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26 Words to Ponder

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.

An alphabet’s worth of unusual words. You are invited to spend a few minutes of your precious time that you’ll never get back learning about words you may never use. This is why the Internet was invented in addition to its primary purpose of providing a platform for cat images.

A is for Anthophobia. It is a fear of flowers, which only really makes sense if you are a fly in a world filled with Venus Fly Traps.

B is for Beeturia. This happens after eating beetroot, as a pigment called betanin is not needed by your body so you get rid of it by peeing red. Blackberries and rhubarb can have a similar effect.

C is for Callypygian. We have the goddess of love, Aphrodite, to thank for this word; more accurately, a statue of the lady. Callypygian comes from the Ancient Greek words for beauty and buttocks, and describes a person with an exceptionally well-proportioned rump.

Yes, it's Venus not Aphrodite, but that is still a very shapely rear end.

Yes, it's Venus not Aphrodite, but that is still a very shapely rear end.

D is for Dringle. There is a huge debate among lexicographers about the meaning of this word. Several sources say it describes what you are doing right now; wasting “time in a lazy, lingering manner” (Words and Phrases from the Past). Another so-called expert says it’s “the watermark left by a glass of liquid” (Metro News).

E is for Edentulous. This is a word for sloths, armadillos, and the clientele of certain bars you really don’t want to be in. It means having no teeth.

F is for Frumbyrdling. A noun from the 11th century that describes a young lad growing the peach fuzz that will one day become a beard.

G is for Galactophagist. Each and every one of us was once a galactophagist; it is an animal that exists on milk.

H is for Handschuhschneeballwerfer. Those Germans love to create compound nouns to explain the meaning of words. So, Handschuhschneeballwerfer means coward. Huh? Okay, it’s not immediately obvious until you break down the components. “Handschuh” is German for a shoe for the hand, i.e., glove. “Schneeball” is a snowball, and “Werfer” is thrower. Therefore Handschuhschneeballwerfer is a wussy person who wears gloves in a snowball fight, when everybody knows the only reasonable outcome should be frostbite.

I is for Incunabulum. This translates from Latin to swaddling clothes but it has come to mean books produced before the 15th century. The word didn’t appear in English until the 19th century when it was applied retroactively to refer to books produced when printing was in its infancy.

J is for January Butter. The letter J only appears in 0.16% of the words in an English dictionary so it poses problems for the creators of compilations such as this. However, thanks to the folks who lived in southwest England in the 18th century, we have January Butter, a slang term for mud caused by the damp weather typical of that time of year (and for the other 11 months).

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K is for Kippage. Sir Walter Scott warned us to “dinna pit yoursell into a kippage,” by which he meant don’t get too excited or in an irritated state.

L is for Leint. We are back to the 18th century to find out this means to urinate into beer to make it stronger. Oh Dear God! As someone who likes strong beer, please tell me they don’t that anymore.

M is for Muggle. This meant something completely different from the word J.K. Rowling used in her Harry Potter books to describe people with no magical skills. In the 1930s, muggle was one of the many slang terms for marijuana. The Online Slang Dictionary currently lists 120 words for marijuana including: hippie lettuce, combustible herbage, and whifty, but not muggle.

N is for Napiform. says this is “A little-used but useful adjective meaning turnip-shaped. Large and round at the top and tapering down sharply and becoming exceedingly slender toward the bottom tip.” However, the website does not elaborate on why the word is useful; more useful that is than turnip-shaped.

O is for Oligopsony. We get this word from combining the Ancient Greek word “olig” meaning few and “opsōnia” meaning the buying of victuals. So, oligopsony means a buyers market, like when you bought those shares that your cousin Fred’s friend Bernie said were going to shoot up through the roof and when you came to sell them they were worth squat.

P is for Psithurism. The sound the wind makes when it rustles the leaves of a tree. As an added bonus, for no extra charge, here is the word susurration. That’s the sound those leaves make when they have fallen and dried and a breeze makes them skitter across a hard surface such as a patio.

Q is for Querimonious. We’ve all known at least one querimonious person who complains about everything. That’s what the word means—complaining. It’s That Man Again was a British wartime radio comedy show. One of the characters was a constant complainer called Mona Lott. Her catchphrase, delivered in a slow, flat, depressed voice was, “It’s being so cheerful as keeps me going.”

