Favorite words

Many times I’ve posted about “words and phrases I hate,” but now let’s walk on the sunnier side and list the words we like (phrases would be too onerous). I was inspired by the tweet below that Matthew sent me from Jonathan Eisen, evolutionary biologist and brother of Wormageddon instigator Michael Eisen:

These words seem to be chosen because of their sounds, which, I suppose, is the best criterion for having a favorite word. Mine, however are a mixture of sound and meaning. And I don’t have a list, so I’ll just put a few down off the top of my head:

ratiocination (learned from Hitchens)
rodomontade
particolored
uxorious (learned on my own, but Hitchens used it often)
jeremiad
subfusc
exiguous
usufructs
unctuous
argot
gamine
noisome
farrago
arrant
sedulous
lubricious

That’s a good selection. Your turn (put one or more of your favorites below).

287 thoughts on “Favorite words

  1. unctuous
    hallelujah
    evolution
    happenstance
    straphanger
    accommodate
    malleable
    poltroon
    aggrandizement
    bioluminescent
    lubrication (first polysyllabic word I was able to sound out when learning to read–it was on a service station)

      1. On radioopensource.org/hitchens-v-god Hitch was going back and forth with Princeton professor Eddie Glaude. He critiqued Glaude’s logorrhea as “white noise . . . Not a single thing you just said made a word of sense to me . . . I make my living analyzing(?) words.” He pointedly reflected on Glaude’s “unctuous tone.”

        1. Nice

          I remember it vaguely from a debate ( of course) but perhaps with Francis Collins?!? Can’t recall… I seem to recall he said “people dying of their teeth”..

    1. “poltroon”

      I have a paperback history of Washington I read once in the late 70’s. He referred to someone as “a damn poltroon.” Funny what one can’t forget from a book.

        1. “I don’t think Dr Spooner would approve: more likely a drum roll.”

          Would you rather have a well-oiled bicycle or a well-boiled icicle?

          1. I suppose that, theoretically, a well-boiled icicle could exist, but only if there were absolutely no air pressure. If there were actually a choice between the two, therefore, both would have to be at zero air pressure. But with no air pressure around, a well-oiled bicycle would have blown-out tires and so would be useless. The boiled icicle would still be useful in all the ways that an unboiled icicle is, e.g. stab your foe in the heart, return him to normal pressure, and no murder weapon can be found. Whereas, its much more difficult to stab with a bicycle, especially when it’s so slippery with all the oil.

  2. Mine all seem to have an Ancient language structure:

    Potentate
    Avuncular
    Pugnacious
    Loquacious
    Risible

  3. Hooray! Been looking forward to this one!…. (still looking forward to more WIH … is that an acronym yet?)…

    BYW Sullivan’s dish is out – excellent writing.

      1. “Zzyzx.”

        Does that have a certain meaning or provenance? When I was in the USN, in 1983 in Olongopo City in the Philippines, I saw a most excellent all-female pop/rock vocal quartet (three Filipinas and one Aussie who was fluent in Tagalog), with a five-piece band, named “Zzyzx.” (I was sufficiently smitten to persist in acquiring
        a video of them and to remember their names – Anna, Pat, Max and Lie). I should have asked them what “Zzyzx” means. I wonder how life is for them now.)

        1. According to Wikipedia:

          The name appeared as “Zzyzx Springs” in Dmitri Borgmann’s 1967 book Beyond Language.

          I always remember the “Zzyzx Road” exit sign pictured on the Wikipedia page from when I was a child on family trips passing through the desert on I-15.

  4. Great words!

    avuncular
    ludic (just learned it)
    halcyon

    i’m sure I have many more but gotta get a “word” in edgewise before you are inundated!

  5. For years, my favorite word has been “antimacassar.” I like it because it’s such a formidable-looking and -sounding word for what it defines.

  6. tintinnabulation
    unctuous
    edgewise (h/t uommibatto)
    multiverse
    aboutness
    gaslight

    I’m sure there are a lot more but I lack a quick way to access them.

    1. You beat me to it with discombobulated.
      I think my mother coined the word gooferfeathers for burrs that stick to dogs.

      1. “Cattywompus.”

