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The World of Weird Words

As promised in last week’s Weird Words round-up, here comes another baker’s dozen from the sprawling list of oddball vocab I keep for these columns.

Our theme for this pair of articles has been hyphenated terms — or shall I say “two-tiered”? Or maybe “double-barreled” — if that doesn’t seem too heavy-handed … or hoity-toity.

(Note: My usual pronunciation guide is provided here only where needed.)

Bunya-bunya (noun) – A large-coned evergreen tree of Australia; also known by the very cool moniker “monkey-puzzle.” Its formal species classification is Araucaria bidwilli, named for British botanist John Carne Bidwill. Crikey, those folks down under sure come up with some bonzer words.

Char-a-banc (shar-UH-bang; noun) – In Britain, a large, open sightseeing bus; derived from French words for car and bench.

Cock-a-leekie (cock-uh-LEE-kee; noun) – Scottish soup made with chicken and leeks; originally, “cockie-leekie.” Let’s hope this tastes a lot better than it sounds.

Fiddle-footed (adjective) – Relatively recent coined word (late 1940s) for someone who wanders restlessly. Can mean “skittish” or “jumpy,” especially when describing a horse.

Gumbo-limbo (noun) – Another botanical term, this one for a remarkably red-barked, white-flowered tree native to Florida. Apparently, oddly named trees attract similarly weird-sounding birds, as Wikipedia tells us that gumbo-limbo fruit is popular with the vireo, the tityra, the grosbeak and the bright-rumped attila. But really, oddball bird names will have to be a whole separate column at some later point in time!

Hugger-mugger – This now-rare term can be a noun, verb or adjective; its various meanings include secrecy, disorder and confusion. “Hugger-mugger” is perhaps best-known from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” where King Claudius uses it to lament the hurried, hushed-up burial of a trusted confidant (Act 4, Scene 5).

Niminy-piminy (NIM-uh-nee-PIM-uh-nee; adjective) – On this somewhat tricky term, I defer to “affectedly delicate or refined; mincing; effeminate.” Their helpful sample: “A niminy-piminy shyness makes frankness impossible.”

Poddy-dodger (noun) – While it sounds like an untrained toddler who won’t go near the toilet, this is actually another Australian term, here describing a thief of unbranded cattle. (“Poddy” means calf, or any young animal.)

Pot-valiant (adjective) for a person whose courage comes only from being drunk.

Pye-dog (noun) – A wild dog of mixed or uncertain breed; used largely in Asia and India.

Shilly-shally (verb) – To hesitate, vacillate or show indecision; also, to dawdle or waste time. For instance: “Quit shilly-shallying with this all this tittle-tattle on weird words, and get back to work!”

Tittle-tattle (noun) – Foolish, idle talk; gossip; prattle. Also a verb.

Tuk-tuk (noun) – Thai term for a small, three-wheeled, motorized taxi. Sort of a rickshaw with an engine.

Well, that’s this week’s list; hope it didn’t come across as skimble-skamble … or rantum-scantum.