BBC News

Magazine

Page last updated at 09:07 GMT, Friday, 10 October 2008 10:07 UK

50 of your favourite words

Story about man who read the OED in a year
Lots of sesquipedalians out there, judging by the response to our feature on the man who reads dictionaries for fun, Ammon Shea. We asked for your favourite words and were overwhelmed with nominations. Here we list 50 of the best.

1. To throw something (someone) out of a window is to defenestrate. I love this word because it immediately brings some interesting memories to the front, not to mention makes me think of some new things to toss out of a window.
Lee Nachtigal, West Hartford, Connecticut, USA

2. Poodle-faker - a young man too much given to taking tea with ladies.
Jane, Pembroke

3. Omphaloskepsis (self-absorbed, navel-gazing). I'm not really a selfish person, but I do occasionally need someone to remind me to look up from my navel. Plus, things that have to do with belly-buttons are generally pretty fun.
Anise Brock, San Francisco, USA

4. Mallemaroking - the carousing of seamen in icebound ships. A wonderfully useful word! How many icebound ships do we all know?
Sue H, Tiverton

5. Spanghew - to cause (esp. a toad or frog) to fly into the air off the end of a stick. (In northern and Scottish use.) Why? Well, all one has to do is imagine the myriad situations in which one might use this word.
Michael Everson, Ireland

6. Scrimshanker - one who accepts neither responsibility nor work.
Maurice De Ville, Chesterfield

7. Zareba - a protective hedge around a village or camp, particularly in the Sudan. Used to great effect by PG Wodehouse in, for example, The Clicking Of Cuthbert, with his description of a Russian novelist: "Vladimir Brusiloff had permitted his face to become almost entirely concealed behind a dense zareba of hair."
Peter Skinner, Morpeth, UK

8. I first heard Stephen Fry (of course!) use this on QI. Tmesis - To break one word with another. For example: dis-bloomin-graceful, un-flippin-believable. Use it mainly when talking to British Gas.
Colin Rogers, Maidenhead, Berks

9. I love the word quidnunc, which means one who gossips because it is a word I could use to describe a lot of people who fit the definition and they wouldn't know what I was saying.
Katie, Hickory Hills, IL, USA

10. Ischial callosities is a great description, because of its precision. It refers to the leather-like pads on a monkey's bum.
Paul Edward Hughes, Langley, Canada

11. One of my favourite words is cryptomnesia because it captures the meaning of a whole process that I previously never thought could make it into a single meaningful word. Of course it makes sense, and literally means "buried memory". I first came across it reading Jung when he described the process of forgetting the source of some information and assuming you've known it all along. That's such an ephemeral process, and I'm fascinated by it as much as the word used to describe it.
Alan Languirand, Ypsilanti MI, USA

12. One of my favourite words is urt. Urt is almost onomatopoeic, since an urt is a "leftover bit".
Eric McConnachie, Clear Lake, Ontario, CANADA

13. I like the word termagant meaning a quarrelsome shrew of a woman - because it's just obscure enough to get mixed up with "ptarmigan", a lovely bird.
Jan, Portland, Oregon, USA

14. Oxter- space under the arm (not the armpit) eg he walked down the street with a copy of the Times under his oxter.
David McLoughlin, Dublin, Ireland

15. Spelunking- the hobby or practice of exploring caves. The word just sounds good, I love it!
Rachel, Reading

16. Petrichor - the sweet smell of rain on dry earth. Although I wouldn't consider myself enough of a lexiphane (another good word, meaning "one who uses words pretentiously") to bring it up in every day conversation. Plus, living in Scotland, dry earth isn't a phenomenon I'm used to.
Natalie, Glasgow

17. Frippet (noun) - A flighty young woman prone to showing off. Could be used for the vast majority of contestants on Big Brother.
Charley, Bristol

18. Panglossian - Excessively or naively optimistic. The world needs more people like this now than ever!
VJ Patel, Luton, UK

19. I love the word proprioception (go ahead and look it up - I define it as knowing where you are in the world, where your body stops and everything else begins). I learned it in an undergraduate psychology course, probably. One of my favourite things about this word is that I can never remember it! I'll come across a use for it and then rack my brain for several minutes before having to give up and then of course suddenly remembering it (there's another word I have the same experience with but I can't remember what it is just now). There's a French term that I believe is tangentially relevant to proprioception - "jusqu'au bout". It means "to the end" but it was explained to me (by a nice young French man, many years ago!) in the context of "je t'aime jusqu'au bout", as in to love someone all the way to the ends of their fingers and tips of their ears (etc!).
Marni Law, Brisbane, Australia

20. If you ever fly into the US, then one of the questions you're asked on the entry form you have to fill in is "Have you ever been convicted of moral turpitude?" What a great word turpitude is! I've never heard it anywhere else, but I can guess what it means and that the required answer is "NO". Just the sound of it is faintly dubious, once you've realised that it's not something you use to clean your paint brushes with.
Stevie, Brighton

21. I like the word discombobulated. It has a staccato, mechanical sound and conjures up an image of a robot scrabbling to hold itself together when all its nuts and bolts suddenly start to fall out. Which is just how one feels when discombobulated!
Sally Ratapu, Auckland, New Zealand

22. Floccinaucinihilipilification - this word was used by Bollywood star Amitabh Bachhan 20 years ago while giving an interview. I was struck by his choice of word and the meaning of it!
Sudip Mazumder, London

23. Pusillanimous (lacking in courage or strength of purpose) just sounds funny and derisive and insulting.
David Benning, Davis, CA USA