        My mother used to refer to my brother and me as “Wampus Pig” and “Wampus Cat.” I don’t recall which was which.

    1. Oh I like defenestration….one that’s tricky for English speakers but probably easy for German and French speakers.

      1. I love that word!

        But now that I think of it, shouldn’t there be a verb for removing a window? You can rehang a window, replace a window, upgrade a window, but only after removing the one that’s already there.

        1. And along the same lines of thought if defenestration also means to kick someone out of power, I think if you change your mind it could be refenestration.

  7. One of the most important and possibly fascinating words for a reader of history is – sovereignty.

    It has been the struggle since the beginning and not so easy to spell either.

  8. I’m partial to “equinox” and “quixotic,” because they are the only words I know in the English language that have both a Q and an X.

  9. Ever since reading Sir Thomas Urquhart’s translation of Rabelais I have been very fond of “Metagrobolize.”

    Sample sentence:
    “I find my brains altogether metagrabolized and confounded, and my spirits in a most duncical puzzle at the bitter talk of this devilish, hellish, damned fool.”

    1. For more of Sir Thomas’s translation magic and way with bizarre words, here is a sentence from chapter XXV of Gargantua and Pantagruel, book one:

      “The bun-sellers or cake-makers were in nothing inclinable to their request; but, which was worse, did injure them most outrageously, calling them prattling gabblers, lickorous gluttons, freckled bittors, mangy rascals, shite-a-bed scoundrels, drunken roysters, sly knaves, drowsy loiterers, slapsauce fellows, slabberdegullion druggels, lubberly louts, cozening foxes, ruffian rogues, paltry customers, sycophant-varlets, drawlatch hoydens, flouting milksops, jeering companions, staring clowns, forlorn snakes, ninny lobcocks, scurvy sneaksbies, fondling fops, base loons, saucy coxcombs, idle lusks, scoffing braggarts, noddy meacocks, blockish grutnols, doddipol-joltheads, jobbernol goosecaps, foolish loggerheads, flutch calf-lollies, grouthead gnat-snappers, lob-dotterels, gaping changelings, codshead loobies, woodcock slangams, ninny-hammer flycatchers, noddypeak simpletons, turdy gut, shitten shepherds, and other suchlike defamatory epithets”.

  10. recrudescence (leared from Hitchens)
    recalcitrant (Cormac McCarthy)
    buggered (Hugh Grant)
    obsequious (religion/dogs)
    cipher (math, but applies to humans too)
    idempotent (quantum mechanics)
    proffer (Hitchens/WEIT)
    prating knave (you know who)
    firmament (Hamlet/McCarthy)

    Words are easier to remember when you remember where you get them from

  11. I can’t recall if any of these words were on my SATS, but I’m guessing not many. Otherwise, I would have been in big trouble.😊

  12. widdershins, does it mean:

    (a) something made out of (goat) horn
    (b) shinbone protection
    (c) counterclock-wise

    It comes from Middle Low German weddersinne, and that’s close to the german “widersinnig” — literally “against one’s senses”, i.e. irrational. English meaning is counter-clock-wise.

    Three more:

    snowclone
    anodyne
    diatribe

      1. regarding ‘lugubrious’, it is used in our household to describe desserts with far too much cream and sugar. Yes, I know that’s not it’s actual meaning, but….
        I don’t know where this will be posted given the current WordPress peculiarity (not a bad word in itself:

    1. I was going to write “fuck” as well. I love swearing in Germanic languages. A lot to do with pooping too.

      1. So happy to get a response Diana.
        You are a contributor to this website, if I’m not mistaken. Is that right?
        Anyway, I just love the word “fuck.” It’s such a versatile word.

    1. That was my favourite until my mid-teens when I discovered deoppilation and floccinaucinihilipilification, not that they are much use.

      On the other hand, for playing hangman, phlox was a sure fire winner.

