September Vocabulary Challenge: Discover a Word in The New York Times

In your comment, do your best to document your process of learning this word. This could include guessing the word’s definition incorrectly (or correctly!), making a personal connection to the word, or offering a compelling explanation for why the word intrigued you. The best submissions will capture memorable encounters between a student and a new word.

See some examples — from both students and Learning Network staff — below, and feel free to use any of them as models for your own submissions.

6. We will recognize some outstanding submissions in a separate post.

The rules:

  • Send us your submission by commenting on this post. Comments must be submitted by 11:59 p.m. Pacific time on Sept. 30 to be considered. The comments section will open on September 1.

  • Minimum Age Requirements: Middle and high school students ages 13 and older in the United States and Britain, and 16 and older elsewhere, can submit by commenting on this post. Teachers and parents can submit on behalf of students in middle or high school who do not meet these age requirements. If you are submitting on behalf of a student, please include the student’s name at the bottom of the comment.

  • Please submit only one comment per student. You cannot edit your comment once it has been submitted.

Feel free to use any of the examples below as models for your own responses.

Two examples from teenagers who won previous Learning Network vocabulary challenges:

Rohana Khattak, age 15, home-school, Pakistan

I chose the word “leitmotif” from an obituary for a professional runner, Milkha Singh, ( because I’d seen the word motif many times before, but never as part of this word. I found out that the writer was saying that Mr. Singh’s love of running was a recurring theme throughout his life.

Sophia Mensching, age 14, Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts, West Palm Beach, Fla.

I chose the word “transitory” from an article about the Federal Reserve ( My brain jumped to “trans” or “transform,” thinking that the word might mean “to change.” However, when I looked the word up, the word’s actual meaning is something that doesn’t last very long.

Two examples from adult Learning Network staffers:

Reading The Times can improve your vocabulary no matter how old you are. Even those of us who work here regularly discover new words! Here are two examples from Learning Network news assistants with no shame in their word-discovery game:

John Otis, Senior News Assistant, The Learning Network

While reading the article “How TV Went From David Brent to Ted Lasso,” ( I came across the word “mordant,” which means “biting sarcasm.” I have likely encountered this word before, but would not have been able to define it on the spot. The prefix ‘mor’ was striking (it reminded me of the word ‘morbid’), along with the fact that I couldn’t immediately figure out the word’s meaning from context.

Callie Holtermann, Senior News Assistant, The Learning Network

I chose the word “iconoclastic” from an article about queer women in ballet ( because I recognized the word “icon,” but didn’t know what it meant in this longer word. I found out that it meant one ballet company was breaking the mold; it was different from other ballet companies. It was interesting to see “icon” used within another word that has to do with standing out.

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