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25 Smart Words You Should Be Using But Aren’t

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Over its lengthy history, the English language has amassed the largest vocabulary of any comparable language on the planet. That’s great when it comes to picking precisely the right word for a very specific situation, but not so great when you think about the countless words that are lying ignored in the murkier corners of the dictionary, being overlooked in favor of their more familiar synonyms and equivalents. So in the interest of improving your vocabulary (and scoring a few smart points along the way) why not try ditching the familiar for the unfamiliar, and dropping one of these 25 fantastically obscure phrases into a conversation?

1. ABLOCATE

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Dating from the 17th century, to ablocate something is to hire it out. For obvious reasons, it literally means “to put in a different place.”

2. AGELASTIC

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Derived from a Greek word meaning “laughter”, someone who is agelastic literally never laughs. Or, put another way, they’re extremely miserable.

3. APRICATION

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The early lexicographer Henry Cockeram defined aprication as “a baking in the sun” in his 1623 English Dictionarie. Derived from a Latin word literally meaning “exposed,” it’s basically a fancy alternative to “sunbathing.”

4. BRACHYLOGICAL

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Brachylogy is brevity of speech, which makes someone who is brachylogical a succinct, terse, straight-to-the-point speaker.

5. BUCCULA

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Instead of saying "double chin," say buccula. It sounds a lot more complimentary and literally means “little cheek.”

6. CALAMISTRATION

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In Latin, a calamistrum was a curling iron, which makes calamistration the act or process of curling your hair and calamistrate—a word dating from the mid 1600s in English—the verb for precisely that.

7. DEOSCULATION

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They’re not the most romantic of words, but both osculation and deosculation are 17th-century words for kissing.

8. DECEMNOVENARIAN

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The word decemnovenarian is derived from the Latin word for the number 19, and so literally means “characteristic of the 19th century”—or more loosely, “outdated” or “old-fashioned.”

9. ECHINATE

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Your hairbrush might be echinate, and so too might a hedgehog—for good reason. Although it’s usually used more generally of anything covered in prickly spikes or points, echinate literally means “hedgehog-like.”

10. ÉCLAIRCISSEMENT

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English has picked up some very smart-sounding words from French over the years, including the noun éclaircissement, which has been used to mean “a clearing up of that which is obscure or unknown” since the late 1600s. More generally, it's an enlightening explanation of something seemingly inexplicable.

11. FACINOROUS

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Derived from a Latin word for an evil deed, the adjective facinorous dates from the mid 16th century in English and refers to anything or anyone atrociously, heinously evil or bad.

12. FRITINIENCY

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The Latin word fritinnire meant, onomatopoeically, “twittering” or “chirping.” And derived from that, fritiniency is a 17th-century word for the chirruping sounds made by birds or insects.

13. INFUCATION

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To fucate is to paint or color something. Derived from there, infucation is a 17th-century word for the process of applying makeup—or, as one 1658 English dictionary put it, the “laying on of drugs or artificial colors upon the face."

14. LAODICEAN

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Derived from the name of an ancient region of the eastern Mediterranean (whose inhabitants, according to the Book of Revelation, were singled out for their indifference or lukewarm interest in Christianity), a Laodicean is someone who holds no particular opinion or interest, especially in contentious subject like politics or religion; as an adjective, it means “indifferent” or “uninterested."

15. MALVERSATION

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To malverse is to act corruptly in an elected office or position of trust, and malversation—originally a Scottish legal term—is the act of doing precisely that.

16. NIMBOSE

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Nimbus (as in words like cumulonimbus and nimbostratus) was the Latin word for “cloud,” which lies at the root of a handful of weather-related words like nimbosity (meaning “storminess” or “cloudiness”) and nimbose, which means “stormy” or “overcast."

