Arian Sherine's got a lovely column on the Guardian's site, "My life as a charlatan." She wanted to impress a "formidably intelligent friend" by solving a crossword in record time. She breezed through most of it, but 1-across stumped her:
I squinted at it, frustrated, pen hovering fruitlessly over the grid. Words which fitted the space but not the clue flitted pointlessly through my head: solarium? Solstice? Solitude?
At this point, my friend chose to glance over my shoulder and, in a voice which seemed to say "I'm surprised, confused and slightly disappointed that you haven't already got this", announced effortlessly, "Solecism".
Solecism, a word she didn't know*. But, like I think many of us would, she acted like she did, then later, looked it up. I used to do this when someone would deal out a "touche!" Finally, I broke down and asked Barrie what it meant, and I'm glad I did. Sherine later fessed up to her friend, who shrugged it off. She concludes, "it was only paranoia and fear of being thought intellectually inadequate that had led me to sprint needlessly through a crossword, and tell a barefaced lie." I know I've glossed over words and allusions I don't understand to avoid looking dumb, but the older I get, the more I realize that, if you know the right people, no one's going to mock you for asking, and you end up smarter for it.