Words at Play

10 Things You Do Every Day Without Even Knowing It

Admitting it is the first step.


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: the act of gaping or yawning

Admit it: most days you greet the morn with oscitancy. In addition to referring to the act of yawning, oscitancy also refers to drowsiness (often demonstrated by yawns) as well as to general dullness or sluggishness. Oscitancy has a related adjective in the form of oscitant, which is used to describe one who is yawning with drowsiness ("the sweetly oscitant infant") or, less kindly, to one who is lazy or stupid ("an oscitant ne'er-do-well"). Both words have their origin in the Latin oscitare, meaning "to yawn," itself from the inspired combining of os ("mouth") and citare ("to put in motion").

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: a stretching and stiffening especially of the trunk and extremities (as when fatigued and drowsy or after waking from sleep)

There's nothing wrong with a good stretch, and there's no shame in accompanying or quickly following your oscitancy with pandiculation. The word comes to English by way of the French, who took it from the Latin pandiculari, meaning "to stretch oneself. Pandiculari comes from pandere, meaning "to spread, unfold," the root also of expand.

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: the act of moving from place to place : walking

After you have sat up in bed and put feet to floor, if you then proceed to walk, you are engaging in ambulation. The word comes from the Latin ambulare, meaning "to walk."

The verb form of ambulation is, unsurprisingly, ambulate. It has related adjectives too: ambulant means "moving about," while ambulatory shares the meaning of ambulant but has several other meanings as well. Even better are a host of other uncommon ambulare words, among them circumambulate ("to circle on foot especially ritualistically"), deambulation ("the act of walking abroad or about"), obambulate ("to walk about"), noctambulist ("a person who walks while asleep"), and the slightly more common synonym of that last one, somnambulist.

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: a long deep breath : sigh

Whether your first suspiration of the day precedes or follows your first sip of coffee (or your first check of Twitter), be aware that this word is from wholly uninteresting origins: the Latin word suspirare, meaning "to sigh." Sigh.

James Joyce didn't mind, apparently:

With deep inspiration he returned, retraversing the garden, reentering the passage, reclosing the door. With brief suspiration he reassumed the candle, reascended the stairs, reapproached the door of the front room, hallfloor, and reentered.
Ulysses, 1922

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1 a obsolete : the taking of food : eating b : the part of a Communion service in which the sacrament is received 2 : the act of chewing

No, this word is not some new-fangled portmanteau referring to the education of (or by) men. It refers—in 16th century texts, anyway—to the act of eating. It also refers to the act of chewing, but mostly when that chewing is done by an invertebrate. The word does have some current use referring to something involving humans: manducation is also the part of a Communion service in which the sacrament is received.

(Other obscure and overly complex words for eating exist, but we've already covered mastication (chewing) and deglutition (swallowing) in "Strange Words for Body Functions", which, uh, see.)

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: intestinal rumbling caused by moving gas

We are sorry if you did not choose your breakfast wisely, but be assured that noises emanate from the bellies of us all from time to time. The technical word for such emanating noises sounds about as dignified as it feels. Borborygmus traces back to the Greek borboryzein, a verb meaning "to rumble" that is believed to be of onomatopoeic origin. The fact that saying "borboryzein" repeatedly provides a decent sound effect for this clip from Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times (1936) is a silent movie supports this theory:

The plural of borborygmus is, by the way, borborygmi.

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: a glance of the eye; especially : ogle

Did you sit down to work, turn on your computer, and find your intended brief social media oeillades turning into lingering surveys of the entire internet? There, there. It happens to everyone. At least with this particular iteration you're learning something. Though oeillade does indeed sometimes refer to a simple glance of the eye, it more often refers to the kind of glance that constitutes flirtation.

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: hiccup

We hope you do not suffer from singultuses daily. If you suffer from them even weekly we feel for you and hope the knowledge of this obscure Latin word helps make the best of an annoying situation. Hiccup is, naturally, a synonymous and helpfully onomatopoeic term.

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: festivity, merrymaking

The best days include some jollification, and some of the best jollification includes cat pictures. Jolly had been around for centuries before someone recognized what adding -ification to the word could do for the language. Jolly is believed to come from an Old Norse word meaning "midwinter festival."

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: a lulling to sleep

When the day's work has done, and the laughter of the jollifying cats has waned, there is (in an ideal world) a gentle consopition. We don't know why such a lovely word as this one has fallen nearly completely out of the language but it has: the entry even sports an obsolete label. The word has a ho-hum Latin pedigree—it's from sopor, meaning "deep sleep," the likely source also of soporific—but almost no one uses it anymore, which we think is a shame.

There also exists a verb sopite to sopite you—if, that is, obscure words put you to sleep. It is also used to mean "to put an end to (something, such as a legal claim)."




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