17. PENELOPIZING

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If you know your classic literature, you’ll know that Penelope was the faithful wife of Odysseus in The Odyssey by Homer (more on him in a moment), who spent her time waiting for her husband’s return by working on a never-ending tapestry. With Odysseus presumed dead, Penelope managed to put off all her potential suitors by explaining that she would only begin to consider their marriage proposals once her embroidery was completed—but every night, she would secretly unpick her day’s work so that she remained busy until Odysseus finally returned. From that story of pure fidelity, the name Penelope came to be used allusively in English of any enduringly faithful partner, while the verb penelopize came to be used variously to mean “to make one’s work fill up the time available,” “to procrastinate” or “put off a decision,” and “to deliberately waste one’s time."

18. PERVICACIOUS

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Derived from a Latin word meaning “to convince someone of your point” or “to demonstrate without doubt,” someone who is pervicacious is extremely obstinate or stubborn.

19. PRODROMUS

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That “drom” in the middle of prodromus—which is the same root as words like velodrome and hippodrome (which is literally a race course)—derives from a Greek word meaning “running.” That makes a prodromus literally a “forerunner,” or just something that comes before something else. Today, it's most often used in the natural sciences in reference to "a prelimary publication or introductory work."

20. PRODITORIOUS

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A proditor is a traitor, which makes someone who is proditorious untrustworthy or disloyal.

21. ROCAMBOLESQUE

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Rocambole was the name of a flashy fictional adventurer created by a 19th-century French writer named Pierre Alexis Ponson du Terrail. The stories in which Rocambole appears grew ever more outlandish as the series continued, and ultimately gave rise to the word rocambolesque, meaning “utterly extraordinary” or “too bizarre to be believable."

22. SOMNILOQUY

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Derived from the same roots as words like insomnia and soliloquy, somniloquy is a more formal word for sleep talking. Sleepwalking, incidentally, is somnambulism, while to somniate is to dream and something that is somnifacient puts you to sleep.

23. TEMPORICIDE

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A derivative of the Latin word for “kill” or “cut,” the suffix cide is found at the end of all kinds of words in English, from the familiar (homicide, suicide) to the rare (ceticide, “the killing of whales”), and to the downright bizarre (coquicide, “the killing of a cook”). At the rarer end of the scale is temporicide, a term coined as relatively recently as 1851 for the figurative “killing of time."

24. XYRESIC

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Derived from the Ancient Greek word for a razor, xyresic literally means “razor-sharp”—or, more figuratively, “cutting” or “keen."

25. ZOILISM

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Zoilus was a 4th-century BC Greek grammarian and philosopher, who was known to be one of the harshest critics of Homer. Homer may have been the author of The Iliad and The Odyssey, but his work was not viewed in particularly high regard by Zoilus, who wrote extensively on the shortcomings and loopholes he found in Homer's writings. It was this unending, near-constant nitpicking of the author's work that not only earned Zoilus the nickname “Homeromastix” (literally, “Homer-whipper”) in his lifetime, but also eventually gave the English language the brilliant word zoilism—meaning “fault-finding” or “unfair, overly fastidious criticism.”

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    From Snoopy to Shark Bait: The Top Slang Word in Each State
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    There’s a minute, and then there’s a hot minute. Defined as “a longish amount of time,” this unit of time is familiar to Alabamians but may stir up confusion beyond the state’s borders.

    It’s Louisianans, though, who feel the “most misunderstood,” according to the results of a survey regarding regional slang by PlayNJ. Of the Louisiana residents surveyed, 72 percent said their fellow Americans from other states—even neighboring ones—have a hard time grasping their lingo. Some learned the hard way that ordering a burger “dressed” (with lettuce, tomato, pickles, and mayo) isn’t universally understood, nor is the phrase “to pass a good time” (instead of “to have” a good time).

    After surveying 2000 people (with proportional numbers from each state), PlayNJ created a map showing the top slang word in each state. Many are words that are unlikely to be understood beyond state lines, but others—like California’s bomb (something you really like) and New York’s deadass (to be completely serious)—have spread well beyond their respective borders thanks to memes and internet culture.

    Hawaiians are also known for their distinctive slang words, with 71 percent reporting that words like shaka (hello) and poho (waste of time) are frequently misunderstood. Shark bait, one of the state’s more colorful terms, refers to tourists who are so pale that they attract sharks.

