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The World of Weird Words

We are at No. 14 in these ongoing columns about oddball vocabulary; so here are 14 more weird words for your week. These are, incidentally, all nouns unless otherwise noted; and since most have fairly instinctive pronunciation, I left that out too, except where needed.

Arsole – While it sounds indecent and is not listed in most dictionaries, “arsole” is a chemical term with a rather intimidating Wikipedia page. Alternately called “arsenole” or “arsacyclopentadiene” (good luck pronouncing that one!), it contains arsenic and is one of 16 “organoarsenic” compounds that all begin with “ars.” Related chemical terms — not as funny but still weird — include “pyrrole,” “phosphole,” “metallole” and “pnictogen.”

Bandersnatch – One of many delightful words coined by Lewis Carroll, this one appearing in both “Alice” books, as well as “The Hunting of the Snark” (that last is another Carroll coinage). Described by Carroll as “frumious” (yep, that’s invented, too), the “bandersnatch” is naturally hard to define; perhaps a fierce imaginary creature ( — or “a wildly grotesque or bizarre individual” (Merriam-Webster).

Billabong – A dead-end water channel; or a riverbed that is dry except in rainy season. Like our earlier entry “didgeridoo,” this is an Australian term that comes from the Aboriginal language of that continent.

Callipygian (cal-uh-PIE-gee-un, adj.) – Having nicely shaped buttocks. A word that’s fun to know, though perhaps a bit tricky in conversation.

Candytuft – Ornamental plant of the mustard family, with red, pink or purple flowers. Etymologically, it combines “tuft” with “Candia,” an ancient name for Crete, where the flower originated.

Felucca (fuh-LOO-kuh) – Small, narrow, fast wooden sailing ship used chiefly in the Mediterranean. Still popular with tourists around the Nile and also on the protected Red Sea.

Feverfew – Bushy, white-flowered plant cultivated as an ornament and once used to treat headaches and fevers — hence the name (though this is Anglicized from the Latin “febrifuge”).

Hornswoggle (verb) – To swindle, hoax, hoodwink, cheat, trick or bamboozle. (I know, I know — it’s depressing how many synonyms there are for this.) A favorite of mine — and not hard to use — the word is almost certainly a fanciful slang coinage with no official etymology.

Jactation – The act of bragging. Medically, it can also be a synonym for “jactitation,” a restless tossing of the body due to illness or mental disorder.

Marmoreal (mar-MOR-ee-ul, adj.) – Like marble: cold, smooth, hard, white, etc.

Mufti – Civilian clothes, as opposed to the military or other uniform one normally wears. In Muslim countries, a “mufti” is an expert in religious law.

Mugwump – Originally used for a Republican who refused to vote the Presidential party line in 1884, it now refers to any politically neutral, undecided or independent person. Derived from an Algonquian word meaning “war leader” or “great man.” Wikipedia claims it was comically applied to “fence-sitters” in 1884 who had their “mug” (face) on one side of the barrier and their “wump” (rump) on the other; no idea how accurate that is — but it sure makes a good story.

Phatic (adj.) – Now exactly 100 years old, this word was coined in 1923 by Polish anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski; it describes a type of speaking used not to convey information but to create an atmosphere of good will or sociability. Related to “emphasis” and “prophet.”

Shuttlecock – The object that is hit back and forth in badminton. So called because it is “shuttled” from one side of the net to the other, and — having originally been made with feathers — looks like a rooster, or “cock.” Also used in the lesser-known game “battledore,” from which badminton developed.

Bit hard to use any of these words phatically — unless you wish to come across as a bandersnatch. Speaking of which: How about a whole column sometime just on Lewis Carroll — wouldn’t that be frabjous?

Callooh! Callay!