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Vaughan’s vocabulary

July 21, 2012

By Don Vaughan
Vaughan’s Vocabulary

Recently I was reading about George A. Custer (1839-76), particularly “Custer’s Last Stand.” In the book “A Short History of the American Nation”, John A. Garraty, who taught at Columbia University, has pointed out that after gold was discovered in the Black Hills of Dakota, miners invaded areas reserved for Indians. Already alarmed by railroad builders, the Sioux went on the warpath. Joining with tribes to the west, they concentrated along the valley of the Bighorn River in Montana.
General Alfred Terry sent a detachment of the Seventh Cavalry under Colonel Custer to locate the Indians’ camp and occlude their escape route into the inaccessible Bighorn Mountains. Custer attacked with his force of between 200 and 300 men; at the Little Bighorn he was surrounded by 10 times more Indians than his detachment. It was a decisive Native American victory.
1. Which word describes Custer’s actions?
A. copacetic
B. prudent
C. reckless
D. assonantal
E. paronymous
An essay by Brian Dippie points out that Custer attacked immediately; he was accused of disobeying Terry. Reckless is the relevant adjective. You probably already know copacetic and prudent, but what about assonantal and paronymous?
2. assonantal (as-so-NAN-tull)
A. having similar sound, especially of vowel sounds
B. repeating consonants without repeating vowels
C. being well-equipped
D. aggressive
An assonance is the resemblance of sound, especially of the vowel sounds in words.
An assonance has a vowel or two repeating in adjoining words, but without repeating the consonants. With “holy and stony”, the vowels o and y are repeated, but the consonants h, l, s, t, and n are not repeated.  
3. paronymous (puh-RON-uh-mus)
A. formed from a word in another language
B. containing the same root or stem
C. gullible
D. sardonic
4. The word hysteria came from the Greek language and pertains to
A. the womb.
B. the tomb.
C. sleep.
D. stars.

Both A and B are correct for paronymous. For example, our word hysteria is paronymous of the Greek word hysterikos. The words wise and wisdom are paronymous because they contain the same root or stem. The Greek word “hystera” has been translated “womb” (the Greeks had the notion that hysteria was caused by disturbances of the uterus).  
Last week’s mystery word is rutabaga.

This week’s mystery word might sound odd if it replaced the adjective in the name of one of the Indian warriors present at Custer’s Last Stand; the adjective, however, would mean the same.

Don R. Vaughan, Ph.D. in Mass Communication, is a professor at East Miss. Community College. Contact him at

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