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The World of Weird Words

The World of Weird Words

For me it was a glorious day in May when I emailed Steph Nordstrom — my estimable editor at Webb — with what I considered a long-shot: I was pitching a weekly column on oddball vocab words.

To my everlasting joy, Steph okayed the idea without hesitation — telling me she’d read the dictionary just for fun when young, and also drove her mother nuts with nonstop vocabulary questions.

That was nine columns ago.

So herewith, I’d like to observe this 10th installment of “The World of Weird Words” with a selection of 10-letter terms from my ongoing list:

Borborygmi (bore-buh-RIGG-mye, noun) – Perhaps our greatest example of onomatopoeia (a word imitating sound), this is the plural for borborygmus; it’s an old Greek term for rumbling noises in the belly or intestine. Go ahead and say it out loud; doesn’t that sound like your stomach growling?

Catafalque (CAT-uh-fawk [or fawlk], noun) – Raised structure for a dead body, often for the public funeral of a distinguished person. Also means “hearse.”

Catawampus (cat-uh-WOM-pus, adjective & adverb) – Slang term meaning cattycorner, slantwise or askew; it can also be defined as “evil” or “malicious.”

Chupacabra (choo-puh-KAH-bruh, noun) – Fierce and frightening folklore creature whose legends began a mere 45 or 50 years ago in Puerto Rico. Of widely varying appearance (dog-like, bear-like, reptilian), it has been reported throughout the Americas and as far away as India. In Spanish, “chupacabra” literally means “goatsucker” (which, by the way, is also a 10-letter type of bird) — because it supposedly sucks the blood of livestock.

I wish I had more space for this, as arguments and research over its existence have raged for decades. Check out the fascinating Wikipedia page for more info.

Didgeridoo (di-jur-uh-DOO, noun) – Australian Aboriginal musical instrument — a long wooden tube which, when blown into, makes a mournful droning noise. Up to 10 feet in length, it is often played with so-called “circular breathing,” which creates a continuous tone. Again, Wikipedia has some very cool pictures.

Flapdoodle (FLAP-doo-dull, noun) – Now nearly 200 years old, this is a fanciful slang coinage for “nonsense” — as in, “Don’t give me that flapdoodle!”

Homologate (huh-MOLL-uh-gate, verb) – To ratify, assent to or affirm, often in an official capacity.

Hypnagogic (hip-nuh-GO-jik, adjective) – Related to or bringing drowsiness. From Greek “hypno-” (sleep) and “-agogue” (leader, bringer — as in “demagogue”). Literally: “bringer of sleep.”

Nudibranch (NOO-duh-branch, noun) – I had never heard this word till I saw one — a soft-bodied marine mollusk that sheds its shell when young and generally appears with striking bright colors. Having spied the splat-like species in a few inches of brackish water at a Florida wildlife refuge, I zoomed and shot a photo — after which bystanders identified it for me. Always love to spot a new creature.

Nyctinasty (NIK-tin-uh-stee, noun) – In botany, movement of a plant (such as closing its petals), usually in response to darkness. “Nyct-” is a Greek form meaning “night”; that common English word was anciently pronounced with a hard “g” that sounded like a “k” — as in the German Christmas title “Stille Nacht.”

Palimpsest (PAL-imp-sest, noun) – Originally, an ancient manuscript with some writing erased to allow for new text written over it. A fairly common but still-cool word, it is now often used metaphorically: “something having usually diverse layers or aspects apparent beneath the surface” (Merriam-Webster’s 11th).

Vermicular (vur-MIK-yuh-ler, adjective) – Related to, done by or resembling worms. “Verm,” a Latin base with an obvious meaning, has given us many English words, including the well-known “vermicelli” — which is, of course, vermicular.

Velocipede (vuh-LOSS-uh-peed, noun) – Bike or trike. No need to explain the origin of this one, right?

Well, that’s a baker’s dozen; the scary thing is, those all came from just the first sheets of my 26-page list.

So, expect a few more 10-letter lists in the future, for sure.

But I’ll try to not be corybantic about it.