    Check out the full list below and test your knowledge of regional slang words with PlayNJ’s online quiz.

    A chart showing the top slang words in each state
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    Beyond Wanderlust: 30 Words Every Traveler Should Know
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    For those who travel, wanderlust is a familiar feeling. It’s that nagging voice in your head that says, “Yes, you do need to book that flight,” even if your bank account says otherwise. Regardless of how many passport covers this word may adorn, it doesn’t begin to cover the spectrum of emotions and experiences that can be revealed through the act of travel. Here are 30 travel words from around the world to keep in your back pocket as you're exploring this summer.

    1. VAGARY

    From the Latin vagari, meaning “to wander,” this 16th-century word originally meant a wandering journey. Nowadays, "vagaries" refer to unpredictable or erratic situations, but that doesn’t mean the old sense of the word can’t be invoked from time to time.

    2. SELCOUTH

    An Old English word that refers to something that’s both strange and marvelous. It's a great way to sum up those seemingly indescribable moments spent in an unfamiliar land.

    3. FERNWEH

    Who hasn’t felt a strong desire to be somewhere—anywhere—other than where you currently are? That’s fernweh, or “farsickness," and this German word has been described as a cousin of wanderlust, another German loan word.

    4. DÉPAYSEMENT

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    Anyone who has traveled abroad will recognize this feeling. The French word refers to the sense of disorientation that often sets in when you step outside your comfort zone, such as when you leave your home country.

    5. DÉRIVE

    Another gift from the French, this word literally translates to “drift,” but thanks to some mid-20th century French philosophers, it can also refer to a spontaneous trip, completely free of plans, in which you let your surroundings guide you.

    6. PEREGRINATE

    To peregrinate is to travel from place to place, especially on foot. Its Latin root, peregrinus (meaning “foreign”), is also where the peregrine falcon (literally “pilgrim falcon”) gets its name.

    7. PERAMBULATE

    Similar to peregrinate, this word essentially means to travel over or through an area by foot. So instead of saying that you’ll be walking around London, you can say you’ll be perambulating the city’s streets—much more sophisticated.

    8. NUMINOUS

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    This English word could appropriately be used to describe the Grand Canyon or the Northern Lights. Something numinous is awe-inspiring and mysterious. It's difficult to understand from a rational perspective, which gives it a spiritual or unearthly quality.

    9. PERIPATETIC

    The young and the restless will want to incorporate this word into their lexicon. The adjective refers to those who are constantly moving from place to place—in other words, a nomadic existence. It stems from the Greek word peripatein (“to walk up and down”), which was originally associated with Aristotle and the shaded walkways near his school (or, according to legend, his habit of pacing back and forth during lectures).

    10. WALDEINSAMKEIT

    You’re alone in a forest. It’s peaceful. The sun is filtering through the trees and there’s a light breeze. That’s waldeinsamkeit. (Literally "forest solitude." And yes, Germans have all the best travel words.)

    11. SHINRIN-YOKU

    In a similar vein, this Japanese word means “forest bathing,” and it's considered a form of natural medicine and stress reliever. There are now forest bathing clubs around the world, but you can try it out for yourself on your next camping trip. Take deep breaths, close your eyes, and take in the smells and sounds of the forest. Simple.

    12. SOLIVAGANT

    In those moments when you just want to run away from your responsibilities, you may consider becoming a solivagant: a solo wanderer.

    13. YOKO MESHI

    This Japanese phrase literally translates to “a meal eaten sideways,” which is an apt way to describe the awkwardness of speaking in a foreign language that you haven’t quite mastered, especially over dinner.

    14. RESFEBER

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    You just booked your flight. Your heart starts racing. You’re a little nervous about your journey, but mostly you just can’t wait to get going. The anticipation, anxiety, and excitement you get before a big trip is all rolled into one word—resfeber—and you can thank the Swedes for it.

    15. FLÂNEUR

    Taken from the French flâner, meaning to stroll or saunter, this word describes someone who has no particular plans or place they need to be. They merely stroll around the city at a leisurely pace, taking in the sights and enjoying the day as it unfolds.

