Words at Play

Wonderful Words That You're Not Using (Yet)

Once you learn these rare words, we challenge you to use them in conversation


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The biblioklept holds her bounty tightly.

Photo: cipella

Definition: one who steals books

Biblioklept is, in at least some sense of the word, fairly useless. It is two syllables longer than book thief. It is also unlikely to be understood by some portion of the people with whom you use it, and so cannot be said to aid in communication. Happily, we do not have a merit based vocabulary, and words that are useless have the same rights of inclusion as do those that are useful.

Many eminent characters have been Biblioklepts.
The Saturday Review (London, UK), 23 Oct. 1880

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If you've got an itch on your acnestis, grab a back scratcher.

Photo: PeopleImages

Definition: “The part of the back (or backbone) between the shoulder blades and the loins which an animal cannot reach to scratch” (Oxford English Dictionary)

This lovely word is not often found; one of the few dictionaries that does define it, the Oxford English Dictionary, notes that it is “rare in genuine use.” You may use this word in any fashion you see fit. In fact, your need of it doesn't even need to be genuine.

With the stocks one assistant is sufficient. They are quite satisfactory for operations on the withers, the acnestis, the shoulders, the buttocks, and the tail.
—Louis A. Merillat, Veterinary Surgery, 1906

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Strong grommets are the key to a good banner, I assume.

Photo: Ningsiri

Definition: an eyelet of firm material to strengthen or protect an opening or to insulate or protect something passed through it

All you really need to know about grommets is that they are where you should put your aglets.

Adm.
Which be the Gromets?
Capt.
They are small Rings made fast to the upper side of the Yard, with Staples driven into the Yard, and are of no other use but to tie and make fast the Laskets thereinto.
—Nathaniel Boteler, Sea-dialogues, 1688

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Does this cold medicine tackle meldrops?

Photo: AlexRaths

Definition: “A drop of mucus at the nose, whether produced by cold or otherwise” (English Dialect Dictionary)

Meldrop used to be in Merriam-Webster dictionaries (it is included in the 1934 edition of our Unabridged, defined rather poetically as “a pendent drop, as of mucus at the nose, or of dew”). It is not in any of our current offerings. The word does not now have sufficient breadth of usage to merit inclusion, but if you want to see it get back in our dictionary make sure all your friends start using meldrop in published writing.

But looke againe on the other part of snotty nosd Gentlemen, with their drouping mustaches covering their mouth, and becomes a harbroy to meldrops, and a sucking sponge to al the watery distillations of the head, he will not spare but drinke with any bodie whatsoever, and after hee hath washed his filthie beard in the cup, and drawing out dropping, he wil suck the haire so hartily with his vnder lip.
—Simion Grahame, The Anatomie of Humors, 1609

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Start a Twitter octothorpe trend.

Photo: MaleWitch

Definition: the symbol #

The origins of octothorpe are shrouded in mystery; we are fairly certain that the word began being used in the early 1970s, but we do not know what led to the prefix for “eight” (-octo) being added to the component for thorpe (“thorpe”).

They could have done what the Dozenal Society is trying to do. The dozenals have banished 10 from their vocabulary. Instead, 10 is called dek and designated by an asterisk, *. Eleven is called el and designated by an octothorpe, #.
—Irene Virag, Newsday (Long Island, NY), 26 Oct. 1990


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The face of a woman who just found out her favorite roller coaster is also a nauseant.

Photo: Nastia11

Definition: an agent that induces nausea

In the event that you ever find yourself feeling nauseated (or nauseous; either one is fine), say, perhaps by a meldrop clinging tenaciously to the nose of the person with whom you are speaking, it may prove useful to distract yourself with the knowledge that there is a word for the thing that makes you feel that way. Before you use the word loosely, you should know that nauseant is generally used in a medical sense, referring to a specific agent that causes nausea (and often is an expectorant, rather than just anything which turns your stomach).

Having thus, as we conceived, exhausted all the material medica, we turned to the second class, which is called atonics, and which we found to consist of blood-letting, issues and setons, nauseants, cathartics, gases, and abstinence.
Monthly Review (London, UK), Nov. 1810

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Time for a battle of math nerds and word nerds.

Photo: Gun2becontinued

Definition: the first and second quantity in an addition of two things

Have you ever found yourself staring at a piece of paper with “3 + 4” written on it, and wondered ‘what is the proper term for each of these two respective quantities?’ No? The first number is the augend and the number that is added to it is the addend. You're welcome.

If we ask what number increased by b gives c, we seek the augend.
—Hermann Schubert, The Monist (Chicago, IL), 1 Jan. 1893

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I'm pretty sure there's an obelus or two in the mix.

Photo: digitalgenetics

Definition: the symbol ÷

In addition to serving as the sign indicating division, the obelus is also used to mark a questionable passage of text. Our dictionary also uses it for matters of pronunciation. It should be noted that the entry for the word obelus itself has no obelus in it. However, you will find this division sign in a number of other entries, such as nuclear, where we list a pronunciation variant that is stigmatized (÷-kyə-lər).

