Monday, June 27, 2011

From accismus to valentine

Reading something thelyphthoric
always made her hair stand on end.
Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages is a treasure trove. The author has manfully mined the depths of all 20 volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary, bringing to the surface glittering jewels of word exotica. You will either think him a nutbar or hero; I incline to the latter view. For word lovers (a.k.a. vocabularians), this book is beyond engrossing. Ammon Shea is an appealing Virgil, taking the reader on a labyrinthine lexical journey with pit stops along the way for colorful information about dictionaries and those who both create and devour them. On my scribbled list of words whose definitions I will return to with delight (and perchance incorporate into my daily life) are the following:
Accismus—an insincere refusal of a thing that is desired
Anonymuncule—an anonymous, small-time writer (c'est moi!)
Bouffage—an enjoyable or satisfying meal, from the Old French for "cheek-puffing meat"
Cachinnator—a person that laughs too loud or too much (what shrinks call "inappropriate laughter")
Exsibilation—the act of hissing somebody off the stage (can't imagine anyone contemporary witnessing this, but would like to know about it if so!)
Eumorphous—well formed (sounds like a word William F. Buckley would have used)
Farouche—sullen, shy, and repellent in manner (an all-around rotten egg!)
Finifugal—shunning the end of anything (like Mad Men?)
Heredipety—the seeking of an inheritance
Illutible—see if you can guess; it was a problem faced by Lady Macbeth
Kakistocracy—government by the worst citizens (definition of Congress?)
Mawworm—a hypocrite with pretentions of sanctity (GREAT word!!)
Nefandious—too odious to be spoken of (pretty dang awful)
Oxyphonia—guess: it caused poor Julia Child to be much ridiculed
Psithurism—whispering of leaves moved by the wind (too poetic a thing for such a silly word)
Ruffing—stomping of feet as a form of applause (who does this??)
Scrouge—standing too close to or pressing against someone so that you discomfit them
Somnificator—one who induces sleep in others
Thelyphthoric—morally corrupting to women (sadly, no examples are given...)
Valentine (v)—birds greeting each other at mating time
P.S. Spell check flagged all but three.


  1. where do you get this? I love it!

  2. what a fantastic list!!! mawworm and nefandious were by far my favorites, but i think i may be able to fit quisquilious into my everyday banter. there's a web site, that you might they taught me that insouciance means a "casual lack of concern, indifference."

  3. "Ruffing—stomping of feet as a form of applause (who does this??)" Now, I know you've never been to a rock concert or a sporting event! These are great!

  4. You can add cacography to the list if you've ever been baffled by someone's chicken scratches. Its dictionary definition is poor handwriting. There is likely a word for everything, including the way people look at you after you've dropped one of these words into your everyday banter.

  5. Ah, William F. Buckley, Jr. was my favorite sesquipedalian!

  6. I'm baffled by my own chicken scratches!
    If you had handwriting-recognition software and turned the volume up, you could have cacaphonous cacography!

  7. I found a word I didn't know in, of all places, a vintage paperback of Drury Lane's Last Case by Ellery Queen: "The taxicab deposited them precariously in a clutter of monster buses lined up at the curb on the South Side of Forty Forth Street near Broadway. They were vast, gleaming machines decorated whimsically in a motif of pink and blue, like acromegalic infants primped out by a sentimental mother." I hied me to the dictionary, where I found the following:
    "A chronic disease of adults marked by enlargement of the bones of the extremities, face, and jaw that is caused by overactivity of the pituitary gland. [French acromégalie : Greek akron, top, extremity (from neuter of akros, extreme; see acro-) + Greek megas, megal-, big; see meg- in Indo-European roots.]"