  13. duende
    defeasible
    boffin
    artificer
    troilism
    fabula and syuzhet
    ablate
    hypodescent
    rubicund
    rebarbative
    asperity
    involute
    malversation
    sunder
    proleptic
    immiserate
    catafalque
    apodictic
    lachrymal
    execrate
    plutophagy
    fissiparous
    hysteresis
    propitiate
    apotropaic
    barratry
    premonitory
    mononymous
    nescience
    palter
    connoissance
    theophanous
    supererogatory
    patinate

  14. Pyrrhic as in pyrrhic victory which sadly I’ve used twice this week to describe encounters and outcomes.

  15. Person
    Woman
    Man
    Camera
    TV

    Oh wait, that’s a different list.

    I
    You
    The
    Thing
    Is

    What would we do without them?

    I kid. As others have mentioned, it’s hard to come up with favourite words until one happens to encounter them. But among the ones that others have presented, I’m particularly partial to “quixotic” and “avuncular” for some reason.

    I am familiar with all of Eisen’s words (presumably “hers” isn’t one of his favourites as he hasn’t spelled it properly), but as for our host’s—-yikes I thought I had a good vocabulary but I need a dictionary.

    For a future post, I suggest words you can never remember the meaning of. Two of mine are “shibboleth” and “palimpsest”, although I may be finally coming to grips with them.

    1. Ha ha I’ve been arguing for years that doctors and others in the medical vocations use Greek and Latin to sound important and separate themselves as educated from their patients. My favourite examples are the podiatrist calling my condition “pes planus” for “flat feet” and my dentist calling my mouth guard a “bruxism device”. In retaliation I call my podiatrist “my foot doctor” and my dentist “my tooth guy”. 😀

        1. Oh yes the word oophorectomy is a favourite because when your ovaries are removed it’s like someone punched you and you went “ooph”. Nephrology is good too because I think of Nefertiti.

      1. I was really disappointed when I learned French, because it turned out that “grand mal” seizure and “Petit mal” seizure mean “really bad” and “kind of bad.”

        It’s no wonder French people are so cranky.

      1. Reminds me of a mildly dirty joke told by a calculus professor I had who was teaching calculus for engineers. I won’t tell the joke, but you can already tell what it would be, I’m sure.

    1. One of my favourites though I didn’t remember to list it. I also like seraglio, imbroglio, fracas, and ennui, even though these are non-English words.

        1. Also ettui. I love cyan, cinnabar, vermilion, chartreuse, celadon, malachite, and rosewood. I just like how certain words sound and slip off the tongue. Like chimichurri and chimichanga!

  16. sanction — because of its seemingly contradictory meanings

    antidisestablishmentarianism – because I learned to spell it as a first grader, and because it aligns with my position on the state support of the church (ha!)

    verisimilitude — just because

      1. As is in today’s usage the word “nonplussed,” which can mean both nonplussed and, well, plussed, I guess.

        As in either upset or nonchalant/unbothered.

          1. “nonplussed and, well, plussed . . . .”

            I’m reminded that I need to learn when to use “uncanny,” and when to use “canny.”

              1. “Infamy! Infamy! They’ve all got it in for me!”

                If something can catch fire, is it “flammable” or “inflammable”?

                That double-edged prefix “in-” is a pesky (“peckish”?) thing.

              2. This reminds me of one of my favorites used when teaching immunology – anamnestic. The root refers to memory; put an a in front [amnesia] and you have forgetting; put an an in front and you have not forgetting, or memory!

              3. “Like ravel and unravel meaning the same thing.”

                I’m reminded of sanctions “for” and “against.”

  17. What I could think of off the top of my head, having never really thought about favorite words. I mean, in one sense I’d have to include f!@# in any favorites list, but . . .

    mundify
    frabjous
    codswallop
    mellifluous
    unctuous
    loquacious
    pulchrify
    mistral
    islet
    dongle

    1. Ha ha. I used the word “dongle” in IT at work one day and some people laughed at the word. They didn’t have an IT background and had just joined so I think that’s why as I’ve been saying “dongle” since the 90s when I started working. I asked around and everyone else knew what it was. I do like saying it too as it sounds like it is a bit salacious.

      1. Exactly! It’s fun to say and sort of makes me giggle or at least smile, in my head at least.

      2. Dongle was used in IT even before the 90s. It was around when I entered the field professionally in 1974. Dongles were part of a copy protection scheme. A dongle would be attached to an I/O port. When the software product ran, it first read data from the port. If it didn’t read some magic number, or failed to find the device at all, it refused to run or ran only in “demo mode”. Customers could install the software for free but they had to pay for the dongle that would allow it to run.

