Oxford’s Save the Words project

Saving words from “extinction.”

What would you do if someone called you a “snollygoster”? Would you feel flattered or insulted?

“Snollygoster” isn’t a word you hear every day. In fact, almost no one uses it anymore. And that’s the problem, according to the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary.

They’ve rounded up hundreds of words that are nearly extinct, and they’re asking people to “adopt” them. When you “adopt” a word you promise to try to get it back into popular usage. You pledge that you’ll use it as often as possible when you’re talking to people, write it in letters and schoolwork and tell people what your adopted word means.

For instance, if you were to adopt snollygoster, you’d have to let people know that it means, “a smart, but dishonest person.” And one way to use it might be to describe a corrupt politician. You might say, “Boy, that Richard Nixon sure was one wicked snollygoster!”

At Oxford’s Save the Words website, you can see what looks like a quilt of words. As you move your mouse over the words, they call out to you: “Pick me! Pick me!” encouraging you to adopt them. When you find a word that’s interesting to you, you can click on it to get its definition. And if you like it, you can adopt it, pledging to use the word as often as possible.

Save the Words is a fun project, designed by Oxford to get more people talking about language and, presumably, buying more Oxford English Dictionaries. It’s meant to be a fun, and not very serious, website that we can all learn from. And there’s no doubt–it will certainly gumfiate* your vocabulary!

*cause to swell.


Writing/Discussion Prompt: Words
Sometimes the meanings of words change. For example “cool” can mean chilly or trendy, and “wicked” can mean evil or fantastic. Can you think of any other words that have two meanings?

Reading Prompt
Using a dictionary is a very important skill. We need dictionaries to help us spell and to explain the meanings of unfamiliar words.

Identify any unfamiliar or challenging words in this article (for instance: corrupt, pledge, presumably) and look up their meaning in a dictionary.

Confirm spellings and word meanings or word choice using several different types of resources (OME, Writing: 3.3).


When we write we work to figure out which words best explain our ideas. When we get stuck thinking of a suitable word, we can use a thesaurus. A thesaurus helps us to find alternative word choices.

Underline five adjectives in the article and then use a thesaurus to find other words which would also be appropriate.

Confirm spellings and word meanings or word choice using a variety of resources appropriate for the purpose (OME, Writing: 3.3).

Grammar Feature: Contractions
There are contractions throughout the article. Contractions are two words that are put together with an apostrophe. Identify all of the contractions in the article and explain which two words were put together to make the contractions.

Although the word “Oxford’s” has an apostrophe in it, it is not a contraction. What is it?