Word of the day

July 2, 2018 • 1:30 pm

Having listened to Christopher Hitchens use this word repeatedly, and not knowing exactly what it meant, I decided to look it up.  Here’s the main two definitions from the Oxford English dictionary with some examples.

other meaning:



By all means add words that you’ve not comprehended until you looked them up.

132 thoughts on “Word of the day

  1. Love new words. A recent one for me was pleustonic: a creature that exists on the margin of sea and air.

    1. That’s a new one to me–thanks!

      It reminds me of a word I learned back a considerable time ago, “riparian” (living on a river bank).

  2. I recall “antidisestablishmentarianism” from my 1950s youth.

    Oxford definition: “opposition to the disestablishment of the Church of England.”

    But famous back in the day as the longest word in the English language — a title it has not held for a long time.

    1. I have typed that into a English to German translator.
      In more recent days, it came up with
      but it formerly came up with
      gegen Trennung von Kirche und Staat

      Today the longest word is said to be:
      a lung disease contracted from the inhalation of very fine silica particles, specifically from a volcano.

      Other candidates are
      Pseudopseudohypoparathyroidism (SIC)

      The longest word with no letter repeats are
      uncopyrightable and subdermatoglyphic.

      The longest word with alternating consonants and vowels is

      The longest all-vowel word is

      The longest word in common usage is


  3. I was reading a collection of the writings of H. L. Menken a few years back and he used a phrase to describe his former dean of college (I think) – a bishop if I recall. He described him as ‘this papilliferous exegete’.

    ‘Papilliferous’ did not feature in any dictionary in my house, so I had to Google it – and I found a single web-reference (at the time) to the exact paragraph I had just read… plus one definition of said word: ‘papilliferous – Pimply’.

      1. Reminds me of all the great words regarding hair or hairiness — like cirrose, barbigerous, crinite, hirsute, hispid, flocculent, and pilose.

        Some of these I first came across in David Foster Wallace’s handy little essay “What Words Really Mean.”

    1. Looks like you found a hapax legomenon (or very nearly). I remember reading about them some time ago, but I think the definition was provided. That or I certainly looked it up to find that it means a term that has only one recorded use.

      1. I was thrilled when I first heard “hapax legomenon” and learned its meaning. Great the way it rolls off the tongue.

      2. On creating your own hapax legomeneon, there are so many obscure words and neologisms that this one has not yet been invented: but it will be.

        Self-coinsorship: to coin a term and at the same time ban its use. Esp. politically-charged phrases: hoejabi, TERF etc.

        Someone somewhere is going to do this.

  4. I look up every word I don’t know while I’m reading.

    Yesterday’s reading in Charles Stross’ novel Singularity Sky brought me this new one:

    “geniculate” meaning “Bent abruptly, with the structure of a knee” or “able to bend at an abrupt angle” (from the Greek word for knee, genu, which root is familiar from the word “genuflect” (cue Tom Lehrer)).

  5. Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian served me a dish. Here’s just a minor sampling:

    jaunty having carefree or self-confident air. stylish, dapper.

    rubric a title, heading, or initial letter, usually printed in red. a title or heading of a statute or chapter in a code of law. a class or categorty. a direction in a missal, hymnal, or other liturgical book.

    praxis practical application or exercise of a branch of learning. habitual or established practice; custom.

    lassitude a state of listless weakness, exhaustion, or torpor.

    rhapsodic immoderately impassioned or enthusiastic; ecstatic. resembling a rhapsody.

    venery indulgence in or pursuit of sexual activity. the act of sexual intercourse.

    munificent very liberal in giving; generous. showing great generosity.

    trellised a structure of open latticework, esp. one used as a support for vines and other creeping plants.

    vespertine of, relating to, or occurring in the evening.

    anathema a formal ecclesiastical ban, curse, or excommunication. a vehement denunciation; a curse. one that is cursed or damned. one that is greatly reviled, loathed, or shunned.

    perfidious of, relating to, or marked by treachery; treacherous

    ineluctable not to be avoided or escaped; inevitable.

    walleyed an eye abnormally turned away from the center of the face. an eye in which the cornea is white or opaque.

    bivouacked a temporary encampment made by soldiers in the field.

    and on and on…that’s not even 2% of my list from that one book.