        1. Yes I’m aware the terminology has a long history but I didn’t start working until the 90s.

      3. dingle, dangle, jingle jangle. Dingleberry.

        Shuboshuate. As in, he couldn’t get inside quickly enough. He had to shuboshuate outside on the ground.

  18. The perfect embodiment of a rarely achieveable state, and then only transiently so:

    pellucid.

  19. ambivalence, as in:

    Does ambivalence
    Make much sense?
    I don’t know or much care,
    Anytime or anywhere
    So I’ll just sit on the fence!

    skeptic, as in:

    Every scientist is a skeptic;
    Against Faith it’s an antiseptic.
    And if you believe this,
    Then I must insist,
    You’re not being scientific!

    1. Jeopardize! I can imagine the word lounging on a jungle branch flicking its tail.
      Acquiesce! Even sounds like water.
      And ‘soliloquy’. My wife was grumbling once about what a bunch of ingrates we are, and I murmured to my eldest that mum could just say ‘monologue #3’ and save time. Marisa paused and said thoughtfully that ‘it’s more of a soliloquy really, as nobody’s listening’. A nice word.
      I emailed Scott Adams with that gag as I thought it would go nicely in a Dilbert cartoon, but alas he never used it.

  20. sommelier
    portmanteau
    reconnoitre
    ambrosia
    limn
    cephalopelvic disproportion (phrase)
    contour
    curvaceous
    concur
    gleam
    gloaming
    iridescent
    verdant
    sequester
    cloistered
    hunger
    elucidate
    sandwich
    linguine
    languid
    bisque
    rosebud
    risible
    soiree
    splendour
    splendiferous
    serendipity
    sanctimonious
    succulent
    unctuous
    wily
    unremarkable (when used by doctors)
    (the one that always makes me giggle is ‘Bespoke’)
    hippopotamus
    mulled
    incurious
    fatuous
    provenance
    folly
    finagle
    parsimonious
    persimmons
    flummox

    1. Due to my blue collar origins, I only learned what a sommelier was a couple years ago.

    1. There’s an apocryphal story that when Pepsi began selling its product in Thailand in the 70s, the slogan “Come alive, you’re in the Pepsi generation” was mistakenly translated as “Pepsi makes your ancestors return from the dead.”

      I read the story in a copy of the The Old Farmer’s Almanac when I was a kid and I’ve never forgotten it. Snopes couldn’t verify the story, but I want it to be true!

      https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/come-alive/

      1. I’d buy Pepsi if I saw an ad like that and I hate Pepsi. I’d sim to build a huge ancestor army.

    2. And the one guy said he was angry because using Maori word was cu,turns, appropriation and you shouldn’t just use someone else’s language. Good grief. I had a dog called Kuri when I was a kid. Kuri is Maori for dog. No Maori I to,d about it ever told me I culturally appropriated them. Besides, I’d just say I meant to call my place “pubic hair” so there!

      1. I meant “cultural” you’ll see where. It was because of the so many languages in English. I subconsciously couldn’t appropriate anymore.

        1. We had a previous cat called ‘Neko-san’ (Mr Cat in Japanese), and none of our Japanese friends found that inappropriate. Our now senior cat is called ‘Xhimi’ which is Tibetan for cat, and again no problems, although I know only two Tibetans, and one of them gave me the word.

      2. Good grief – the whole success of English is down to its ability to assimilate foreign words. And without the Latin and Germanic influences it would barely exist at all…!

  21. Sound: mellifluous
    Meaning: expatiate
    On Jerry’s list, too: exiguous
    Snark: ex-president Trump
    Personal reasons too hard to explain: lieu

      1. “Gubernatorial is also a favourite.

        That is a good one.”

        For some states it may be “Goobernatorial.”

  22. Take your lists and scramble the words to make fantastic band names:

    Unctuous Munch
    Phalanges of the Crestfallen
    The Lugubrious Boffins
    A Cacophony of Troubadours

    1. LOL.

      If only Jethro Tull had been named Unctuous Munch, Ian Anderson could have had a field day.

