What’s desiderata?

Word count: 254 words

Reading time: About 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: desiderata

I know I’m dating myself when I admit this, but I had an onionskin copy of the prose poem, Desiderata, by American writer Max Erhrmann on the wall of my teenage bedroom. Regrettably, I even think I may have tried to quote it in my high school valedictory (although I’m guessing my English lit teacher, Sister Page, would have stopped me!)

Surely you remember the poem! It begins, “Go placidly amidst the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.” If you’re interested in more, you can read the whole text.

As soon as I hear the word desiderata, I think of that poem. But when I recently encountered it in a January 14/13 New Yorker article by Patricia Marx, I realized I would never have had the guts to use it in a sentence unless I was writing about the poem! Here’s how she used the word, in an article about websites that manage outsourcing:

Poke around the site [she’s referring to Task Rabbit] and these are some of the desiderata you’ll find.

Desiderata (which is plural) of course means objects of desire. It come from the Latin, desideratum, meaning “something for which desire is felt” and it dates back to the 1650s. See if you can use it in a sentence this week!

Scroll to Top