10 Things You Didn’t Know Had Names

iStock
iStock

From the first person you greet in the morning to that earthy smell that permeates the air after it rains, the English language is full of very specific words. Here are 10 of them.

1. PETRICHOR

You know how it smells after it rains? That clean, greenish smell when rain lands on dry ground? That’s petrichor, from the Greek petra (stone) and ichor (the blood of Greek gods and goddesses). The term was coined by two Australian researchers in 1964—though it's probably a familiar word to fans of Doctor Whoit was once used as a password to open the TARDIS's control room (you can even buy a perfume inspired by this delicious scent).

2. CHANKING

As a noun, chanking is the food that you spit out, like an olive pit. As a verb, it means to eat noisily.

3. ARMSAYES

Photo of young boy wearing a T-shirt
iStock

If you’ve put your shirt on backwards, you have your arms in the wrong armsayes (you know them better as armholes).

4. QUALTAGH

When you walked out your door this morning, who was the first person you greeted? Your neighbor? Your boss? Whoever it was, that person is your qualtagh. Traditionally, the word was used to define the first person you greeted in the new year.

5. ZARF

Originally, a zarf was a metal chalice meant to prevent the heat from your coffee from burning your fingers. The name for the fancy cup holder has morphed into the modern-day cardboard sleeve that comes wrapped around your morning cup of joe.

6. GLABELLA


iStock

People with expressive faces often end up with wrinkles in their glabella—the space between the eyebrows.

7. NEF

The word nef is fairly esoteric, which only seems appropriate given the ornamental, silver or gold, ship-shaped stand it describes.

8. ROORBACK

Libel is one thing, but a damaging lie made publicly known for political effect—usually in reference to a candidate who is running for office—is a roorback.

9. BADINAGE


iStock

Playful, joking banter can be called badinage. (It can also be used as a verb meaning to playfully banter with or tease someone.)

10. FEAT

You know the words lock and tendril, but did you know the similar feat? Aside from being an act requiring great strength, it describes a dangling curl of hair.

11 Versions of “Average Joe” From Other Countries

santypan/iStock via Getty Images
santypan/iStock via Getty Images

Average Joe, Joe Schmo, John Doe. He’s bland and average. Faceless, but not nameless. Every country needs a way to talk about just “some guy.” Here’s what 11 countries call that typical guy, who might have no specific qualities, but is still “one of our own.”

1. Germany: Otto Normalverbraucher

Literally, Otto “normal consumer."

2. China: Zhang San, Li Si

This translates to “Three Zhang, Four Li”—a reference to some of the most popular Chinese surnames.

3. Denmark: Morten Menigmand

"Morton Everyman."

4. Australia: Fred Nurk

Sounds pretty normal to me.

5. Russia: Vasya Pupkin

With a name like that, it’s hard not to be a typical schmo.

6. Finland: Matti Meikäläinen

Meikäläinen looks like a typical Finnish surname, but it also means “one of us.”

7. Sweden: Medelsvensson

Just your average Svensson.

8. France: Monsieur Tout-Le-Monde

“Mr. Everyone.” Also goes by Jean Dupont.

9. UK/New Zealand: Joe Bloggs

Still an average Joe (but can also be a Fred).

10. Italy: Mario Rossi

In Italy they just use a common name.

11. Latin America: Juan Pérez

The same is true in various Spanish-speaking countries in Central and South America.

A version of this list first ran in 2014.

When Are the Dog Days of Summer?

Dorottya_Mathe/iStock via Getty Images
Dorottya_Mathe/iStock via Getty Images

The official “dog days” of summer begin on July 3 and end on August 11. So how did this time frame earn its canine nickname? It turns out the phrase has nothing to do with the poor pooches who are forever seeking shade in the July heat, and everything to do with the nighttime sky.

Sirius, the Dog Star, is the brightest star in the sky. The ancient Greeks noticed that in the summer months, Sirius rose and set with the Sun, and they theorized that it was the bright, glowing Dog Star that was adding extra heat to the Earth in July and August.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER