“Words, words, mere words…”

…as Shakespeare wrote in “Troilus and Cressida”.

I am indebted to my good friend James M. Wall – a logophile – for pointing me towards the interesting word “snollygoster”, blogged earlier this year. Randomly chosen, here are a few more unusual words.

Callipygian. Calli comes from the Greek for beautiful (as in calligraphy and callisthenics) and pygian refers not to the bane of Tom Lehrer’s life (pigeons) but to buttocks. Hence, “having a nice backside” or, in plain Franglais, a “cute derrière”.

Meretricious. Derived from the Latin for prostitute, it means flashy, gaudy, superficial, cheap. Nothing whatsoever to do with meritorious. All of which might bring to mind a certain American businessman and politician.

Turpitudinous. The adjective from turpitude, meaning depravity or baseness, is a handy but not exactly catchy epithet to apply to someone who is seriously dislikeable. There are many candidates. You choose.

Farrago. From the Latin for cattle feed, it means a mishmash, hotchpotch or confused mixture. The adjective is farraginous. A “farrago of lies” is an expression applied to the words of some British politicians as is a “Farage of nonsense”.

Feck. Not the expletive of an irate Irishman, but a largely obsolete word meaning “force” or “vigour”. The adjective “feckless” means weak or ineffectual. Any Resemblance to Actual British Prime Ministers, Living or Dead, is Purely Coincidental.

Halcyon, found in expressions such as “halcyon days”, refers to a period of happy tranquillity. It seems to originate in Greek mythology, when Alcyone and Ceyx angered the gods. Ceyx was struck by a thunderbolt and, in despair, Alcyone threw herself into the sea. Taking pity, the gods changed them both into kingfishers for which the Greek word is alkuon. Allegedly.

Paraphernalia is a portmanteau word for “stuff”, as in things needed for a particular activity. Originally, it meant a woman’s property that remained hers after marriage instead of passing to her husband in the form of a dowry.

Persiflage. From the French for to mock, it means light-hearted or flippant banter. In Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, the Lord High Executioner Ko-Ko accosts the minstrel Nanki-Poo:
Ko-Ko. A terrible thing has just happened. It seems you’re the son of the Mikado.
Nanki-Poo. Yes, but that happened some time ago.
Ko-Ko. Is this a time for airy persiflage? Your father is here, and with Katisha!

The American poet Ogden Nash delighted in quizzical words and in devising bizarre rhymes at the end of lengthy lines. The following passage comes from “England Expects” published in the collection I’m a Stranger Here Myself (1938):

“Let us pause to consider the English,
Who when they pause to consider themselves they get all reticently thrilled and tinglish,
Because every Englishman is convinced of one thing, viz.:
That to be an Englishman is to belong to the most exclusive club there is:
A club to which benighted bounders of Frenchmen and Germans and Italians et cetera cannot even aspire to belong,
Because they don’t even speak English, and the Americans are worst of all because they speak it wrong.”



One comment on ““Words, words, mere words…”

  1. Peter Horsfield says:

    What fun. Let me add a couple, most I think from down under.

    Doover. A name for something you’re not sure or forgotten what its name is. As in, “Hand me the doover over there, will ya.” Also used as dooverlackey – “Did you bring the dooverlackey?” Origin is likely Australian from the early 1940s, from the term “do for, ” as in “This will do for it.” Which links in with the Australian outback rural cultural tradition of “making do” – if you can’t get the proper tool or ingredient, you make do with something else, like a woman’s stocking for a broken fan belt. So you make do with a doover.

    Uey. From working class car culture – making a fast u-turn in your car with your wheels spinning. So one does not just turn a corner, you “crack a uey.”

    Bonza. Really good, as in “He’s a bonza bloke.”

    Budgie smugglers. Tight fitting, short, thin lycra men’s speedo swim suit. Our ex-PM Tony Abbott at one stage like to present himself as an everyday, sporty Australian bloke by wearing budgie smugglers, a lifesaver’s cap and showing off his hairy chest when he went surfing, until his PR team helped him see that his semiotic interpretation was not the one put on it by the wider public.

    Fair dinkum. Honest, genuine, seriously. As a response to something, “Fair dinkum?” Or describing whether someone’s being serious about something, “He’s fair dinkum about this.”

    -ey or -sy. Common nickname constructor. At school my nickname was Horsey. You’d be Leesy.

    Anyway, better go. I’ve gotta get out of my budgie smugglers, crack a uey and go and pick up a doover from Jonesy to fix the thingamyjig, which is on the blink. Fair dinkum!

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