. foresight
    seeing ahead; knowing in advance; foreseeing
    But nobody had the wherewithal or foresight to think that day would actually happen.
    MSNBC (Jul 3, 2014)
  35. fragrance
    a distinctive odor that is pleasant
    After 30 minutes in the oven, what hits you first is the enticing, warm fragrance that fills your kitchen.
    Washington Post
  36. furtive
    secret and sly or sordid
    What muffled whispers do they share, what furtive games are they playing?
    The Guardian (Dec 18, 2012)
  37. grueling
    characterized by effort to the point of exhaustion
    As of Dec. 19, 22 students will have made it through a grueling curriculum that requires about 700 hours of computer code.
    Washington Times (Dec 10, 2014)
  38. gusto
    vigorous and enthusiastic enjoyment
    They each approach their tasks with gusto that can only be admired, even if the results can’t.
    Washington Times (Aug 21, 2014)
  39. habitation
    the act of dwelling in or living permanently in a place
    Although the area is not fit for human habitation, many poor people who work in the coal mines live here.
    BBC (Aug 13, 2013)
  40. hasten
    speed up the progress of; facilitate
    Rather than wait for that day, he set out to hasten its arrival.
    Scientific American (Sep 3, 2014)
  41. headway
    forward movement
    At times, you feel like you’re struggling to run forward, going through the motions but making no headway, frozen in place.
    Washington Post
  42. ignite
    cause to start burning
    Firefighters say the blaze started when stain-soaked rags ignited on the front porch.
    Washington Times (Dec 10, 2014)
  43. illuminate
    make free from confusion or ambiguity
    The problem is that for illuminating answers, you need to ask the right questions.
    New York Times (Dec 6, 2014)
  44. impending
    close in time; about to occur
    First, he gives the enemy 12 days of warning about impending air attacks.
    Washington Post
  45. imperious
    having or showing arrogant superiority to
    It was a little scary how quickly he flipped from friendly to imperious.
    New York Times (Sep 4, 2013)
  46. jabber
    talk in a noisy, excited, or declamatory manner
    A parrot jabbered atop its cage and a monkey squealed and battered at its bronze ring, until its owner brought bananas.
    Bartlett, Paul Alexander
  47. jargon
    technical terminology characteristic of a particular subject
    Steer clear of jargon, me-too claims, and statements without substance.
    Forbes (Dec 5, 2014)
  48. jostle
    make one's way by pushing or shoving
    In Jerusalem, great religions have crowded and jostled their way down through millenniums.
    Los Angeles Times (Nov 21, 2014)
  49. jut
    extend out or project in space
    From its long beak juts a fearsome tooth.
    New York Times (Nov 10, 2014)
  50. kindle
    call forth, as an emotion, feeling, or response
    Recently in class I saw the fire of an idea flicker in a first-year student’s eyes—and so to kindle it I cold-called him.
    Forbes (Sep 16, 2014)
  51. knoll
    a small natural hill
    The home, set on a quarter-acre knoll, has views of the city, the Hollywood Reservoir and the Hollywood sign.
    Los Angeles Times (Aug 9, 2014)
  52. luminous
    softly bright or radiant
    It was briefly one of the most luminous stars in the galaxy.
    New York Times (Sep 3, 2014)
  53. malleable
    easily influenced
    “Memory is so malleable or volatile that each time we see something, the memory is actually influenced and re-created.”
    Washington Times (Oct 18, 2014)
  54. materialize
    come into being; become reality
    By the time people reach their 70s, they’re beginning to look back at the plans they made and dreams they had that never materialized.
    Time (Nov 25, 2014)
  55. meander
    move or cause to move in a sinuous or circular course
    Instead of straight paths and noisy throngs, the new park will have meandering walkways and quiet places for picnicking nestled in gently sloping "lawn valleys."
    Chicago Tribune (Jul 26, 2014)
  56. meticulous
    marked by extreme care in treatment of details
    It's a six-page scene and very meticulous, step by step.
    Los Angeles Times (Aug 24, 2014)
  57. misgiving
    uneasiness about the fitness of an action
    Quite a few said they had come despite the misgivings of parents who wanted them to focus on studying.
    New York Times (Sep 26, 2014)
  58. momentum
    an impelling force or strength
    Mitchell believed that a song’s momentum should always push upward, ascending like the slope of a mountain into the unknown.
    Washington Post
  59. monotonous
    sounded or spoken in a tone unvarying in pitch
    Unfortunately, their monotonous verbiage reminds me of Charlie Brown’s teacher in the “Peanuts” TV shows.
    Washington Post
  60. multitude
    a large indefinite number
    They surround you in their multitudes - hundreds, maybe thousands of them, swooping and stinging and injecting venom into your flesh.
    BBC (Oct 9, 2014)
  61. muster
    gather or bring together
    Fans chanted and hollered and enriched the arena with as much life as they could possibly muster.
    New York Times (Dec 10, 2014)
  62. narrate
    give a detailed account of
    Standing amid bags of garbage, he starts sorting, tearing open plastic bags and narrating his finds.
    Los Angeles Times (Oct 15, 2014)
  63. obscure
    not clearly understood or expressed
    The book contains little plot, an abundance of obscure poetry and the untimely death of three protagonists.
    Los Angeles Times (Dec 5, 2014)
  64. ominous
    threatening or foreshadowing evil or tragic developments
    “Evil forces around the world want to harm Americans every day,” an ominous voiceover states.
    Time (Oct 7, 2014)
  65. outlandish
    conspicuously or grossly unconventional or unusual
    Not everything in the show is outlandish; some events are all too realistic.
    New York Times (Nov 16, 2014)
  66. persistent
    stubbornly unyielding
    It says, “together, if we face obstacles and counter the negative with a persistent positive, we might just change the world.”