24. Sepulchral - of or pertaining to the tomb. I just love the way it sounds and the movements my mouth must make to say it. To be sure, I rarely have the opportunity to use it, except during Halloween.
Gregory Strucaly, Apollo, PA, USA

25. I love the word sphygmomanometer, which is the medical instrument used to measure blood pressure. Try saying it after a drink or two.
Lucy, Cambridge, UK

26. Crepuscular, which means "of or like twilight".
Sarah, Bedford, UK

27. Sinecure - a position or office that requires little or no work but provides a salary.
Stephen Lynn, Antrim

28. Word: kakistocracy. Definition: The government of a state by the worst citizens. A very useful word!
Helen Collins, London, England

29. Chthonic: first encountered in Philip Pullman, then in the BBC series Rome, meaning dead, underground, of the nether world.
Mike Crompton, Hayfield, High Peak

30. Runcible as used in Edward Lear's poem The Owl and the Pussycat - given in Chambers Dictionary as meaning a pickle-fork but used in our household as anything, especially cutlery, which is slightly ill-matched or bent/crooked.
Kirsty Harrison, Binfield, Berkshire

31. I very much enjoy palimpsest because you would never think that there was a word for something so specific as that: "A parchment or other writing surface on which the original text has been effaced or partially erased, and then overwritten by another." Its etymology is beautifully direct. From Ancient Greek "palin" meaning "again" (as in palindrome) and "psen" which means "to rub smooth".
William Kraemer, London, UK

32. I like susurrus which means a soft murmuring or rustling sound. Terry Pratchett used it to great effect in one of his books, and I couldn't help hearing the sound of a gentle breeze on tree leaves whenever I read it. Almost like magic.
Sarah, Woking

33. I just like the sound of the word tintinnabulation and if you look it up in the OED, it simply describes a sound made by the ringing of a bell. Imagine using such a word in everyday language.
Earl Okezie, Lokoja, Nigeria

34. Maieutic is one of my favourite obscure words. It means pertaining to intellectual midwifery and describes as no other word does a phenomenon that happens more often than you might think. It is very rewarding when you can match the moment to the word.
Martin Ackland, London

35. Crenellate - to furnish a wall with crenels or battlements, the rectangular "gaps" seen atop castle towers. For me, this word conjures up images of seaside holidays and carefully constructed sandcastles.
Simon Bonner, Liverpool, UK

36. Borborygmus - the rumbling sound that comes from an empty stomach.
Rupam, Ashburn, VA USA

37. Fug. I love jazz and have always thought a cellar jazz bar with a hazy atmosphere created through captivating music and hazy smoke would be perfect if called "The Fug". However, the smoking ban now prohibits any kind of fug. And "The Sanitary" just doesn't have the right ring.
Julian Williams, Stourport-on-Severn

38. Metanoia - the act or process of changing one's mind or way of life - is so beautiful.
Sa Smith

39. Estivate (the opposite of hibernate), because that is what I do. With the onset of autumn, I am looking forward to awakening from my summer torpor. The colder the day, the happier and more energized I am.
DJ Leslie, Falls Church, Virginia, USA

40. Rodomontade is my favourite, meaning boastful. Difficult to use in conversation though!
Kevin Murphy, Glasgow

41. Slubberdegullion is a favourite word of mine, meaning, roughly ,a worthless person. Throw it in next time you're gossiping about someone.
Bob Baker, Dunster, England

42. I like erythrismal, meaning "red by nature". An example would be a fox or a robin's breast. However, I am a redhead, so may be biased
Judith-Anne MacKenzie, London

43. Chatoyant is a word I learned from a poet/artist friend, and I teach it, or use it, whenever possible, which is quite often. It means something that glows from deep within, like a cat's eye (chat), or star sapphires, or highly polished hard woods.
Roxann , Alexandria, MN, USA

44. I like enervating (to weaken physically) because it sounds like it SHOULD mean the opposite to what it DOES mean.
Bob, Edinburgh

45. Tatterdemalion - a person with tattered clothing or of unkempt appearance. This word has, to my mind, a "bouncy" rhythm to it and use it often. I know several people who could have this word attributed to them...
Graham, Luton, England

46. Mellifluous - sweet, pleasant-sounding speech, words or music - is a my favourite word, though I suppose it couldn't really be classed as obscure. It's so beautifully onomatopoeic.
Maura Evans, Bradford

47. A word I recently learned and immediately liked, is ideation. It's like you take a creative word and turn it into a verb, make it creatING! Ideation means "the process of thought" or "the conceptualization of a mental image".
Theresa, Rotterdam, the Netherlands

48. I used to love the word syzygy because, in the Oxford Illustrated Dictionary, its definition (in the mathematical sense) went something like: "A group of rational, integral functions, which, when severally multiplied together, the sum of the products vanishes identically."
Reggie Thomson, Cambridge, England

49. My favourite word is sesquipedalian. From the Latin, sesquipedalis, meaning a foot-and-a-half, it means given to using long words.
Chris Howard, Morden

...which is probably a fitting adjective for...

50. I'm disposed to immediately feel dyspathy with a secretary like Shea, but after goving at his story for a while, I begin to hansardize. There's no point in being philodoxical just because an apparently mundane subject deeply happifies another. I may stroke my natiform chin sceptically at Shea's cachinnations, but if such things truly make him tripudiate, then who am I to be the pejorist?
Rob Stradling, Cardiff

Print Sponsor


FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

BBC navigation

BBC © 2013 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific