An A to Z of Wonderful Words
Being a word snob is a thankless task, but somebody’s got to do it. Here then, are 26 pretentious words with which to dazzle and annoy adversaries.
Ablutomania. A compulsion to keep washing oneself. Steve Jobs, the co-founder of Apple Computers, had the opposite condition. He believed that, as a vegan, he had no body odour and didn’t need to bathe. His co-workers at Atari felt differently and, after fielding complaints about Jobs’ fragrance, management put him on the night shift.
Blivet. Something that is completely useless. The word may have come out of slang used by American servicemen in the Second World War as a contraction of blip and rivet. It’s often described as ten pounds of horse poop in a five pound bag. Suggestions for examples of blivets may be made in comments at the bottom of this page, but please refrain from suggesting politicians, that’s far too obvious.
Cruciferous. A class of vegetables that includes, cabbage, broccoli, kale, cauliflower, and everybody’s favourite, Brussels sprouts.
Doctiloquent. Means to speak learnedly. The exact opposite might be something like this from a South Carolina political rally on July 21, 2015: “Look, having nuclear—my uncle was a great professor and scientist and engineer, Dr. John Trump at MIT; good genes, very good genes, okay, very smart, the Wharton School of Finance, very good, very smart—you know, if you’re a conservative Republican, if I were a liberal, if, like, okay, if I ran as a liberal Democrat, they would say I’m one of the smartest people anywhere in the world …”
Empasm. “A perfumed powder to be sprinkled on the body to mask the odor of sweat” (Webster). It’s said to be obsolete and, suddenly, we are back with Steve Jobs’ co-workers wishing he would apply some.
Flageolet. This sounds like something a dominatrix might wield, but it’s a wind instrument from what’s called the “flipple flute family.” There is also a variety of bean called flageolet that is highly prized in France for use in stews and salads.
It’s quite possible here to set a new world record in the highly unlikely connections between the bean and flute definitions. Among pre-adolescent boys beans are highly prized as sources of gas and the writer has heard them referred to as “musical fruit.”
Goldbricking. This word started out life as an innocent description of a brick-sized piece of gold, but in October 1879 it changed its nature completely. A Mr. N.D. Clark, a banker, became victim of a scam by being conned into advancing $10,000 against the acquisition of a 52-pound brick of gold. But, of course, only the visible part of the brick was gold, the rest was worthless. Others pulled off the same swindle that became known as “selling a gold brick.” The word has further morphed into describing someone who is a lazy malingerer who refuses to do an honest day’s work.
Herf. Cigar aficionados do this when they gather to puff away on their favourite stogies. The word seems to have emerged in Texas in the 1980s and first referred to drawing in the cheeks to suck on a tightly hand-rolled cigar. Now, it means a meeting of cigar smokers.
Illachrymable. The inability to cry, even over such massively catastrophic events as spilling beer.
Jirble. Well, hot dang! Look what showed up under the letter “J.” Jirble means spilling a liquid because of trembling hands. Boo hoo.
Kakidrosis. There’s a bit of a Steve Jobs theme developing here, because kakidrosis is the medical term for smelly sweat.
Labretifery. This is a word that started life in the 1880s when a Dr. William Healey coined it to describe body piercing practiced by Inuit people in Alaska. The word faded into obscurity but it’s back in fashion today.
Myrmidon. Someone who blindly follows a powerful person no matter how rebarbative (see below) that leader might be.
Notabilia. “Things worthy of note” (Merriam-Webster). That is what is currently before your eyes.
Omnishambles. This brand new (ish) word first appeared in 2009 in a British television political satire. It describes the decision-making process that invariably chooses the worst possible option. (See myrmidon above).
Paradiastole. “The reframing of a vice as a virtue” (definitions.com). This is the world of spin doctors in which a “bald faced lie” becomes an “alternative fact.”
Quockerwodger. For people who put together listy things like this certain letters present a real problem and the temptation is to jump right over them and pretend they aren’t there. Q is one such obstacle, it appears only once out of every 510 words in English. Never daunted though, here comes quockerwodger. Any guesses? No? It means “a wooden puppet on a string” (World Wide Word). The word has also come to describe a politician who is manipulated by another; a Russian president pulling the strings of another world leader perhaps?
Rebarbative. Unpleasant, unattractive, repellent, and a whole bunch of other words. No need to belabour the point with names.
Sialoquent. This is a person to keep your distance from because it means someone who spits while they talk. It’s an occupational hazard among actors because projecting the voice usually involves considerable spray. So, try not to sit in the first couple of rows.
Thrasonical. “I have the best words.” “I’m a very stable genius.” “I am the chosen one.” A thrasonical person is highly boastful.
Urimancy. Fortune telling by studying urine, which, if the predicted outcome is bad, gives rise to the comment “That really pisses me off.”
Verbigeration. The Polish-American psychiatrist Bernard Glueck described this mental health condition in 1916 as someone uttering “ a senseless word salad.” It usually involves the frequent repetition of words and phrases typical of election campaigns.
Whiffler. A list such as this would hardly be complete without dropping in on the Bard of Avon, the creator of some 1,700 words (although there’s some debate about the total number). In Henry V, Part One we get:
The deep-mouth’d Sea,
Which like a mighty Whiffler ’fore the King,
Seems to prepare his way.
In the Shakespearean sense, whifflers were soldiers wielding staves and swords to clear a path for the monarch. A modern equivalent might be the use of tear gas and flash/bangs to clear a path through Washington’s Lafayette Park.
Xeric. Even more difficult than Q, is finding words starting with X. The BBC program Quite Interesting says “There is a variety of carrot beginning with every letter of the alphabet except X.” So it’s no good turning to Daucus carota for help. So, here we have “xeric,” meaning very dry conditions; in other words a place where carrots will not grow.
Zemblanity. The Scottish novelist William Boyd felt the world needed an opposite to serendipity so, late in the 20th century, he invented zemblanity. In essence, the word perfectly sums up the result of U.S. state governors opening up their economies in the midst of a deadly virus pandemic and hoping the number of infections would not increase. However, just about everybody with an opposable thumb could see a spike in illness would be the result. An “unpleasant unsurprise,” or zamblanity.
- There are only two English words that start and end with “und,” underfund and underground.
- “Barf” is Persian for snow; that’s good to know.
- In 25 languages as diverse as Arabic, Italian, and Norwegian this fruit is known as “ananas.” Only in English is it called a pineapple because, of course, it has nothing to do with pines nor apples.
- “Australia” has three “a’s” in it and each is pronounced differently.
A gathering of glossaries, diverse dictionaries, loads of lexicons, and countless compilations.