Behave Yourself! 10 Words for Good, Bad, and Indifferent Conduct

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Vocabulary.com, posted by Arika Okrent

It's important to be precise about behavior. Saying that "someone breaks the rules" is boring and doesn't convey the nerve they have in breaking them the way "someone is brazenly flouting the rules" does. From our friends at Vocabulary.com, here are words describing people's behavior that are easy to confuse with other words, or easy to be confused about, period.

1. INTEMPERATE

excessive in behavior

The problem with this word is that temperate is often associated with things you don't do—like drink, or engage in excessive behavior of any kind. So with the negative in- at the front, the word means to engage in that kind of excess.

2. FULSOME

unpleasantly and excessively suave or ingratiating in manner or speech

Although it may sound cheerful, like it means "having a full belly" or "overflowing," the connotations of fulsome are not very positive. As used in the phrase "fulsome praise," however, the word has been misunderstood to mean "abundant."

3. INSOUCIANT

marked by blithe unconcern

It's sometimes hard to tell if this word is positive or negative, because unhappy people who are weighed down with cares often use it to criticize the happy, care-free members of society.

4. BELLICOSE

having or showing a ready disposition to fight

Another word that sounds as if it might be describing the pleasantly plump, bellicose actually comes from the Latin term for "war."

5. SANGUINE

confidently optimistic and cheerful

An excess of blood was thought to cause optimism and cheerfulness in people, and that's the connection between the meaning of this word and its root, which means "blood."

6. FASTIDIOUS

giving careful attention to detail; hard to please; excessively concerned with cleanliness

The "fast" part of fastidious can be very misleading. In fact, people who are very fastidious are often slow and deliberate and can take a long time to do anything.

7. INGRATIATING

calculated to please or gain favor

Not to be confused with the noun ingrate, which is someone who doesn't appreciate what is done for them, ingratiating describes a person trying to get on someone's good side, often by insincere means.

8. STOLID

having or revealing little emotion or sensibility; not easily aroused or excited

This is a word that thankfully sounds like what it means: solid, unmoved and maybe unmoveable emotionally.

9. BRAZEN

unrestrained by convention or propriety

A bold word for bold behavior, brazen is often used associated with outlaws and social misfits—people who do what they want and just don't care.

10. DESULTORY

marked by lack of definite plan or regularity or purpose; jumping from one thing to another

This word may sound sad or depressing, and it is, in the sense that something not well thought out or half-hearted can be a little bit sad. Desultory suggests that the intention is there, but the will or strength to really see something through to the full extent may not be.

To see more words describing different kinds of behavior, and to add them to your vocabulary-learning program, see the full list at Vocabulary.com.

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October 27, 2014 - 8:00am
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