  6. A word I saw recently, which I find myself using, is logomachy, which is an argument over the meaning of words. As in “You’re just engaging in logomachy.”

  7. The meaning of “lugubrious” never sticks in my memory despite having looked it up several times. Right now I don’t know what it means. I’ll go and look it up yet again!

  8. One word I ran across when I was in college was “crepuscular”, or “relating to twilight”, which was used in Paul Layhausen’s book Cat Behavior. In Leyhausen’s context, he meant that as crepuscular creatures, cats were most active at dawn or dusk rather than nocturnal or diurnal. The next place I encountered the word was in one of Edward Gorey’s books.

    However, I am often in the habit of browsing dictionaries, and often find words that beg to be used. One such is catchfart, which means a servant or lackey, and is derived from the practice of the lackey walking behind the master. It is so useful in these Trumpian times.

    I was browsing through a Finnish-English dictionary when I came across the word kuherrella, and the english equivalent was given as “bill and coo”. An archaic term to be sure, but I thought it charming that Finnish had a single word that was still in the dictionary that the only equivalent in English was an obsolete phrase.

    1. Finnish is such a delightful language. I just hosted some old Finnish friends (by way of Canada) and had fun stretching my rusty Finnish skills.
      Thinking on PCC(E)’s cultural appropriation post:
      The best (or one of the) part of the visit? My dear friend made me batches of karjlan piirakka – a Karelian pastry eaten in Finland. My friend is half-Finnish and half-Canadian, her husband a Brit and the kids born here there and in between. We warmed the pies for breakfast, along with some juustoleipä, which I picked up while on vacation in Oregon (but was made in Wisconsin), bacon from local pigs, Ranier cherries, Tanzanian coffee and lots of good cheer. Would those offended say my breakfast, self and guests have been guilty of cultural appropriation?

      1. I know a fair amount of Finnish grammar, but have almost no vocabulary. I get no opportunity to get any practice.

    2. Katchfart is super. It goes into my lexicon immediately.

      Re “kuherrella”, are you familiar with the book “They Have a Word For It: A Lighthearted Lexicon of Untranslatable Words” by Howard Rheingold? A wonderful book. I don’t recall this word in the book, but it certainly should be.

    3. English is sadly lacking in a few invaluable words –

      Apparently German has a word for ‘the brilliant riposte you think of just after you’ve walked away from the argument’

      And some language has a word for ‘two people looking at each other both knowing that some tedious task has to be done and waiting for the other one to volunteer first’

      And there’s also the feeling you get when someone behaving badly drops themselves right in it. They worked hard for it, they richly deserve it, and now they can wear it. (‘Schadenfreude’ isn’t the right word since it, by definition, doesn’t include the ‘richly deserved’ implication).


        1. That’s the French term. The German version is Treppenwitz, which translates as “stairway witch” (the translation of the French is “spirit of the staircase”).

          Both refer to the notion of being at a party and having an opportunity to make a devastatingly witty verbal riposte, but you don’t think of the right thing to say until you’re leaving the party and you’re going downstairs from the ballroom to the exit.

          English is more nuanced than a lot of people give it credit for, largely because it’s absorbed so much from other languages. It’s one of the few benefits if British colonialism.

            1. I suspect that “witz” is actually a Germaized form of the English word; it’s neuter gender, which is the case with most German loan words.

  9. I had to look it up years back because I though it was a reference to using ratios to explain relationships between terms. Ignorant silly scientist, words are for liberal-arts majors. Or rather made up longer terms that are used in place of shorter terms that are more likely to communicate. (“Never use a five dollar word when a two bit word will do.” Hemingway)

    1. As I recall, I’ve got a couple words worth a fin in my notebook from Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. Of course, that one was published posthumously, so maybe Papa woulda dumped ’em had he still been around for final edit.

