Dec 6, 2010


Summary: Do you know the difference between a plenum and a quorum? You will after you read this post!

To get to the story of this week's WOW Word of the Week, I have to take you back to 1990, my junior year of high school. That year, I was a word-obsessed teenager (as opposed to the word-obsessed adult I am today) who loved learning new words and figuring out how to use them in conversation or in writings. The only problem—one I admittedly still have from time to time—was that I often knew there was a more fitting word to describe what I meant, but I just couldn't get it off the tip of my tongue!

It became a joke with me; so often I was heard to say, "I wish there were a dictionary where you could look up the definition to find the word!"

Christmas of 1990, my sister (then a high school freshman) sat in front of me as I opened my gift from her. Her eyes twinkled as I laughingly caressed the wrapping paper and quite obviously deduced, "It's a book!" But after I opened it, I literally jumped out of my chair. It was my very own reverse dictionary!

"I saw it in the bookstore, and I bought it in advance," my sister told me. "They finally invented your dictionary!"

It turns out there had been such a book in existence since the mid-1970s, but it was lesser known. I still own my copy of the Oxford Reverse Dictionary, and not only use it, but treasure it.

But of course, the reverse dictionary has since gone digital. has a reverse dictionary, a regular dictionary, a list of links to other dictionaries, and translations of foreign words via foreign dictionaries all conveniently located at one website. It's an excellent resource! And it's the resource I used over the weekend while working my usual Sunday crossword puzzle from the newspaper. I was head-over-heels thrilled—just like in 1990—when merely plugging in the clue for "28 Down" granted me a long list of synonyms. And one of the words fit perfectly!

Plenum (PLIH - nem) or (PLEE - nem) - (n.) a space that is completely full of matter, especially an air-filled space or structure like a ventilator; a general assembly of all members, such as that of a legislative body; the quality or state of being full. Similar to plenary, this word derives from the Latin plenus for full.

My crossword clue was along the lines of the middle definition: "a full assembly." The first use of the word plenum in this context was in 1772. So, what's the difference between a plenum and a quorum? You know my answer to that: Look it up!

© KiKi Productions, Inc. 2010

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