10 Things You Didn’t Know Had Names

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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
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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


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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


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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.

The Official Scrabble Dictionary Just Added 300 New Words, Including Sriracha, Bitcoin, and Twerk

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Scrabble fans know that game nights can get heated—especially when they're working with an outdated dictionary. Now, NPR reports that Merriam-Webster has added 300 new words to the official player's dictionary that are sure to anger the Scrabble purists in your family.

While Merriam-Webster is regularly adding new words its general dictionary, its editors are more selective when it comes to updating its list of playable Scrabble words. New editions are only published once or twice a decade, with the previous version coming out in 2014.

The release of the latest sixth edition includes plenty of terms that are products of the internet age. The words emoji, listicle, bestie, and twerk are now all fair game. Several trendy foods, like macaron, aquafaba, bibimbap, and sriracha, also made it onto the list. Strategic players will likely be happy to see the additions of the words qapik—a type of currency in Azerbaijan and also one of the few playable U-less Q words in Scrabble—and ew, one of only 106 two-letter words in the game's dictionary.

For more highlights from the update, check out the list below.

1. Frowny
2. Bestie
3. Bizjet
4. Qapik
5. Ew
6. Twerk
7. Arancini
8. Beatdown
9. Zomboid
10. Emoji
11. Sriracha
12. Facepalm
13. Bitcoin
14. Aquafaba
15. Hivemind
16. Listicle
17. Bibimbap
18. Puggle
19. Macaron
20. Sheeple
21. Yowza
22. Bokeh

[h/t NPR]

Sequoyah: The Man Who Saved the Cherokee Language

Henry Inman, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain
Henry Inman, Wikimedia Commons // Public domain

Sequoyah was fascinated by books and letters, enchanted by the way people could divine meaning from ink-stained scribbles on a written page. Born in the 1760s in what is now Tennessee and trained as a silversmith and blacksmith, the Cherokee man never learned how to read or write in English, but he always knew that literacy and power were intertwined.

During most of Sequoyah's lifetime, the Cherokee language was entirely oral. According to the Manataka American Indian Council, a written language may have existed centuries earlier, but the script was supposedly lost as the tribe journeyed east across the continent. Sometime around 1809, Sequoyah began working on a new system to put the Cherokee language back on the page. He believed that, by inventing an alphabet, the Cherokee could share and save the stories that made their way of life unique.

At first, some Cherokee disliked Sequoyah’s idea. White people were encroaching further on their land and culture, and they were resistant to anything that resembled assimilation. Some skeptics saw Sequoyah’s attempts to create a written language as just another example of the tribe becoming more like the oncoming white settlers—in other words, another example of the tribe losing a grip on its culture and autonomy.

Sequoyah, however, saw it differently: Rather than destroy his culture, he saw the written word as a way to save it. According to Britannica, he became convinced that the secret of white people's growing power was directly tied to their use of written language, which he believed was far more effective than collective memories or word-of-mouth. In the words of Sequoyah, "The white man is no magician." If they could do it, so could he.

Sequoyah became further convinced of this in 1813, after he helped the U.S Army fight the Creek War in Georgia. For months, he watched soldiers send letters to their families and saw war officers deliver important commands in written form. He found the capability to communicate across space and time profoundly important.

Sequoyah's first attempt to develop a written language, however, was relatively crude by comparison. He tried to invent a logographic system, designing a unique character for every word, but quickly realized he was creating too much unnecessary work for himself. (According to historian April Summit's book, Sequoyah and the Invention of the Cherokee Alphabet, his wife may have attempted to burn an early version of his alphabet, calling it witchcraft.) So Sequoyah started anew, this time constructing his language from letters he found in the Latin, Greek, and Cyrillic alphabets, as well as with some Arabic numerals.

Sequoyah became more reclusive and obsessive, spending hour upon hour working on his alphabet. According to the official website of the Cherokee Nation, people outside his family began whispering that he was meddling with sorcery. By 1821, Sequoyah was too busy to pay the gossip any mind: He was teaching his six-year-old daughter, Ayokeh, how to use the system.

As one story goes, Sequoyah was eventually charged with witchcraft and brought to trial before a town chief, who tested Sequoyah’s claims by separating him and his daughter and asking them to communicate through their so-called writing system. By the trial’s end, everybody involved was convinced that Sequoyah was telling the truth—the symbols truly were a distillation of Cherokee speech. Rather than punish Sequoyah, the officials asked him a question: Can you teach us how to read?

Once accepted by the Cherokee, Sequoyah’s 86 character alphabet—which is technically called a syllabary—was widely studied. Within just a few years, thousands of people would learn how to read and write, with many Cherokee communities becoming more literate than the surrounding white populations. It wasn’t long before the Cherokee language began appearing in books and newspapers: First published in 1828, The Cherokee Phoenix was the first Native American newspaper printed in the United States.

Sam Houston, the eventual governor of Texas, admired Sequoyah's achievement and reportedly told him, “Your invention of the alphabet is worth more to your people than two bags full of gold in the hands of every Cherokee." Today, while the Cherokee language is now considered endangered by UNESCO, Sequoyah's system remains a landmark innovation—and a source of hope for the future.

You can visit Sequoyah’s one-room log cabin, which still stands in Sallisaw, Oklahoma. Not only listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it has also been designated a Literary Landmark.

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