Now keep in mind, this list was created by the editors of the American Heritage Dictionary. Here is their rationale for the list of words:
“The words we suggest,” says senior editor Steven Kleinedler, “are not meant to be exhaustive but are a benchmark against which graduates and their parents can measure themselves. If you are able to use these words correctly, you are likely to have a superior command of the language.”
I know most (not all) of these words but hardly ever have the opportunity to use them in my daily conversations or even in my writing most of the time. Kids who read the Series of Unfortunate Events books by Lemony Snicket met some of these words in context and will know them even if they do not feel compelled to use them. How gauche, jejune, sanguine, and vacuous can one be? My knowledge of words comes from two sources: reading and four years of Latin and Spanish (both requirements for my high school way back when). I was fortunate NOT to have lists to learn in isolation (and I can see well meaning parents and teachers giving this list to kids 10 at a time for definition and use in sentences). I learned many words in print and only later learned about how to pronounce them (one of my favorite stories about College Girl was her first use of the word "waft").
As the year comes to its conclusion, I hope we will find time for our kids to read more. THAT is the true way to build vocabulary. Just today I was highlighting some fabulous words and phrases in Scott Westerfeld's BEHEMOUTH which I am reading with some friends using Subtext. I love language play and learning new words. But I would suggest there are many other words than the 100 words the dictionary editors indicate are important. Back when dinosaurs roamed and I was teaching middle school, my spelling lists included: my name, school name, principal's name, subject (courses) names, other teachers' names, and the like. The rest of the time we worked hard on to, too, two and you're and your, and other tricky yet simple words. I still cringe when I get an email from someone with my name misspelled. Learn the important words first. Then move on from abjure to ziggurat.