I've spent half a century writing for radio and print (mostly print). I hope to still be tapping the keys as I take my last breath.
Here is an alphabet's worth of unusual words that should never be used in polite settings to avoid being labelled a language snob.
It sounds like some sort of tortuous yoga position that will cause you to quit the session abruptly, in which case you would be able to use the word correctly. Absquatulate means to leave in a hurry, as a thief might do after taking your wallet.
This is a word that comes out of the hobo community and describes the bedroll in which he kept his possessions, that's the bindle. The stiff part refers to the tramp, migrant worker, drifter, etc. carrying the bindle. In Australia, the sack of possessions is called a "matilda,” made famous by the song about a swagman (hobo), "Waltzing Matilda.”
This word was conjured up in San Francisco in 2008 by activist Brent Schulkin. It means gathering a group of people to swarm a business and buy its goods as a reward for good corporate citizenship. Chapman's Ice Cream in Ontario, Canada said staff unvaccinated against COVID-19 would be tested twice a week. The demented anti-vaxxers went berserk and called for a boycott of the company's products. But then, Chapman's got carrotmobbed as customers flooded the company with orders. Darn good ice cream too.
It should be very skimpy swimming attire but it's actually a sound made by two vowels in a single syllable such as “fear,” “career,” or “though.” Then, we can escalate to a triphthong, which is a union of three vowels, or we can go backwards to lonely little monophthongs. British spellings with diphthongs are often simplified in America, so paediatrician becomes pediatrician and encyclopaedia turns into encyclopedia.
It looks as though American folklorist Louise Pound takes the blame for unleashing this monstrosity on the English-speaking world, early in the 20th century. She claimed to have picked it up from students at the University of Nebraska and one suspects pranking might have been involved. We are told it means very good, but it doesn't turn up in any standard dictionary. It does appear frequently on the internet as an example of a very long—30 letter—word. Linguist Stephen Chrisomalis tracked down eellogofusciouhipoppokunurious and wrote: “Slang—to be sure. Jocular—of course.” But definitely a real word “used more than once by more than one person.”
Thanks to Oxford Dictionaries we know this word means “giving an impression of vague unworldliness.” It also indicates that the person who exhibits such an attitude is insincere. It always seemed to this writer that William F. Buckley Jr. exemplified a fey attitude in his discourse; the fake English accent, the nose in the air, the appearance of boredom.
Those applying for jobs at the White House between 2017 and 2021 would have been well advised to be gnathonic. It refers to someone who is sycophantic, toadying, and given to excessive flattery.
America has proved to be a great wellspring for creating words and this one relates closely to the previous entry. Dictionaries give it several meanings including ingratiating and sweet-talking as well as underhand and deceiving. It first appeared in the 19th century and was used in the Syracuse Herald in 1934 to describe President Franklin D. Roosevelt as “the prize honeyfugler of his time.” It was not intended as a compliment.
And, let's lean on American slang for another word to keep this tenuous thread going. It means “Don't worry” and seems it ought to be accompanied by a shrug of the shoulders. American comedian Merwyn Bogue created a radio show character he called Ish Kabibble from a song “Ische ga bibble” (I Should Worry) of 1913 vintage. The song was created to sound like a Yiddish phrase but it isn't Yiddish, it's just made-up nonsense that became popular for a while.
Jeremiah was a prophet (also a bullfrog, but that's another story) who lived about 2,500 years ago; he was famous for complaining about the misbehaviour of Hebrews who broke the covenant with God. A jeremiad is a long, whiny lamentation about everything that is wrong with society and people.
And, suddenly we are back in the White House between 2017 and 2021. Using the ancient Greek word kakistos, meaning worst, as its root, kakistocracy is a form of government in which the worst possible people are in charge.
The kakistocracy entry leads us seamlessly to here: “inclined to lustfulness; wanton; lewd: a lascivious, girl-chasing old man” (Dictionary.com).
Having a loud voice. That annoying person in the restaurant who wants us all to listen to his side of a cell phone conversation. It would be nice if he or she became malacophonous, that is soft voiced.