  23. Glad to see subfusc on your list! I thought I was the only one.

    Also,:
    -galore
    -syzygy (good hangman word)

  24. I prefer orthogonal to perpendicular. You can end an argument simply by saying something like “My views are orthogonal to yours.” They say “Huh?” and go away.

    1. “What are you doing using your big school words? Just use normal people words and I’ll understand what you’re talking about.” – Ricky

  25. Well, darwinwins, so far you have only half-disappointed me–whereas all the rest have whole-disappointed me. At least you got covfefe right–but you did not list the word that has become the most important word in my vocabulary, and which should be the most important for everyone: bigly.

  26. Chocolate.

    It rolls over the tongue.

    [No, really, all my favorites were taken. Can maybe add “mollusk” since it sounds funny with Swedish as mother tongue. Like chocolate taste, no real reason, it just works out that way.]

  27. Oh, seeing the lede, I should likely add this:

    NASA to Reexamine Nicknames for Cosmic Objects

    Distant cosmic objects such as planets, galaxies, and nebulae are sometimes referred to by the scientific community with unofficial nicknames. As the scientific community works to identify and address systemic discrimination and inequality in all aspects of the field, it has become clear that certain cosmic nicknames are not only insensitive, but can be actively harmful. NASA is examining its use of unofficial terminology for cosmic objects as part of its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

    As an initial step, NASA will no longer refer to planetary nebula NGC 2392, the glowing remains of a Sun-like star that is blowing off its outer layers at the end of its life, as the “Eskimo Nebula.” “Eskimo” is widely viewed as a colonial term with a racist history, imposed on the indigenous people of Arctic regions. Most official documents have moved away from its use. NASA will also no longer use the term “Siamese Twins Galaxy” to refer to NGC 4567 and NGC 4568, a pair of spiral galaxies found in the Virgo Galaxy Cluster. Moving forward, NASA will use only the official, International Astronomical Union designations in cases where nicknames are inappropriate.

    [ https://www.nasa.gov/feature/nasa-to-reexamine-nicknames-for-cosmic-objects/ ]

    The Universe is Woke.

  28. Wow! Look at all those favorite words!
    A great question.
    I have one word to add: Hammurabi

    As in the code of Hammurabi. He was the king who implemented the early legal system. A first of an important aspect of civilization. Nice word.

  29. Quodlibet. It describes this comment thread perfectly.

    Underpants. Are they pants that go under something or they an adjective turned into a noun? When you wear both underpants and pants, do you have underpants under pants or are you really wearing under-underpants?

    Perspicacious. Is that stinky thinking?

    Poultry

    Bungle

    Covert

    Crepuscule / Crepuscular

    penal substitution — I don’t believe in it, and I enjoy saying that Christians do.

    … and all of the 7 words you can’t say on television.

    1. I hope the underpants(or pants, as the Brits call them) dilemma doesn’t keep you up at night.🤓I was helping my 4-yr.-old granddaughter change out of her bathing suit recently and asked her if she needed help with her underpants. She kinda humphed and said “I call them uNderwear or just undies.”
      Then, after successfully dealing with her undies, she proceeded to put both legs through the same leg of the stretchy shorts attached to her skirt, and was happy to leave them like that.

        1. I’ve heard the shorts inside a skirt called “skorts” – it might be a British thing, although I don’t think so.

  30. adamantine – favorite word by far because it is so mellifluous to hear, your cheeks and lips pull back when saying it, causing you to smile, and the mental image that it provokes elicits a feeling of timeless strength

    flocculent – one sees a flock of sheep when enunciating it: very apropos

    pluripotent – saying is playing, and it conjures a fun mental image

    just fun to say:
    falafel
    subtle
    luscious

  31. I see that syzygy was claimed quite early on, so I’ll have to offer instead, on an astronomical or mathematical theme:

    almucantar
    loxodrome
    herpolhode

    1. I took a guess at meanings before looking them up:

      almucantar – A song begging for alms.
      loxodrome – Where liquid oxygen is loaded.
      herpolhode – A harness for snakes and lizards.