The obelus, or division sign, is placed before a pronunciation variant that occurs in educated speech but that is considered by some to be questionable or unacceptable.
—Merriam-Webster.com

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Harpists and people who use wrest pin in their daily conversation—both rare creatures.

Photo: MIMOHE

Definition: a pin in a stringed musical instrument (as a harp, piano) around which the ends of the strings are coiled and by which the instrument is tuned

Nevermore will you have to gaze into the depths of a piano, and, much as one ponders the depths of one’s own soul, look at the pins that are wrapped tightly with coiled wire, and wonder ‘what do you suppose they call those things?’

N. B. The trade supplied with Pianoforte wire, wrest pins, hoppers, keys, felts, and every requisite for repairing Pianofortes.
The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, NSW, Aus.), 16 Feb. 1853

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Definition: a person who never laughs

The humorless agelast comes from the Greek word agélastos (“not laughing, grave, gloomy"), and not, as one might suppose, from the fact that spending any time around such a person feels like it lasts an age. Agélastos in turn comes gelân (“to laugh”), the same word that gives us gelastic ("arousing or provoking laughter").

Add to these a gift of irony—that confounder of the literalists and Agelasts—perfect self-possession and an imperturbable sang-froid, impenetrability of expression and purpose and the equipment of the Dandy seems to be complete.
Temple Bar (London, Eng.), Apr. 1890

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Definition: "A little insignificant lover; a pretender to affection" (Samuel Johnson, A Dictionary of the English Language, 1755)

When one sees how pleased many people are to discover this word, one that finally will serve to provide an accurate description of some past lover, it is clear that amatorculist has not received the attention it deserves. The word is almost entirely unknown outside of dictionaries, and lexicographers seem to take a certain vicious glee in defining it. Joseph Wright, in his 1867 Dictionary of Obsolete and Provincial English defined the word as "A wretched lover or galant," and Nathan Bailey, in his 1736 dictionary, referred to it as "a trifling Sweet-heart, a general Lover."

If you are interested in the proper word to describe an insignificant love affair, rather than an insignificant lover, it is amourette.

Why, to tell you the truth, Squire Randal, as to the amatorculist, and his vertiginous gilt-piece of mutability, to such I have nothing to say, and with such I have nothing to do.
— James Hogg, Tales and Sketches, 1866

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Definition: boldness or courage resulting from alcoholic drink

The fancy way of saying liquid courage, pot-valor is the perfect word to describe how imbibing a few ounces of something can make a very bad idea seem like something you should definitely do right now. Unfortunately, when you are at the point when this word will be most applicable to you, chances are good that you will also be too drunk to remember what it is. Write it down on your arm before you go out tonight.

Againe, some cowards will so dare and bragge out a man in company, with such swaggering words, whereby the heaters should thinke there were not a better man to be found: and if it be in a Faire or Market, then he will draw his weapons, because he knoweth that he shall be soone parted, for the people will say, that such a one and such a one made a great fray to day, but I account this but pot-valour, or a Cowards fray to fight in the streete, for a man can giue no due commendations of manhood vnto such fighters, for there is no valour in it.
— Joseph Swetnam, The schoole of the noble and worthy science of defence, 1617

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Definition: of or relating to pigeons

Pigeons get short-shrift in our stable of avian metaphors. We speak of someone with fine eyesight as eagle-eyed, and hawk lends itself to a variety of words (hawk-like, hawkish, etc.), but rarely do we compare anyone to the humble, intelligent pigeon. Truth be told, it is unlikely that you have a distinct need to use this word anytime soon, but if it happens we want you to be prepared.

Beside the poor, who, to misquote a scriptural phrase, are always in evidence, and the scarlet fever epidemic, which, thank goodness, is abating, London at this writing has a congress of the National Society of French Professors, an exhibition of the National Peristeronic Society and a fog—a fog with a big F.
The Boston Herald, 29 Jan. 1888

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Definition: "one past fourteene yeeres of age, beginning to bee moved with Venus delight" (Henry Cockeram, An English Dictionary, 1623)

For those of you who are unaccustomed to reading definitions written in the linguistic register of an early-17th century smarty-pants lexicographer, the meaning of the word above is, well, "horny teenager." This gives us a very fine example of how occasionally the words for common things are themselves quite uncommon, as hirquiticke is extremely rare. It is uncertain where Cockeram found the word, as we have no evidence of actual use prior to 1623, although he may have borrowed it from Thomas Eliot's Latin dictionary of 1538, which defined hirquitalus as "a chylde, whiche passeth the age of xiiii yeres, and begynneth to be styrred with lechery."

The Latin word for "he-goat" is hircus, from which we get hircine ("of, relating to, or suggestive of a goat; especially: resembling a goat in smell"). Occasional writers have used a variant of this root to make fanciful nonce-words based on the goat's reputed libidinousness.

To speak of her hirquitalliency at the elevation of the pole of his Microcosme, or of his luxuriousness to erect a gnomon on her horizontal dyal, will perhaps be held by some to be expressions full of obscœness, and offensive to the purity of chaste ears.
— Thomas Urquhart, Ekskybalauron, 1652




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