26 Strange English Words

Updated on January 5, 2019
Rupert Taylor profile image

I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.

Herewith, a strange word for each letter of the alphabet that drives Spell Check into a froth of anxiety. As is the capricious nature of the compiler they are presented in reverse alphabetical order.



Zomotherapy. Raw meat used as a medical treatment. As in a rump steak slapped on the blackening eye of a smart ass writer trying to bamboozle his audience with weird words.


Yill is a Scottish word for ale, and, if enough yill is consumed, we run into another “Y” word – yex, which means to belch. Jeremy Lion, “children’s entertainer” gives us a couple of examples in his word puzzle sketch.


Oh horrors! Here we go with the letter that starts only 0.02% of the words in the English language. Merriam-Webster says that xenial means “of, relating to, or constituting hospitality or relations between host and guest and especially among the ancient Greeks between persons of different cities.” But doesn’t genial perform the same function with the added benefit of being easier to pronounce?


You’d better get used to Waitron as it makes its way into common usage. The problem with waiter or waitress is that they are too gender specific in our gender-flexible world, so enter waitron. And, coming soon to a theatre near you – actrons?



Velleity. “A wish or inclination not strong enough to lead to action” (Oxford Dictionaries). A friend used to say “Sometimes, I feel like exercising, so I lie down until the feeling goes away.”


Ultracrepidarian. We’ve all met this dude. He or she, most likely he though, who offers an opinion that is outside his level of knowledge. Example? “Andrew Jackson (died in 1845) was really angry that he saw what was happening with regard to the Civil War (begun in 1861).” Said by a certain president of a large North American country in May 2017.


Triskaidekaphobia is a fear of the number 13. Its origins seem to be ancient but modern hotels and apartments omit the 13th floor, as if folks can’t figure out that the floor above the 12th isn’t really the 14th. Some airlines also play this silly game by not having a 13th row.


Sciapods were mythical, one-legged critters that had feet big enough to be used as an umbrella or parasol. Clearly from the illustration below mobility on a rainy or sunny day could be an issue. Sciapodous means having big feet.



Runcible is a word that has no definition because it’s a nonsense word invented by Edward Lear.

In his poem The Owl and the Pussycat he wrote:

They dined on mince and slices of quince,

which they ate with a runcible spoon.



Quafftide. It’s always drinking time somewhere. Happy hour. Miller time (although for someone who enjoys beer with flavour Miller would never, ever be a first choice). The sun is over the yard arm (nautical).


Pettitoes. After the bankers broke the financial system in 2008 there was a resurgence in the popularity of pettitoes, otherwise known as pig’s trotters. The London Evening Standard reported in 2009 that “Pig’s trotters fly off the shelves as customers seek cheap meat cuts.” The bankers, of course, continued to enjoy the best roast loin of pork.


Congratulations. If you have made it this far without nodding off you are omnilegant, a person who is very well-read. You might even be an omniloquent person who is skilled at talking about any subject. You are, of course, not the ultracrepidarian we met six letters ago.


Thanks to the Collins Dictionary we now know that nemorous means “full of woods or groves, wooded, woody.” It is included here in order to highlight a quote from the 1889 book A Folk-Lore of Plants: “Even Paradise itself, says Evelyn, was but a kind of ‘nemorous temple or sacred grove,’ planted by God himself.” But, another reason for inclusion is the flamboyant name of the author, The Reverend Thomas Firminger Thiselton-Dyer.



Nails pulled down a chalkboard seems to be a favourite way of setting the teeth on edge. It triggers what’s known as misphonia. Just like the noises coming from that darling little two-year-old in the seat behind in coach. Here’s WebMD, misphonia “is often an oral sound - the noise someone makes when they eat, breathe, chew, yawn, or whistle.”


The fridge is locupletative prior to the big game, or it should be. It means well-stocked.


The letter “K” is a bit of a nuisance for this kind of list; it occurs in English less than only J, X, Q, and Z. Never mind, undaunted we press on and find that most K-words derive from German and Gaelic, and vanished several centuries ago – Kilterums, Kickshaws, or Kennawhat anyone? However, still in use is Klazomania, the unfortunate compulsion to shout like the pitchmen selling sticky tape that holds your house together on TV. But wait, there's more.


Jobation is derived from the poor Job fellow upon whom the all-loving, all-merciful God visited endless trials and tribulations. So a jobation now is a long and tedious scolding for some transgression or other. According to the International Phonetic Alphabet it’s pronounced /dʒəʊˈbeɪʃən/. Well, that certainly clears that up.



“Stop the presses. I need to insert an interrobang.” The tweeter-in-chief just twitted “Am I the greatest president in the history of the world?!” The question mark and exclamation mark together is called an interrobang that can be used, but almost never is, at the end of a rhetorical, exclamatory question.


Hapax legomenon is a phrase or word that has only ever been used once. Good old Will of Stratford-upon-Avon gave us hebenon in Hamlet:

Upon my secure hour thy uncle stole,

With juice of cursed hebenon in a vial,

And in the porches of my ears did pour

Scholars have squabbled for centuries about the nature of hebenon but, not to put too fine a point on it, it killed Hamlet’s dad.


If you write “The butcher hung the horse’s carcass in the barn” you will be able to use the word gambrel in three different ways. A gambrel is: (a) a crooked iron used to hang up animal carcasses; (b) a horse’s neck; and (c) a building roof with two slopes on each side.



Flapdoodle might be applied to this offering, but only by the most uncharitable of people, and you are not one of those. It describes foolish talk or nonsense. It can be used in place of B.S. when delicate ears are around.


In a restaurant you might mention to the waitron (remember she/he/it?) that you are a trifle esurient. The waitron may direct you to the toilet, but, if an English major and understands, will be fully justified in smacking you upside the head with a salmon steak for pompously saying you are hungry. The word can also be used to indicate greed for power and money.


Decidophobia is the sort of affliction that overcomes compilers of lists such as this. Should dejerate, diloricate, or dingleberry be included? A case can be made for dendrophobia, dock-walloper, or even, at a push, dulciloquy. But, for now, let’s stick with decidophobia, the reluctance to make decisions.


You’re down at Betty’s Beauty Parlour for a calamistration. It sounds like it might be a bit painful but Betty is a pro at calamistration, which is a fancy word for curling your hair.



It’s far too easy to think that batology is the study of bats; that's actually chiropterology. No, batology is the study of blackberries. Well, of course it is.


Astasia is the inability to stand up. It could be attributed to the consumption of too much fermented malt beverage, which, it seems, is a prime requisite for consideration as a U.S. Supreme Court judge.


Bonus Factoids

Oxyphenbutazone is an arthritis drug and it’s also the highest scoring word in Scrabble with a potential value of 1,178 points.

Numbers in English share a letter with each number that follows. One shares the letter O with two, three borrows a T from two, R is used by four. This goes on forever.

None of those famous Anglo-Saxon cuss words are actually derived from Anglo-Saxon.


Lovely Larousses, divine dictionaries, glorious glossaries, and thrilling thesauruses.

© 2018 Rupert Taylor


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    • Gyanendra Mocktan profile image

      gyanendra mocktan 

      20 months ago

      I like the frog suffering from Astasia. Thank you.

    • Coffeequeeen profile image

      Louise Powles 

      21 months ago from Norfolk, England

      There are certainly a lot of strange words in the English language. No wonder it's such a difficult language to learn. I love the picture of Kermit the Frog lol.


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