    Seattle Times (Dec 1, 2014)
  67. pertinent
    having precise or logical relevance to the matter at hand
    You write about things that feel pertinent and urgent to you, and that varies depending on what stage of life you are going through. 
    MSNBC (Jul 11, 2014)
  68. plenteous
    affording an abundant supply
    "The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few."
    Wilson, J. M. (James Maurice)
  69. potential
    existing in possibility
    What potential global threat should policymakers pay more attention to?
    US News (Dec 11, 2014)
  70. precipice
    a very steep cliff
    "Every minute of every day, we were on the precipice of failure, which is an exciting place to be," Marsh says.
    Los Angeles Times (Nov 25, 2014)
  71. pristine
    completely free from dirt or contamination
    Back at the jail, Snow White is getting under Anna's skin a bit -- shaking her once pristine view of the princess.
    Los Angeles Times (Dec 8, 2014)
  72. quell
    overcome or allay
    The White House has tried to quell anxieties about the danger of Ebola spreading in the United States.
    Washington Post
  73. recluse
    one who lives in solitude
    Long before his days as the world’s most famous recluse, Howard Hughes flew planes fast and far.
    New York Times (Jul 14, 2014)
  74. recuperate
    restore to good health or strength
    Sleep is the time when your body recuperates and rebuilds from the day’s stress.
    US News (Jun 24, 2014)
  75. replenish
    fill something that had previously been emptied
    They bring in dredged sand to replenish the beach.
    Washington Post
  76. repugnant
    offensive to the mind
    The truth is that we need only look at recent human history to find real, live, utterly repugnant evil.
    Salon (Sep 4, 2014)
  77. restitution
    a sum of money paid in compensation for loss or injury
    While restitution is paid to the victim, criminal fines and felony assessments are paid to a crime victims’ fund.
    Washington Times (Nov 21, 2014)
  78. sabotage
    destroy property or hinder normal operations
    “We want at least a district that won’t sabotage the dreams of its youths.”
    Los Angeles Times (Nov 21, 2014)
  79. scarcity
    a small and inadequate amount
    Water—its scarcity, quality and the regulations affecting it—is becoming a new corporate headache.
    Economist (Nov 6, 2014)
  80. scurry
    to move about or proceed hurriedly
    Ever wonder how cockroaches scurry around in the dark while you fumble to switch on the kitchen light?
    Science Magazine (Dec 3, 2014)
  81. serenity
    the absence of mental stress or anxiety
    The surrounding waters and beautiful pools that surround the hotel create a real sense of calm and luxurious serenity.
    Forbes (Jul 25, 2014)
  82. sociable
    friendly and pleasant
    Running with others is really sociable and great fun.
    BBC (Apr 10, 2014)
  83. somber
    grave or even gloomy in character
    It was also the day before one of the most somber of American anniversaries: Pearl Harbor was bombed 73 years ago Sunday.
    Washington Post
  84. specimen
    an example regarded as typical of its class
    The researchers detected it in older starfish samples, museum specimens from as early as 1942.
    Reuters (Nov 17, 2014)
  85. stamina
    enduring strength and energy
    A 6-year-old might not want to walk the mile into Petra, but teenagers have enough physical and intellectual stamina to appreciate going to these places.­
    New York Times (Dec 5, 2014)
  86. subside
    wear off or die down
    The virus has a history of subsiding, then flaring up again.
    Washington Post
  87. swagger
    a proud stiff pompous gait
    The Giants had arrived here with the swagger of a team that had won two of the last four World Series titles.
    New York Times (Oct 3, 2014)
  88. swarm
    move in large numbers
    In “ Swarm” mode, the robots instead follow one another, like children chasing a soccer ball.
    New York Times (Dec 1, 2014)
  89. tactic
    a plan for attaining a particular goal
    Technology has been used as a crime-fighting tactic, but not as a tool to determine what happens during a police action.
    New York Times (Dec 4, 2014)
  90. terse
    brief and to the point
    It’s a request to which Dipper responds, with terse eloquence, “Weird.”
    New York Times (Nov 21, 2014)
  91. translucent
    allowing light to pass through diffusely
    It comes in several colors, including attractive translucent ones.
    Washington Times (Jul 30, 2014)
  92. uncanny
    surpassing the ordinary or normal
    The Dark Sky App tells you the weather where you are with an uncanny accuracy. 
    Forbes (Jun 26, 2014)
  93. unsightly
    unpleasant to look at
    But that’s just a quibble, an unsightly pimple on what is a greater problem.
    The Guardian (Oct 14, 2014)
  94. versatile
    able to move freely in all directions
    Eggs are among the most versatile foods and the proteins change when you heat them, beat them or mix them with other ingredients.
    US News (Dec 10, 2014)
  95. vigilant
    carefully observant or attentive
    Because there are so many scammers out there, banks are vigilant about verifying that you are who you say you are.
    Washington Post
  96. vulnerable
    capable of being wounded or hurt
    Second, older cells are more vulnerable to this damage—or less able to repair themselves.
    Scientific American (Dec 9, 2014)
  97. waft
    be driven or carried along, as by the air
    The birds were chirping, and a warm breeze wafted through the screens.
    Washington Post
  98. waver
    pause or hold back in uncertainty or unwillingness
    He is tough as nails, never wavers, speaks the truth and stays focused.
    New York Times (Oct 13, 2014)
  99. weather
    face and withstand with courage
    You even get subjected to ridicule, and you have to weather that storm.
    Los Angeles Times (Dec 10, 2014)
  100. zeal
    a feeling of strong eagerness
    The enthusiasm has caught on among his regulars, who come often, linger and talk about pumpkins with the zeal of converts.
    Washington Post

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