      I was incorrect.

  32. Sad… too many Greek & Latin words in most replies! Call me a nativist but I like my tongue for its Germanic roots – nice consonant clusters…

    Rawish
    Damp
    Clumsy
    Winter
    Drizzling
    Sleet
    Chilleth
    Wan
    Bleak
    Numbed
    Earth

    That string of words comes from an Elizabethan play…

    1. No surprise that on a beautiful sunny day you went with “winter”, “sleet”, “drizzling” etc. Dom!

    2. This reminds me of an amusing FB post where the other complained about using “you” as a singular pronoun instead of “thou” which resulted in someone using Shakespearan English to complain that the original poster did not use pure enough English which was followed by a Middle English scolding thus:


      stynt dy clappe! beod do writerris be wetleas knafen. dy langag o engelond diffoulended be, ille usenid scalaundrous novelri.

      I especially enjoyed “stynt dy clappe!” since it recalls the German “halt die klappe!”

  33. I have my dictionary out which I’ll have tombs for some of the words here. Adding (or repeating) –

    picaresque
    onomatopoeia
    steatopygous
    lucifer (old word for a match)
    luminescence
    luciferin
    osculate
    illuminate
    cassoulet
    bonobo
    neandertal
    atheist
    liberty
    equality
    humane

  34. Paradiddle
    Salacious
    Axolotl
    Iconoclast
    Fallacy (not to be confused with phallusy – resembling a phallus 🙂
    Trumpicide (well, a boy can dream, can’t he?)

    1. There is even a paradiddle-diddle. Which can be played normal hand first, or the other way round, a – dare I say it? – a widdershins paradiddle-diddle.

      1. Widdershins Paradiddle-diddle sounds like a racehorse or the pedigree name of a dog at Crufts.

    2. I once was in a meeting where someone said “that’s fallacious” and another person in the meeting giggled, thinking it was to do with penises.

  35. Some of my favorites:
    onomatopoeia
    vituperate
    anathema
    facetiously (partly because it has every normal vowel in order)
    indeed

  36. Coming late to the game, but I used three of my favorites at the beginning of this poem:

    Ars Poetica

    Ambiance, feckless, ineluctable:
    sometimes you think it would all be clear
    if you merely increased your vocabulary,
    learning words that line up possibilities
    like birds on a wire, or clothespins.

    The real trick is to let the whole
    menagerie of undone acts leap toward you
    so that your surprise is not an act—or,
    if an act, an act of recognition you’ve
    been saving expressly for strangers.

    Commas, quarter-moons, kindnesses:
    those metal humps on bridges that the car
    goes over and you know there is no
    cause for alarm. You gather them in
    with, almost, love. They take you home.

  37. I am fond of covfefe. I use it in the same context I once used kerfuffle, though I occasionally revert….

  38. Then there are some regular words that are indispensable, such as:
    guttural, heinous, vanishingly, commiserate, curmudgeon, brain-fart, flimflam, kasbah, shenanigans, carpet-bagger, miserly, penny-farthing, dither, hovel, unmoored, dappled (shade), and other favourites – terse, babbling (brook), flummoxed, brevity, concatenate, contiguous, simplify, cuckolded, duplicitous, bamboozled, egalitarianism, and equanimity, resplendent, transcendence, subsume and sublime.

      1. I too love dastardly. Also aplomb, diaphanous, pollywog, polyglot, hunky-dory, scallawag, whorehouse, floozy, crapshoot, fogey and others I fleetingly recall and then forget. :). My OCD is shining through here.

  39. B: What was the name of that one woman who was talking to you at the party last night?

    C: Which, the oleaginous one or the one who was unctious?

    B: the former

    C: she’s polyunsaturated

  40. TEN FAVORITE WORDS

    pulchritude
    rigamarole
    cantankerous
    armamentarium
    razzmatazz
    momentum
    contumacious
    discombobulated
    legerdemain
    onerous

  41. My favorites are words that describe my cats:

    – Crepuscular (you already used that)
    – Inquisitive
    – Exquisite
    – Fascinating
    = Variegated (I have calicoes and torties)
    – Enigmatic
    – Sphinxlike
    – Gracile

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