And now for something completely different…

lexicographer-alphabet_soup… we turn to the blog of the OED.

If you don’t know what the OED is… well… look it up.

The lexicographers were asked about their favourite words.  Some of them are humdingers… which is itself a good candidate for a favourite word.

To advance the protreptic character of many of my posts, here is a mere sampling:

‘Well, I currently like quagmire, because of my favourite Family Guy character; also whopper, the name of a fondly-remembered family cat (RIP).’

A favourite word of mine is geoduck, because the pronunciation is at such variance with the spelling and consequently demonstrates the basic flaw in syllabification (the division of spellings into syllables).’

‘When asked I say discombobulate, but it’s not necessarily true.’

Inflammable is the first word I remember asking “why” about as a child: why does it mean the same as flammable, when you’d expect it to mean the opposite?’

‘As a non-English speaker, I find awesome an awesome word. I don’t have in my mother tongue a direct translation – impresonante is the closest translation, but it is not exactly the same.’

Bollocks is a word with a glorious ring to it, which can be incredibly comforting to use in stressful situations; it also has a wonderful versatility: able to mean anything from the very best (“the dog’s bollocks”) to the very worst (“complete, total and utter bollocks”). Given its somewhat risqué literal meaning, it carries with it a cheekily subversive charm: able to shock, but not too much (usually!).’

‘I don’t have a favourite, of course, but I usually come up with something when asked, as it seems poor form not to do so. The one I usually go for is sooterkin – mainly because of sense 2a of the word as given in the OED, which is fantastically ridiculous. I especially like the fact that, according to the etymology, there is no similar term in Dutch. We apparently felt the need to come up with a word for this.’

‘My favourite word in English is numpty, [good one!] because it somehow conveys exactly what it is. I first heard it when I moved up to Scotland over twenty years ago; now it seems to be fairly widespread in English English, too. In French, my favourite is frimousse, which has no real equivalent in English, but means something like “sweet wee face”.’

‘I’ve had terrible trouble trying to decide what my favourite word is this week.  In the end, I’ve gone for stravaig. I like the sound of it and the idea it captures of wandering around without purpose but with enjoyment. ’

Fun word words!  And, yes, maybe I am a psilological doryphore after all.  Or would it be psilosophical?  Or even psilosophistical?

Shakespeare put it well, if wordily… “Words, words, words”.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Lighter fare and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. HyacinthClare says:

    Oh, this is fun! Mine is fissiparous. [Excellent word.] After decades of not running into a word I didn’t know, there it was. It has had a warm spot in my heart ever since. I notice that spellcheck doesn’t know it either… another minor victory today!

  2. Poor Yorek says:


    It is its own antonym.

    [YES! Good one.]

  3. Nan says:

    Last night I looked up several words from prayers as a guy with some impediment was asking during a prayer group. Ineffable was one he didn’t know. Nobody else listened to his question and, sure, it interrupted the flow of prayers but he needed to know.

    I read the definitions to him a couple of times.

  4. JackG says:

    Disambiguate. We need more disambiguation.

    Defenestrate. For those who won’t disambiguate.

  5. Precentrix says:

    As a word I would be likely to actually use in conversation, I think cantillate is a pretty one and it rather does sing itself…

    And the other favourites are logomachy (an argument about words) and hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia (the fear of really long words).

  6. Nan says:

    A Greek Orthodox friend googled the name of a local woodcarver and was surprised that most hits related to a bishop in another part of the state so asked what I knew of the bishop. I think a disambiguation page is needed. I know the woodcarver’s sister and that the bishop is their uncle or I’d have had to ask someone.

  7. youngcatholicgirl says:

    When I was little, my favorite word was “antidisestablishmentarianism”. My older brother could say it, but I recall going several years before I could get it. My favorite word now is “ecclesiastical”.

  8. pelerin says:

    Youngcatholicgirl got there first! I was going to write ‘antidisestablishmentarianism’ too. Interesting to see that the word has a red squiggly line underneath so the computer does not recognize it.

  9. Lisieux says:

    Taghairm: a Gaelic word meaning ‘divination sought by being sewn into a bullock’s hide and lying behind a waterfall’. It’s pronounced (roughly) ‘tagerm’ (with a hard g and the stress on the first syllable) and is something we probably need at the moment, given the latest issuance from On High.

    When I asked my students this question last year (the question of favourite words, not whether they’d practised taghairm), one girl said that it was ‘bubble’, because it was impossible to say it without smiling. This might be another useful tip at the moment…

  10. majuscule says:

    At one point (as one might surmise) majuscule was a favorite of mine. (I’m tired of it now but I guess I’m stuck with it.)

    Yes, I purposely type it in lower case. Hagan lio while we’re able!

  11. Discerning Altar Boy says:

    Unambiguous. Things are so much more manageable when people simply speak what they mean and explain it clearly.

  12. marthawrites says:

    Tranquil, tranquility because to say it is to become what it means.

  13. ResMiranda says:

    Thanks for the delight. I really laughed over numpty. I have had to listen to various recordings of the Lamentations of Jeremiah and Tenebrae on repeat, so that I don’t lose it over what’s going on in our Church. (especially, that incredible setting from a Spanish codex, Feria V, lesson 3, I think, not that I really understand all the different parts of Tenebrae…)

  14. TawdryPenitent says:

    I’m finding this whole conversation a wee bit esoteric.

  15. Gregg the Obscure says:

    Ye. (second person plural pronoun)

    Yes, it’s short and simple. It is also truly useful. Eliminates the need for “y’all”, “youse”, “yins”, etc.

  16. Eric says:


    Found this today after my daughter asked me why there is a little handle on the maple syrup bottle.

  17. Ocampa says:

    I’ve always hoped for being able to find a proper use for “defenestrate.” I find it unfortunate that the meme where a person is defenestrated is called the “Boardroom suggestion meme” rather than the “Defenestration meme.”

  18. Grant M says:

    I like animal names that are redolent of the character of that animal. Shark is a wonderful word: a quick rush ending in a bite. In contrast the Indonesian word for shark, Hiu, is a disappointment, like a toothless shark. However Indonesian wins with its fluttery word for Bat (the mammal), Kelelawar. The abrupt English monosyllable is fine for hitting the ball in baseball or cricket, but not for the nocturnal animal.
    English Cat, Indonesian Kucing (pronounced kuching) I think the Indonesian word wins.
    Crocodile and Buaya: The English word wins with its crunchy snout and sleek body. Buaya could be anything. Horse and Kuda: they both fail. Few languages get this one right: German Pferd, Hebrew Sus, Japanese Uma all fail IMO. I would give the award to Spanish Caballo.
    Then there are other concepts: Indonesian has an outstanding word for Eat: Makan. You can hardly say the word without doing the action, as with Sing, Grumble and Cough. The English word is somewhat feeble. French Manger and Italian Mangiare are laudable attempts to copy the Indonesian word (yes I know they’re actually from Manducare, which is found in the Canon of the Mass.)

Comments are closed.