15 Big Little Words

By Mark Nichol

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Sometimes, short and sweet is best, and English includes many three-letter words that help us accommodate our yearning for concise composition — or, to be brief, fix our yen for curt prose. Some are workhorse words — the article the, the pronouns his and her, conjunctions like and, prepositions such as for, verbs like put and say.

However, other three-letter words pack a lot of punch as nouns, adjectives, and verbs (sometimes adaptable to all three forms of speech), and are suitable for purposes as diverse as fitting into a tight headline or packing a punch in prose. Here’s a list of vivid vocabulary consisting of three letters:

1. Apt: appropriate, or suited or inclined

2. Ire: anger

3. Ken: something known or understood, or to know or recognize

4. Wee: small

5. Vex: to distress, irritate, agitate, or puzzle

6. Eke: to accomplish with great effort (also used to mean “increase” or “also”)

7. Cog: a tooth on a gear, or, in a figurative sense, a person as an insignificant part of an enterprise; a similar projection on a piece of wood for interconnecting with another piece; also, flattering, or throwing dice unfairly (also used to mean “to cheat or deceive,” as well as referring to a medieval sailing vessel)

8. Cwm: a valley or hollow

9. Err: to make a mistake, or to transgress

10. Ere: before

11. Gig: a short-term job

12. Yen: a yearning or urge for something

13. Bar: a beam or rod or other manufactured device or natural feature, or a counter for serving drinks or a commercial enterprise for this purpose, but also a verb meaning “to obstruct or prevent” or in reference to an exception (“barring that”)

14. Jet: a powerful stream of material, a jetlike emanation, or an airplane that uses jet propulsion, but also a very dark black, a type of glossy coal often used as jewelry

15. Ram: a male sheep, or a tool used for forcing movement or for breaking through a door or other structure, or a part of a vehicle or vessel designed to damage other vehicles or vessels; to use a tool or similar device

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2 Responses to “15 Big Little Words”

  • Chihuahua0

    The word “ere” appears a lot in Shakespeare.

    In general, this is a nice list. I’m putting this in my weekly round-up.

  • Mark MacKay


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