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Weird Words No. 31: A Little “Zhuzh” for Your Week

As I work on the weekly “World of Weird Words,” it’s always tough to sort through the 2300 terms on my oddball vocab list, figuring out which ones to offer this time.

Last week marked our 30th installment, so I decided to factor that figure: two sets of 15, both restricted solely to five- and six-letter words.

So here’s our second set of 15 — almost all nouns, with pronunciation where necessary.

Kloof – South African word for a deep glen or ravine; related to the English cleave (meaning split).

Kopje (KOP-ee) – From Afrikaans and Dutch, it is a small, usually isolated hill. Related to the German word kopf (as in dummkopf, or dumbhead) — but not to the common Latin base cap, which likewise means head. The original word can also be spelled koppie.

Jojoba (ho-HO-buh) – A shrub of Mexico and the American Southwest. Jojoba oil (from its seeds) is used for cosmetics and lubricants.

Micht (verb) – Scots form of might. (While we’re at it: Scots for may is mought.)

This makes an excuse to point out that the silent “gh” in so many English words (tight, ought, etc.) was often pronounced in olden times; hence the original carol “Stille Nacht” has a hard “ch” in its German word for night.

This is why English terms like rectangle and erect come from the same Latin base as right — and why, for instance, straight sounds like its relative strict, when you pronounce the “gh.”

The hard G and C sounds are, incidentally, both made exactly the same way in your mouth — but the latter is simply unvoiced.

There’s a lot more along these lines, but I’ll shut up now, in case I am doing what the next word says….

Pother (verb) – Old-fashioned synonym for bother, though this is more often a noun for uproar, commotion or heated debate (as in, “a lot of pother”). At the risk of overstepping, I’ll also point out that the B and P sounds — like G and G above — are exactly the same, but again, the latter is unvoiced. Same goes for V/F, Z/S, D/T and J/”tch.”

Pulque (POOL-kee) – From “A fermented milky drink made from the juice of certain species of agave in Mexico.”

Quokka (KWOK-uh) – Small wallaby found in the swamps of southwestern Australia. (For those still confused: a wallaby is sort of a miniature kangaroo; some are no bigger than rabbits!)

Rebozo (ruh-BO-so or -zo) – In Spain or Mexico, a long woven scarf worn by women over the head and shoulders; in those countries, it is pronounced ruh-BAW-thaw (or -saw).

Shuln (SHOOLN, with the oo as in good; or as in boot) – A Yiddish word for synagogue, it is the plural of shul. Related to the German for school.

Snood – Scottish headband for unmarried women. More recently, a headband for hair, especially one at the back that forms a pouchlike net or hat. Snood also can refer to the fleshy appendage on a turkey’s bill. (Ladies, sorry for the image this calls up regarding your hairnet!)

Swivet – A state of anxiety, confusion or agitation: “Don’t get yourself in a swivet!”

Thill – Like many of these weird words, thill looks for all the world like a typo. It is actually an old-fashioned term for the shafts to which a draft animal is harnessed when pulling a cart or other vehicle. A horse so employed is a thiller.

Yonks – Informal slang for a very long time: “We haven’t seen him for yonks.” Origin unknown.

Zeugma (ZOOG-muh) – From Merriam-Webster: “the use of a word to modify or govern two or more words usually in such a manner that it applies to each in a different sense or makes sense with only one.” has a good example: “On his fishing trip, he caught three trout and a cold.” Similar to the equally obscure syllepsis.

Zhuzh (pronounced with the same consonant sound as the middle of measure — and the oo in book) – Apparently just as tough to define as it is to say, zhuzh seems to mean an appealing or lively addition that makes things just right (“I gave my hair a little zhuzh”). Also, a verb for doing this.

So hopefully, rather than a swivet or too much pother, these micht give a little zhuzh to your week!

More soon.