Friday, September 4, 2009

Tomes of Terms

by Raelene Gorlinsky

I'm a sucker for word books. Books that provide the etymology of words or phrases, that list unusual words or funny words. So of course I could not pass up the slim paperback on the sale table at the bookstore this week: 100 Words Every Word Lover Should Know, from the editors of the American Heritage Dictionaries.

It's got words that are in not-really-rare use, but are pretty uncommon for most people. The types of words you may see more frequently in non-fiction writing (whether books or news articles or whatever), less frequently in fiction, and rarely hear spoken. Hey, I figure that's because even if we can spell them, we can't pronounce them.

My favorites?
Zeitgeist
vicissitude
syzygy
susurration
sesquipedalian
palaver
milieu
lagniappe
insouciant
glossolalia
cruciverbalist

Try incorporating these into your normal conversations.

Oh, you want to know what they mean? Okay, mix and match - here are the definitions, you figure out which word each goes to.

  • a soft rustling or whispering sound
  • the ability to "speak in tongues", such as in a trance, religious ecstasy or schizophrenia
  • alignment of the sun, moon, and Earth
  • nonchalant, blithely unconcerned
  • given to the use of long words; having many syllables
  • a person who creates crossword puzzles, or an enthusiast of word games
  • the characteristic spirit of a time period or generation
  • idle chatter, especially if intended to charm or beguile
  • an extra or unexpected gift or benefit
  • an environment or setting
  • a sudden or unexpected change of fortune
What are your favorite unusual but fun words?

6 comments:

Anny Cook said...

Had to look the rest of them up, but I've always loved lagniappe. It's the perfect word is so many situations. And I love the way it sounds!

Thanks for the list!

Lynne Connolly said...

I must be sad because I use four of them regularly. In conversation. Palaver (as in chat up or "what a palaver!"), milieu, insouciant and sussuration. I know, I must be a sad person.
I'm told that British English has a wider vocabulary than American English, perhaps that's it (grasping at straws, here!)

Kelly Jamieson said...

Oooh I love words. I do use a couple of those but I'm definitely noting the others down. I particularly like Zeitgeist...

MsSnarkyPants said...

I adore the word zeitgeist, and I have to admit that the only reason I know what vicissitude is because it's discipline in the role-playing game Vampire the Masquerade. LOL

My favorite not-too-frequently-used words are probably gregarious and quixotic. They're just so fabulous.

There are also words I love to simply say over and over like onomonopia and Apalachicola (which probably doesn't count because it's a town name...but anyway.) hehe

Windlegend said...

I love the word sussuration and use it quite a bit.

How 'bout suppuration, scathfire, tintabulation, halcyon, and soughing?

Town names? Oh, I love Attapulgus and Choctahatchee. And there's Willacouchie and Okabojee. My native Florida has some great names like Apalachicola although down there we just called it Apalach. Here in Iowa we have Madrid and Nevada (pronounced Mad drid and nuh vay duh).

Mechelle Fogelsong said...

I write YA romances, and being as I'm no longer a youth myself, I recently subscribed to urbandictionary.com to keep up with all the great new words teens are using.

A recent favorite that popped up on urbandictionary was "email courier", defined thus: An individual who approaches someone's desk or workstation in a work environment almost immediately after sending them an email, usually to confirm that the email has been received. ; )