    16. GADABOUT

    This could be construed as the traditional English equivalent of flâneur. Likely stemming from the Middle English verb gadden, meaning “to wander without a specific aim or purpose,” a gadabout is one who frequently travels from place to place for the sheer fun of it. In other words: a modern-day backpacker.

    17. HIRAETH

    Sometimes, no matter how amazing your vacation may be, you just want to come home to your bed and cats. This Welsh word sums up the deep yearning for home that can strike without warning. As Gillian Thomas put it in an interview with the BBC, “Home sickness is too weak. You feel hiraeth, which is a longing of the soul to come home to be safe.”

    18. YŪGEN

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    This Japanese word can be taken to mean “graceful elegance” or “subtle mystery,” but it’s much more than that. It's when the beauty of the universe is felt most profoundly, awakening an emotional response that goes beyond words.

    19. SCHWELLENANGST

    Translating to “threshold anxiety,” this German word sums up the fears that are present before you enter somewhere new—like a theater or an intimidating cafe—and by extension going anywhere unfamiliar. The fear of crossing a threshold is normal, even among the most adventurous of travelers—but it often leads to the most unforgettable experiences.

    20. COMMUOVERE

    Have you ever seen something so beautiful it made you cry? That’s commuovere in action. The Italian word describes the feeling of being moved, touched, or stirred by something you witness or experience.

    21. HYGGE

    This Danish word refers to a warm feeling of contentedness and coziness, as well as the acknowledgement of that feeling. Although not explicitly related to this term, author Kurt Vonnegut summed up the idea behind this concept quite nicely when he said, “I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.'"

    22. HANYAUKU

    Here's one for those who have a beach trip coming up. Taken from Kwangali, a language spoken in Namibia, hanyauku is the act of tiptoeing across hot sand.

    23. SMULTRONSTÄLLE

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    This Swedish word translates to something along the lines of “place of wild strawberries,” but its metaphorical meaning is something along the lines of a "happy place." Whether it’s a hidden overlook of the city or your favorite vacation spot that hasn’t been “discovered” yet, smultronställe refers to those semi-secret places you return to time and time again because they’re special and personal to you.

    24. DUSTSCEAWUNG

    This Old English word describes what might happen when you visit a place like Pompeii or a ghost town. While reflecting on past civilizations, you realize that everything will eventually turn to dust. A cheery thought.

    25. VACILANDO

    In some Spanish dialects, the word vacilando describes someone who travels with a vague destination in mind but has no real incentive to get there. In other words, the journey is more important than the destination. As John Steinbeck described it in his travelogue Travels With Charley: “It does not mean vacillating at all. If one is vacilando, he is going somewhere, but doesn't greatly care whether or not he gets there, although he has direction. My friend Jack Wagner has often, in Mexico, assumed this state of being. Let us say we wanted to walk in the streets of Mexico city but not at random. We would choose some article almost certain not to exist there and then diligently try to find it.”

    26. LEHITKALEV

    Backpackers and budget travelers, this one is for you: The Hebrew word lehitkalev translates to “dog it” and means to deal with uncomfortable living or travel arrangements.

    27. KOMOREBI

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    This beautiful Japanese word is a good one to save for a sunny day spent in the woods. Komorebi translates to “sunshine filtering through the leaves.” Does it get any lovelier than that?

    28. RAMÉ

    This Balinese word refers to something that is simultaneously chaotic and joyful. It isn’t specifically a travel word, but it does seem to fit the feelings that are often awakened by travel.

    29. TROUVAILLE

    Translating to a “lucky find,” this French word can be applied to that cool cafe, flower-lined street, or quirky craft store that you stumbled upon by chance. Indeed, these are the moments that make travel worthwhile.

    30. ULLASSA

    Just in case you needed another reason to plan that trip to Yosemite, here's one last word for nature lovers. The Sanskrit word ullassa refers to the feelings of pleasantness that come from observing natural beauty in all its glory.

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