  10. I like “crepuscular” as it describes cat behavior and seems unlikely as the word describing animals that are most active in the twilight times of dawn and dusk.

    1. I tend to confuse that with ‘crepitate’ which has a different meaning entirely


  11. I’m currently using “trumpery” meaning:

    The English word “trumpery,” which derives from a French word meaning “to deceive,” is defined in the dictionary as “showy but worthless.”

  12. Instead of: ‘Definition…Theorem…Proof…’,
    why don’t mathematicians use: ‘Definition…Theorem…Ratiocination…’?

    I thought professors were supposed to snow the common folk with big bad words!

    And instead of ‘Theorem’ or ‘Proposition’ or ‘Lemma’, surely ‘Scholium’ sounds more mysterious and impressive. See, e.g., p. 26 of Irving Segal’s “Mathematical Cosmology and Extragalactic Astronomy”.

    Segal had done some great stuff e.g. to do with C*-algebras re quantum theory. But that book got it’s thesis wrong. Back in the ’70’s, some famous astrophysicists didn’t seem to find it easy to see the mistake. But Jim Peebles did, a Canadian guy, then terrific Princeton prof in the field, who also had a lot to do with microwave background/red shift from the ’60’s onward.See p. 89 of Peebles’ “Principles of Physical Cosmology”.

    1. The Penzias and Wilson ate his lunch. 😉

      Speaking of words, I love the description in their paper of the ‘white dielectric material’ which contaminated their antenna. Which was pigeon sh*t.


        1. Penzias etc were ten or more years BEFORE Segal, who didn’t dispute the observation of the red shift or microwave background. Segal had his explanation of those observations. But his statistical analysis was mistaken, according to Peebles etc. And so I think that book of Segal’s, modified by fixing that stats error, would then show, combined with observations of course, that the universe was definitely NOT what the book intended to show.

          1. I was referring to Peebles, who, along with Dicke, predicted the 3K background radiation and were preparing to search for it when Penzias & Wilson found it from the other direction, so to speak.

            (At least that’s my recollection from reading accounts of it, I could be wrong on the details.)

            On reflection, ‘ate his lunch’ was probably an unkind way to put it and maybe inaccurate.


    2. “Scholium” means a commentary on the theorem, so in a way to me it sounds *less* sophisticated. (But then again, folks like Newton wrote their own scholia.)

      What is confusing to me is what counts as a lemma and what gets to be a theorem. The difference seems purely aesthetic.

      1. I hadn’t (and haven’t) looked up in a ‘proper’ place how “scholium” is usually used–it’s not used often in math, anyway. But you’re likely correct.

        However, Segal, in that chapter I referred to, has in the usual boldface way not theorems, but scholiums (should be scholia I suppose for us Latin snobs, formally numbered 2.1 to 2.13. And about 10 of the 13 are followed by text formally and in boldface labelled “Proof”. So my only example, probably just his peculiarity after hearing from you, gives every impression of simply substituting that word in place of our usual “Theorem”.

        “Lemma” I think of as more technical and not a result so interesting in isolation. But again that’s just me (or was when I was writing for journals). But your comment on that, or at least which one to use, is a common refrain.

  13. I highly recommend the Logodaedalian’s Dictionary of Interesting and Unusual Words by Mr. George Stone Saussy .

    1. I will add to that Mrs. Byrne’s Dictionary of Unusual, Obscure and Preposterous Words by Josefa Heifetz Byrne.

      My favorite from that book is “qualtaigh” (pronounced “kwal – tock”), which is a loan word from Manx Gaelic. A qualtaigh is the first living thing you see in the morning*. The first time the woman I married stayed the night with me, I said, “Good morning, my qualtaigh.” when we woke. When I explained what it meant, it ended up with us not getting out of bed for a while.

      *Some interpretations say it’s the first living thing you see after leaving your house.

      1. I think that’s the dictionary that lists the word “hoggerel” — poetry worse than doggerel.

  14. I’d like to add “tintinnabulation,” which just popped into my memory.

    Edgar Allan Poe is said to have coined it for his poem “The Bells,” which explains its presence there.

