I had the good fortune to work with a lady who, still, is not only a fine friend but a great editor. She loves words. We used to have a chest-high, wooden bookstand in our office that held a massive and impressive dictionary. It must have been six inches thick; fifteen pounds of paper, dust and words; twice the mass of the latest Stephen King novel. Keep in mind that this was before the computer became ubiquitous and; therefore, before there was spell check.
“Hey, Mary Kay? How do you spell crepuscular?” If she didn’t know off the top of her head she would consult the massive dictionary. This was a bad thing if you were on a tight deadline. She would lose herself in her task—sidetracked—breathing in the musty perfume of aging pages, discovering new and fabulous words along the way.
Today, I have a much deeper respect for that kind of relationship with words. Plus, if you use words that most other people are unfamiliar with you can get away with all sorts of mischief. This past Thursday I wrote about the sound of words; today I thought we’d have a little fun with the meaning of words—obscure words.
Several years ago I received a book called The Superior Person’s Book of Words by Peter Bowler. It is a small tongue in cheek dictionary packed with nothing but esoteric terms which, when properly employed, will allow you to appear highfalutin and give you the opportunity to obfuscate any epithets slung via an obiter dictum.
Here in abecedarian sequence are 26 examples culled from Mr. Bowler’s engrossing lexicon:
Alopecia, n: a fancy term for baldness. See my profile picture.
Bedizen, v: to decorate, ornament or dress with a tendency towards ostentation. Think: Elton John.
Cacophemism, n: the antonym of euphemism, a pejorative term used in place of a more traditional word: fart instead of flatus, quack instead of doctor or grease monkey for mechanic.
Defenestration, n: The act of tossing a thing or person out of a window—a very essential and useful word in the workplace.
Equitation, n: the art of horse-riding. The Olympic dressage events would fall into this category.
Fabulist, n: a liar. A prime example is Bernie Madoff
Gongoozler, n: One who stares endlessly at things… Excuse me… Hello? You can continue on to the next word now…
Hebitate, v: to become stupid or dull. Another useful word in the workplace.
Incunable*, n: a printed book from the time of the birth (literally from the cradle) of the printing press (before 1501). A Gutenberg Bible for instance (*a word I learned the other night on Antiques Roadshow and is not a part of Mr. Bowle’s little codex but certainly is not out of place among his selections).
Jobation, n: an extended and tiresome reprimand. Think of your last annual performance review.
Kinetosis, n: motion sickness, as in, “Don’t scroll too fast, I suffer from kinetosis.”
Lebrose, a: thick-lipped. Think Mick Jagger or Angelina Jolie.
Multiloquous, a: very talkative. Also garrulous or loquacious.
We’re half way through. Let’s take a break here and see what we have learned so far. At this point, you should be able to understand the following:
In the even that your lebrose, bedizened and alopecic supervisor assails you with a prolonged jobation, you may be inclined—and indeed justified—to reciprocate with as many cacophemisms you are capable of unearthing in your hebetative state, before you defenestrate the pusillanimous and multiloquous fabulist with the hope the he also suffers from kinetosis.
Sorry I jumped the gun with “pusillanimous” but that’s coming up. Let’s press on with all dispatch, shall we?
Nugatory, a: pointless, of no value. Much of the work our supervisors demand of us.
Ochlophobia, n: The fear of large crowds. Stay away from London for the next week or two.
Pusillanimous, a (Pusillanimity, n): faint-hearted, lacking courage or resolve.
Quidnunc, n: a gossip or busybody. That neighbor you caught going through your underwear drawer last week.
Rugose, a: highly wrinkled. Your great aunt Bertha.
Steatopygia, n: excessive fat on the buttocks. I believe this is self explanatory.
Tremellose, a: shaking like jelly. “Your steatopygia is positively tremellose today!”
Umbriferous, a: casting shade. “Your steatopygia is positively umbriferous today!”
Vecordious, a: mad, obsessive, senseless. The cat lady with 35 felines.
Witling, n: one who is under the misconception that he or she is funny, having little wit. Jessica viewed her younger brother as a nugatory witling.
Xanthodontous, a: having yellow teeth. Uncle Cyrus, who smokes like a chimney, has a xanthodontous smile.
Yemeless, a: negligent.
Zaftig, a: desirably plump, Rubenesque.
This brings us to the close of the second half of my list of inspiring words. Do you have them under your belt yet? Can you decipher the following?
The rugose Henrietta, a zaftig, vecordious quidnunc, kept a keen eye on the neighborhood while spending countless hours in her yard hand-picking every tiny invasive weed, which many saw a nugatory exercise. She was considered by most to be a meddling witling who yemelessly spewed poison through her xanthodontous grin.
Some of you shared some fabulous favorite words in the comments section of my last post. Let’s keep the list going. What are the most obscure and esoteric words you know? Share them and their definitions, or risk being labeled a pusillanimous gongoozler.