Of all languages, English has the largest lexicon by far, estimated at well over one-million words; the second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary  has over 600,000 entries, and the third edition will more than likely have close to seven figures.  German is a distant second with a still robust 200,000 words in its lexicon.  It is no wonder that English, with so many words to its credit, has multiple words that mean the same or close to the same thing.  Synonyms or near synonyms can sometimes drive students and teachers alike crazy.  One group of such difficult synonymous words is acme, apex, zenith, apogee, pinnacle, and summit.  Let’s first of all take a look at the definition for each:
acme: The acme of something is its highest point of achievement or excellence.
apex:  The apex of anything, such as an organization or system, is its highest part or most important position; apex can also refer to the highest point of something, such as a hill or triangle.
zenith:  The zenith of something is its highest, most powerful, or most successful point; it can also be that point which is directly above a given observer.
apogee: The apogee of something is its highest or greatest point, especially in reference to a culture or career.  The apogee of an orbit is a satellite’s furthest point away from the body it is orbiting.

pinnacle: If someone reaches a pinnacle of something, say her career, life goals, or even a mountain, she has arrived at the highest point of it.

summit: The highest point or top, usually of a mountain, but also referring to the highest degree or level of achievement that can be attained, such as in a person’s career.

As you can see, these six words are all very similar in meaning.  So, in order to distinguish them, I have provided a small color-coded rubric below that will help you determine which word you can use when (the colors also facilitate referencing the definitions of each word above).  Keep in mind that word groups are, for all intents and purposes, interchangeable among each other, although the nuances of some are more appropriate in some situations.  The American Heritage Dictionary has a nice explanatory section on these synonyms here.

apex, pinnacle, summit: highest physical point, as in the top of a mountain or other peak

acme, apex, zenith, apogee, pinnacle, summit: highest level of achievement, success, or excellence, as in a career or job

apogee: furthest point away in an orbit of a satellite

zenith: point of something at its very top, as the sun’s track across the sky

The semantic core of these six words?   A description of the highest or topmost point of something.





Membean WAS offline for a bit this morning

by Micah on September 16, 2014


We are back online. Our service provider assures us that they are investigating the root cause so that future outages will not recur.

As our long-time schools know, we have not had any widespread outages in over two years. If we ever need to bring our servers down for maintenance, we give several days notice and plan for short downtimes of 20 minutes or less, at non-peak hours (Saturday in the middle of the night).



An outage occurred at 8:55 AM PT.

We are talking to our server host to understand and resolve the outage. We will post back here just as soon as we have resolved the issue. We apologize for the inconvenience.


Grimm’s Law is a handy linguistic rule to know when it comes to figuring out whether words are related to one another, that is, are in the same linguistic family. Jacob Grimm, while he and his brother Wilhelm listened to different dialects as they were collecting fairy tales throughout the German countryside, noticed that particular consonants shifted from one to another, so that words which appeared to be different were actually thinly disguised variations on a theme.

In the first of a series on Grimm's law, I spoke about the interchangeability of the bilabials "b," "v," "f," and "p."  Another aspect of Grimm’s Law stipulates that the dental (simply a consonant that is sounded by touching the tip of the tongue to the back of the front teeth) consonants "t," "d" and "th" can shift between each other, representing virtually equivalent letters.  Examples of this phenomenon follow, focusing primarily upon the striking similarity between the English and German languages.

Here are examples across languages that illustrate how the dentals “d,” “t,” and “th” shift or interchange among words (note: all dental shifts will be shown in blue):

English:  father, Spanish: padre; Latin: pater, Dutch:  vader: German: Vater* (keep in mind the bilabial shifts here as well: b, f, v, + b are interchangeable; bilabials will subsequently be shown in red).

English: mother; Spanish: madre; Latin:  mater; Dutch: moeder; German: Mutter*

English: thief; German: Dieb*

English: brother; Latin: frater; German: Bruder*

*note that all German nouns are capitalized.

Knowing this aspect of Grimm’s Law is very helpful when learning German, and hence when learning English, since English is, at base, a Germanic language.  Consider the following examples:

German: gut; English: good

German: danke; English: thanks

German: trinken; English: drink

German: salat;  English: salad

Can you guess what the following German words mean based on Grimm’s Law? (see answers in parentheses below–but don’t look until you’ve given this a legitimate shot!)

1.  drei

2.  Leder

3.  Bad

4.  kalt

5.  Tür

(1. three; 2. leather; 3. bath; 4. cold;  5.  door)

The following two pose more of a challenge: you will also have to take into account Grimm’s Law for interchangeability of bilabials in addition to that of dentals (answers will appear below in parentheses–don’t look, but play with these words a bit first!).


bilabials:  b, v, f, p

dentals: d, t, th

1.  verboten

2.  Teufel


(1.  forbidden; 2. devil)


Grimm’s Law can be exceedingly helpful not only in learning English, but also in learning other languages.  My next post on Grimm’s Law will discuss the gutturals, or interchangeability of the consonants “c,” “ch,” “k,” “q,” “g,” and “h.”







The Capacious and Scintillating Vocabulary of T.C. Boyle

July 27, 2014 Roots

Isn’t it wonderful when you discover an author whom you have not read before that is so good that even thinking about sitting down to read elicits a frisson of anticipatory joy? I’ve recently encountered an author whose short fiction is so engaging that I just cannot put it down–in fact I have yet to encounter […]

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Some Fun & Favorite Words from Membean’s Staff

July 4, 2014 Roots

Everybody has their favorite words, and we at Membean are no different.  Sometimes there is no rhyme or reason behind why we like a particular word, whereas at other times there can be a highly specific rationale. So, here is a list of our favorite words, polled at the office, and listed in no particular […]

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How Word Origins Help Understand Parts of Speech: Part II

May 21, 2014 Roots

In my last post, I spoke about how the word origins of nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, and adverbs make those words easier to understand and remember.  In this post I will finish the word origins for the last five parts of speech: interjections, prepositions, articles, conjunctions, and expletives. interjection:  The word interjection comes from the Latin […]

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How Word Origins Help Understand Parts of Speech: Part I

April 20, 2014 Roots

Parts of speech tend to be tricky to conceptualize, so it is helpful to keep in mind their word origins when learning about them.  The words noun, pronoun, adjective, verb, and adverb were all originally named as such for a specific reason, not simply randomly assigned.  Knowing why these five words were called what they were […]

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The Curiously Blinding Linguistic History of “Inveigle”

April 1, 2014 Roots

Some English vocabulary words have followed seemingly strange paths to get to their present-day forms.   In a previous post, for instance, I discussed how the word “sovereign” was derived from the Latin word “super” through Grimm’s Law’s interchangeability of the consonants “p” and “v.”  The curious history of the word inveigle had its origin in […]

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Grimm’s Law: Interchangeability of Bilabials: “B,” “P,” “F,” and “V”

March 2, 2014 Roots

Grimm’s Law is a handy linguistic rule to know when it comes to figuring out whether words are related to one another, that is, are in the same linguistic family. Jacob Grimm, as he and his brother Wilhelm listened to different dialects as they were collecting fairy tales throughout the German countryside, noticed that particular […]

Read the full article →

Centripetal and Centrifugal Forces: Fact vs. Fiction

January 28, 2014 Roots

Latin root words can often solve difficulties when it comes to defining similar words.  For instance, centripetal and centrifugal forces are commonly taught in physics classes, and are almost as commonly confused.  Let’s examine these two words in light of their Latin roots, which help to clarify which force is which. Centripetal forces make an […]

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