    And “pellucid”, whose spelling and sound perfectly define it — one of my favorite English words, along with “transience” and its variations.

    1. ‘Tintintabulation’ would be in a (translated) Belgian comic book, were it an actual word. Tintin needed no damn calculator.

  15. Yeah, the Hitch was a fine one for breaking out recherché vocabulary.

    I’ve been keeping notebooks of exotic words since my college days (or at least of words that struck me as exotic when I first came across them). But when Hitch was writing his regular column in The Atlantic‘s book section — columns that would usually burgeon into discursive essays merely triggered by the book(s) he was ostensibly reviewing — he would frequently send me scrambling for my dictionary, sometimes repeatedly in a single column, to look up exotics I’d never come across before, but which he would lay effortlessly in his prose.

  16. Kangaroos are crepuscular which makes driving in the countryside in the evening rather hazardous (both for the ‘roo and the driver).

  17. I like copacetic because you can put dude both after the word itself and after its definition. You can put dude everywhere.

    Copacetic dude.

    ADJECTIVE dude
    North American dude
    informal dude

    In excellent order dude.‘he said to tell you everything is copacetic’ dude.

  18. Pedagogy – the practice of teaching. I see it all the time at work (I work in local government). It supposedly comes from the Greek “to lead a child” from the time when slaves led the master’s son to school.

    It has the same root as pedant, which originally just meant teacher.

    1. I first came across zut alors as the title of a Zappa album — although, Frank being Frank, he spelled it “Zoot Allures.” 🙂

  19. Some of the words sprinkled through Lolita. While not all blue, for the sake of the kids out there I’ll leave them undefined:
    Callpygean, Ensellure, Nates, Olisbs, Undinist.

    1. But you need a chamberpotful of slops to hurl out the window when you yell “Gardyloo!”

  20. idempotence: the property of certain operations in mathematics and computer science that they can be applied multiple times without changing the result beyond the initial application.

      1. I’ll admit that it’s a stretch, but next time you order something online and it says “Processing your credit card. Please don’t hit refresh to avoid charging your card multiple times.”, you can blame the website for its lack of idempotence.

    1. Oh, I thought it was an even more intractable form of impotence. That reminds me of Southerners who elide the “r” and when they pronounce “important” it becomes “impotent.”

  21. As a high schooler and college student, I used to keep a file of new words when I came across them so that I could review and incorporate them in my own writing. I thought I was pretty good until running into Sam Harris who still knocks me for a loop sometimes. Jerry does too, on occasion.

    I’ll give just one word: coprophagic. I think it’s a fun (and somewhat sophomoric) insult to toss at someone, especially a politician. Though most people won’t know the word unless they’re a biologist.

    1. Or ‘coprophilic’ ?

      Both have about equally pejorative scatological implications. 😉


    1. Me, too — and it would be interesting to speculate about it. Just off the top of my head I think of the primacy of advertising culture, an obsession with efficiency, the need to be separate “in the know” groups from others (and make sure you’re in the former), a way to offset criticism by forming euphemisms, and a way to circumvent poor spelling. Before going any further, we should come up with a good acronym for a group to study the causes of American acronymphilia.

    2. Most people confuse acronyms and initialisms. Acronyms are sets of initials that also form words or are pronouncable as words; initialisms are just that – sets of initials. There is also a hybrid category called backronyms, which are initialisms that start with a word or phrase and have the associated phrase contrived to fit. Many acronyms are actually initialisms that can be pronounced as words according to the rules of the language but do not have meanings as words.

      An example of the first category are SCOTUS, NATO, NASA and CINCUS (all government creations), NASDAQ, FORTRAN, COBOL. Radar, sonar, laser and scuba are acronyms that have become parts of the regular vocabulary.

      Initialisms do not form pronouncable words, like FBI, WTO; computer terminology is full of initialisms: CRT, HTML, APL.

      Backronyms start with a word and have a phrase engineered to match. This is a frequent source of names for laws that would otherwise be unpopular. Tht USA PATRIOT Act, for example, is the “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001”. A more appropriate example is Trump’s “United States Fair and Reciprocal Tariff Act”, or US FART Act.

