Usable Words

That’s the one grinningly wonderful thing of this realm. It’s full to brimming with usable words. I mean, just listen to me, talking all day and all through the night and never running short of usable words.”

So said Ypsi in Feast Fables 3. Yet for all these brimful of words, we use very few. And we’re so eager to latch to the latest fashion we’re oblivious of the trail of discarded words left behind us.

As a writer I frequently seek that one exquisite word that will perfectly describe a certain situation. But I’m as inclined as the next to create anew rather than to trawl through the 20 volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary with its 300,000+ entries to find that one ideal word.

But help is at hand. I have recently stumbled upon a tiny tome entitled Lost Words (A Feast Of Forgotten Words, Their Origins And Their Meanings) by Philip Howard (2012, Robson Press).

I offer here my Top Ten, those I deem worthy of resuscitation. See what you think.

1: Vocabularian:
Someone who gives much or undue attention to words [!]
From Latin vocabulum, ‘a word’.

On my acceptance at Oxford my cousin advised me to make the dictionary my night-time reading. That, he said, would make a vocabularian of me.

2: Griseous:
Rather grey; greyish; zoologically ‘bluish grey’.
No need to look far for the origin of this. It’s from Medieval Latin griseus via Old French. And how much better than its synonym, grizzled.

Striding swiftly towards late middle age, Rodney’s once chestnut locks now were griseous.

3: Supervacaneous:
Something vainly added over and above the essential; superfluous, redundant.
From Latin super, ‘extra’, plus vacare, ‘to be empty or void’.

But, Lady Edith, it’s the footman’s wedding, a small celebration at the village hall. Those gloves, that tiara and the train are supervacaneous.

4: Mondo:
Very much, extremely; considerable, huge.
From Latin mundus, ‘world’, via Italian mondo which then migrated to America where it was used as slang.
Not entirely a forgotten word; it still occasionally crops up (mostly in old movies and books).

Hey, brill, Bro’, that’s mondo.

5: Insordescent:
Increasing in filthiness; grubbier, grubbiest.
From Latin insordescere, to become foul or dirty.

Trapped in that foul pit, Godfrey’s clothes were insordescent.

6: Lapidate:
To stone to death.
From Latin lapis, ‘stone’, via lapidare, to execute by flinging the convicted off the Tarpeian Rock.

I sentence you to lapidation.
(But would the reader expect the convicted then to be turned to stone by Medusa’s glare?)

7: Nudnik:
Someone incessantly tedious or pestering; a crashing bore.
From Russian nudnyi, ‘tedious’ or ‘boring’, probably via Yiddish. Possibly still current in parts of New York.

Amanda amended the guest list, removing those she knew to be nudniks.

8: Niddering:
A base coward or wretch.
Derived from Old Norse nithing, a vile coward, (lit. a ‘nothing’).
(
Bernard Cornwell, prolific author of historical novels, including the ‘Sharpe’ series, uses its parent word, nithing, in his Saxon series featuring protagonist Uhtred of Bebbanburg)

Sorry, me lad, but Captain Jack refuses to sail with a niddering.

9: Redeless:
Not knowing what to do in an emergency; devoid or destitute of counsel.
From Old English rede, ‘counsel’ or ‘advice’.
(Æthelred the Unredy was redeless that being the definition of his sobriquet ‘Unredy’.)

Alas, redeless, Gloria remained rooted as the house burned down around her.

10: Embrangle:
To entangle; to confuse and perplex
Said to be from French branler, ‘to shake’. I see it rather as a conflation of ‘to wrangle’ and ‘to brawl’.

Seeing my dog and his chimp in ‘that’ situation fully embrangled me.

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About crimsonprose

After years as a multi-colour octopus in entertainment, now chilling and writing
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4 Responses to Usable Words

  1. Brian Bixby says:

    “mondo” and “nudnik” still crop up here in the U.S.; I just finished reading a novel by Michael Chabon (“The Yiddish Policeman’s Union) which presumes American readers are familiar with quite a bit of slang derived from Yiddish.

    “Insordescent” and “embrangle” are the two that strike me as the most useful.

    • crimsonprose says:

      Let’s see if we can get some of them back in use. I think Ken in PP would use ‘mondo’, but too late now. I liked ‘griseous’ , mainly cos I get fed up with writing ‘greying’ or ‘grizzled’. And yea, embrangle, that kinds says it, doesn’t it.

  2. Joy Pixley says:

    I like how you start with vocabularian — great word!

    • crimsonprose says:

      I am guilty of being a vocabularian; and the example I give isn’t far from the truth. Only I was 11 at the time, not 18. And still I read the dictionary. Hey, there’s some good words in there. 🙂

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