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The World of Weird Words

By Joseph W. Smith III

Last week’s “Weird Words” marked installment No. 12; so I took those two digits as a theme and picked out several goodies from pages 1 and 2 of my ever-growing oddball vocabulary list. But I got only halfway through that selection before running out of space.

Here is the other baker’s dozen — a fitting 13 for this follow-up edition:

Gumboil (GUM-boil, noun) – An abscess in the gum. Admittedly, this is not a super-weird word — unless, like Bertie Wooster in the peerless P.G. Wodehouse books, you use it as an epithet for describing people you don’t like.

Muzzy (MUZZ-ee, adjective) – Confused, muddled; dull, unclear. Possibly this is an example of the linguistic phenomenon called a “blend” (these include words like “smog” and “brunch” — or, a truly great one: “cremains”). Here we may be seeing pieces of “muddled” and “fuzzy” blended together. But in any case, watch for a future Weird Words devoted entirely to blends! (And look up “cremains” if you can’t guess what that is.…)

Quincunx (KWING-kunks, noun) – A group of five objects arranged in a rectangular pattern, with one in each corner and one in the middle — like the pips on the five in a deck of cards.

Rodomontade (rah-duh-mon-TADE, noun) – A bragging or boastful speech; rant; also a verb. From the blustering King Rodomonte in a 15th-century Italian epic, it entered English as “rodomont” (for “braggart”) and gradually acquired the suffix. The shorter noun is no longer used.

Rumbustious (rum-BUSS-chuss, adjective) – Rambunctious, unruly, boisterous. Chiefly British, it’s probably a variant of “robustious” — which means the same thing.

Scuppernong (SKUP-ur-nong, noun) – A type of white grape; or its vine; or a wine made from this. Named for a North Carolina river, the word first came to my attention in To Kill a Mockingbird, where Scout and company are allowed to eat these from the garden of their friendly neighbor Miss Maudie — as long as they don’t jump on the arbor!

Skew-whiff (SKYOO-wiff, adjective or adverb) – Not straight; askew; off-kilter. Again chiefly British, it can be used literally (of a picture-frame, for instance) or figuratively: “Our schedule went all skew-whiff!”

Tatterdemalion (tat-ur-duh-MAIL-yun, noun) – Raggedly dressed person; ragamuffin. Also an adjective meaning shabby or dilapidated.

Tchotchke (CHOTCH-kuh, noun) – When I first saw this years ago, I could scarcely believe it was actually a word — though the meaning is fairly simple: an inexpensive souvenir, ornament or trinket. (“He always collects these cheesy tchotchkes on every vacation!”) It’s originally Yiddish — a language that has donated countless terrific terms to everyday conversation; I guess that’s a future separate column too!

Whigmaleerie (wig-muh-LEER-ee, noun) – A fanciful notion, whim or caprice. Also a whimsical ornament, trinket or contrivance; for synonyms, the somewhat idiosyncratic Collins Dictionary has “gewgaw” — another a great word.

Wonky (WONG-kee, adjective) – Shaky or unsteady; unreliable; not quite right, a little bit “off.”

Yoicks (YOIKS, interjection) – Only our second interjection in these 13 columns (the first was “tilly-vally” back in June), this is principally used in fox-hunting, as a cry to urge on the hounds. It can also be a general expression of high spirits or encouragement. One older dictionary lists as a synonym “huic” — which would actually be somewhat close to this in pronunciation.

zetetic (ze-TET-ik, adjective) – Proceeding by inquiry or investigation; for instance, “a zetetic method.” also says this describes belief in a flat earth, but I did not find that attested elsewhere.

With this 13th column, it might’ve been nice to do something on phobias — particularly the awkwardly named “triskaidekaphobia.” But perhaps that can wait till October, which actually has a Friday the 13th.

Just something to look forward to, right?