      Initialisms abount on the internet, where they are often used pretentiously and when people ask what they mean the questioners are ridiculed and mocked for their ignorance. These are known as IIIIs (Inane and Idiosyncratic Internet Initialisms).

      ASAP is more of an acronym than an initialsm; AKA less so because it is usually easier to spell it out rather than say it as a word; this is a general litmus test to sort the former from the latter, KWIM?

        1. “Know What I Mean” – see how frustrating that can be? For me, except for some of the oldest and most ubiquitous internet initialisms*, it takes me longer to work out what the initials to a phrase are than it it to type the whole thing.

          LOL, ROFL, & LMAO to name three – but I seldom, if ever, use them.

          1. I generally agree, but I like ROTFL.

            Also the adjective-comparative-superlative trio of SNAFU, FUBAR and FUBB.
            (*ed Up Beyond All Recognition, and *ed Up Beyond Belief)


            1. SNAFU’s the best, the normality of the fucked up situation.
              My iPad’s keyboard is playing siiilly buggers- it keeps stuttering…😖

    3. They (Americans) especially love to use TLAs for the names of organisations.

      (Three Letter Acronym, of course, it’s autological)

      (Admission: I had to look up autological)

    4. Acronyms and initialisms are faster, usually. However, Stephen Fry pointed out that one of the most common initialisms now in use, ‘WWW’ for ‘World Wide Web’ may be easier to type, but to say it in English takes 3 times as many syllables as the phrase it supposedly shortens!

  22. Note that ratiocination has a different, negative, connotation in French: the reasoning is both unnecessarily subtle and annoyingly pedantic; and usually done in bad faith as well.

    I’m surprised to see that has not crossed over to English.

    Hitchens having been very world-wise, he may have used the word with its original connotation, which can drastically change the intent of any phrase in which it appears. You’d have to hunt down the quotes to be sure…

    1. I also associate it with negative connotations, especially as in rationalizing objectionable conclusions or enterprises. Maybe I was just outright confusing it with “rationalizing.”

      1. Maybe it’s one of those things that can go both ways (a bisexual word?) like English sanction, which can mean either a prohibition or a permission.

        1. I would expect that, but English dictionaries only give the neutral usage, and French ones only the derogative usage.

          Not so much bisexual as 100% straight or gay depending on which side of the channel it happens to be used on. Kinky.

    2. Interesting. When I first read the OP it jogged a memory of CH using the word during a speech / debate and my vague memory was that his usage was not complimentary. But I could be mis-remembering. I’ll have to try and find that video.

      1. That’s my impression of ‘ratiocination’ too – that it’s uncomplimentary. ‘Making up justifications’ sort of thing. Probably stems from the context in which I first read it, whatever that was.


  23. I just learnt Jizz on Friday – used when describing an insect or perhaps another animal –
    either from –
    general impression of size & shape
    or –
    it ‘Just is’!

  24. How about the flip side of this, where you discover there’s a word that perfectly fills a hole in your vocabulary? A name for a concept you have been aware of but didn’t have a convenient way to put into words?

    I found one of these a few months ago with the word “proprioception”, which is your sense of the relative position of your body parts.

  25. I stumbled on the above video while looking up Craig Brown, who wrote the wonderful 20015 intro to Kingsley Amis’ 1973 novel, Ending Up. Turns out Brown is the uncle-by-marriage to Florence of Florence and the Machine, and I was led to this great duet with Mick of Gimme Shelter, FYI🤓. Reminded me of the labyrinths encountered while looking up words.

    1. By coincidence, I have also only just finished reading Middlemarch. I missed ‘nullifidian’, but I did notice her using ‘trumpery’, also mentioend above.

  26. I have just been given an appropriate (for many readers, in much of the USA and UK, anyway) Word of the Day by the Oxford English Dictionary:

    mafted: oppressed or stifled, esp. by the heat; exhausted from heat, crowds, or exertion.

    Largely a Yorkshire word. “It’s that warm in here, I’m fair mafted.”

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