And, Here's Debbie Downer to Keep the Happiness Flowing

R is for Ricockulous. When ridiculous doesn’t get the job done then kick it up a notch to ricockulous.

S is for Snudge. “To stride around looking terribly busy when in fact you’re doing nothing” (BBC Quite Interesting). But wait, there's more. “The inner glow that heterosexual men feel toward each other after a carton of beer. Touching is optional” (The Urban Dictionary). “A niggardly, miserly fellow” (Merriam-Webster).

T is for Tåfis. We have to travel to Norway for this one. It refers to smelly feet and means, literally, “toe fart.” Further confirmation as to why Norway has been ranked by the United Nations the best country in the world in which to live 15 years in a row.

U is for Ughten. Word by Letter has gone to the trouble of finding words starting with U that have 14 or more letters in them. There are 141 of them but they missed ultracrepidarian. That’s someone who passes judgement on a subject about which they have little knowledge, such as the 50,000 spectators who knew the quarterback should have called a running play rather than a pass. Where were we? Oh yes. Ughten. This is the part of the night just before the Sun rises. It comes from the German “uchten.” It is always darkest before the dawn offers hope that a desperate situation is going to end. Only five letters left, and you wouldn’t want to miss X, before you get your life back.

V is for Vibrissa. “Any of the long stiff hairs growing around the mouth or elsewhere on the face of many mammals, used as organs of touch; whiskers” (Oxford Dictionaries). Why does this conjure up memories of Great Aunt Madge?

W is for Wamblecropt. You knew that the goat vindaloo looked a bit dodgy. But you have a cast iron stomach and you had in mind Marilyn Monroe’s advice that “Have you noticed how often ‘What the Hell’ is the best choice?” Sadly, now you are a wamblecropt, someone disabled by indigestion, or you would have been in the 17th century, which is when the word was popular. Mark Forsyth of The Guardian writes “It’s the most beautiful word in the English language to say aloud. Try it.”

X is for Xyresic. Now we come to the nemesis of all who venture into an alphabetical list of words. All those early readers for children wimped out with xylophone, we shall not back down from the challenge. Xyresic means razor sharp. Bit of a let down really after the build-up in the letter U. Sorry.

Y is for Yonderly. To be emotionally distant or absent minded. Like being in a room and not having a clue why you are there.

Z is for Zeugma. This comes from the Greek word for yoke and is “ . . . a figure of speech in which a word, usually a verb or an adjective, applies to more than one noun, blending together grammatically and logically different ideas” (Literary Devices). Charles Dickens had a black belt in creating zeugmas: “Miss Bolo rose from the table considerably agitated, and went straight home in a flood of tears, and a sedan-chair” (Pickwick Papers).

Bonus Factoids

  • Aegilops is a member of the grass family and is the longest word in English in which the letters appear in alphabetical order.
  • In the 18th century, chickens were known as cacklers and their eggs were called cackle farts.
  • In the early days of hurtling down a mountainside on a sled, the racers bobbed their heads forwards and backwards in an attempt to go faster. Hence, the word bobsledding. It didn’t make any difference in the sled’s speed. Similarly, ski jumpers used to flap their arms like birds in an attempt to aid flight. It didn’t work either.


Dictionaries by the dozen, loads of lexicons, and glossaries galore.

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.

© 2018 Rupert Taylor


Susan SJ on March 27, 2018:

Loving it!

Rupert Taylor (author) from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada on March 24, 2018:

Thanks Threekeys and Chris.

Chris Mills from Traverse City, MI on March 23, 2018:

Interesting, funny, and intelligently written. Congratulations on coming up with an alternative to xylophone. A xyresic hub.

threekeys on March 23, 2018:

Just loved! loved! these new words. I may just pluck out a few of these words to use in my future poetry. From time to time I do have fun with writing poetry that can be read cryptically. Cheers!

Rupert Taylor (author) from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada on March 23, 2018:

I love words and poking about in their origins. I just collect them as I stumble across them.

Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on March 23, 2018:

These are all words I've never heard of. But my favourite one is kippage!

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