A little-known collective noun for a brood of pheasants; nide is also used for the same purpose. Personal favourites in the genre include a tower of giraffes, a flamboyance of flamingos, an obstinacy or buffaloes, an exaltation of larks, and a crash of rhinoceroses. A friend was asked to provide a collective noun for teenagers and she came up with the perfect one—a challenge.
It seems this little frivolity is developing a trend of associating words with one another. So Merriam-Webster and others give us lots of synonyms to describe a challenge of teenagers other than obstreperous—unruly, stubbornly resistant to control, rebellious, disruptive, insubordinate, disobedient, and on and on.
The sleight of hand skills used by magicians to keep us from seeing the deception they are using.
The bane of foolhardy alphabet compilers and people who play Scrabble and Bananagrams, “q” turns up in English only once in every 510 letters, even less frequently at the start of a word. So, we have to dig deep to find qualtagh, who is the first person you meet when you leave home. For good luck, that person ought to be a dark-haired man, although in Scotland the person should be a fair-haired woman. It's this kind of precision that confers the cloak of accuracy on omens.
Not a patent soft drink but a literary genre that takes its name from Daniel Defoe's 1719 novel Robinson Crusoe. It describes a fictional account of an adventurous nature. The 2000 movie Castaway starring Tom Hanks could be called a robinsonade.
Sadly, this lovely word has gone out of fashion, although perhaps this could be the vehicle for bringing it back to life. Nah. Anyway, the American writer Washington Irving seems to have had a hand in creating this word in the early part of the 19th century. It means a highly opinionated commentator and would seem to be a perfect descriptor for Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham who peddle their falsehoods on Fox News, a network that delivers only opinion without news and nothing about foxes.
The sound of bells ringing, which is said to drive away demons, mice, and snakes. It was also believed to force witches and the brooms they flew on to crash to the ground. Drinking from an inverted bell was said to be a cure for stuttering.
“Whipping with nettles to induce counterirritation, formerly used in the treatment of peripheral paralysis” (The Free Dictionary). For a couple of thousand years, folks have been subjecting themselves to stings from nettles to relieve rashes, arthritis pain, and even sciatica (perhaps they still do in the darker reaches of the Appalachians). There is also a school of thought that whipping with nettles works as erotic stimulation. It's likely most people will prefer the soft, romantic music, log fire, and bottle of wine approach.
Here we go again with the flimsy linking of one definition to another. Mating birds, leaving aside the joys of nettle whipping, singing to each other in the spring is called valentining. Isn't that just lovely?
Back in the day, tramps used to chalk coded messages on gateposts to indicate to other members of the brethren that the family in the home was good for some food or a hand out, or this was a house to avoid. Today, this signal, now known as warchalking, has a more sinister meaning. It's used to indicate to those in the know that a building has an unsecure wireless network that can be tapped into.
Including proper nouns, there are about 400 words in English usage that start with the letter “x” so we can keep this piece of frippery going for a while. A xebec was a type of sailing ship used as a trading vessel in the Mediterranean.
Bridge players will know that this means being dealt a hand with no card higher than a nine. It takes its name from Charles Anderson-Pelham, 2nd Earl of Yarborough who, in the nineteenth century offered a bet to whist players. If he was dealt a hand with at least one card higher than a nine his opponents would give him a pound. However, if he received a hand with all his cards at nine or below he would cough up one thousand pounds to his fellow players. The earl made a lot of money because the odds of getting a yarborough are about one in 1,828.
If you've made it this far, then you are definitely entitled to a product of zymurgy, which is concerned with the process of fermentation leading to beer, wine, and liquor. Have a glass. Cheers.
- Cursed by poets, the words orange, silver, purple, and month do not have natural rhymes in English.
- The small dot above a lower-case “i” is called a tittle.
- A capitonym is a word that changes its meaning when its first letter is capitalized so August is a month and august means stately or majestic.
- About 25 percent of the world's population speaks English and yet there is no academic institution that oversees its correct usage.
Diverse dictionaries, lots of larouses, cascades of compilations, and loads of lexicons.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Rupert Taylor