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The World of Weird Words

Snollygoster. Numpty. Absquatulate. Gonk.

Yes, those all are actual words. They’re taken from a list I started years ago, when I was teaching English at Loyalsock High School.

Inspired by three students who compiled an oddball vocab list for fun, I instantly began amassing my own; eventually, I turned it into one of our weekly 20-word lists — figuring that funny but for-real words like “futtock,” “faff” and “frenulum” would help break up the drudgery of English.

Those three partners-in-crime were Becky Heilmann, Jessica Reese and Mike Drawbaugh (though the ladies are now married and have different last names). They were juniors at the time, and thanks to them, I’d soon composed other goofy-word lists for my freshmen, sophomores, and seniors — giving me a total of 80.

Since then, I’ve kept a constant eye out for more; nearly 20 years later, my list now includes well over 2000 words — in a document labeled “confusticated gobbledygook” (yep, both real).

Not knowing quite what to do with this lexicon, I finally decided I’d share some of it with my Webb readers — along with pronunciation, definition and any other pertinent trivia.

My rule on this list has been, by the way, to restrict it largely to words encountered in my own reading, rather than plundering books on the subject — or even grabbing every “word of the day” off

I also try to use only items listed at that reliable site — rather than Google, for example, which is much more permissive and not terribly official.

As in Scrabble, I avoid proper nouns — though unlike that habit-forming game, I do allow hyphenated terms, along with the occasional two-word compound.

So here’s our first set of seven — one each day till next week:

aa (AH-ah; noun) – What better way to open our inaugural list than with this ultimate start-of-the-alphabet word? It’s a Hawaiian term meaning dried lava that is sharp, rough, or jagged — as in, “Who put this aa on my shish kebab!?” Or maybe it’s just what you say if you walk over the stuff in bare feet.

argle-bargle (AR-gull-BAR-gull; noun) – Related to “argument,” this British term refers to a noisy dispute; also rendered “argy-bargy.”

boustrophedon (boo-struh-FEED-in; noun) – An ancient writing method — still used occasionally today — in which lines run alternately left to right and right to left. (Note that some world languages, unlike English, always run right to left across the page.) In boustrophedon, the reversed lines have backwards letters too! The word itself comes from Greek terms referring to the way an ox turns back and forth while plowing.

The Wikipedia entry on this phenomenon observes that U.S. and Canadian townships use “boustrophedonic” numbering — as do dentists when identifying teeth; and some artifacts from Rapa Nui (a.k.a., Easter Island) feature boustrophedon in the awesomely named Rongorongo language — which, says Wiki, “remains undeciphered.”

bumfuzzle (bum-FUZZ-ull; verb) – Term from the American South meaning to confuse or fluster — as in, “We sure feel bumfuzzled by the way y’all talk.”

festschrift (FEST-shrift; noun) – From the German for “festival writing” (or “feast-book”), this refers to an anthology of essays by various writers penned in tribute to a colleague, usually on the honoree’s retirement. Such collections have been published for C. S. Lewis, Isaac Asimov and Richard Dawkins; according to Wikipedia, one notable series honoring German historian Joseph Vogt has reached more than 80 volumes.

trichobezoar (try-co-BEE-zore; noun) – A hairball in the stomach — or, perhaps, on your nice new carpet (as in, “Ew — you can clean it up this time, dear!”). Though not at, the word is well attested in medicine. And yes, human beings can have them too.

vinegarroon (vin-uh-ger-OON; noun) – A non-venomous “whip scorpion” of Mexico and the American Southwest, the aptly named vinegarroon emits an acidic-smelling liquid when threatened. Not actually a scorpion (it only looks like one), the creature is in fact a member of the arachnid order “Uropygi,” or “Thelyphonida” — which can also include “Schizomida.” So … there are three additional oddball terms at the end of this week’s list.

Just making sure you get your money’s worth.

Or should I say “spondulix”?