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40 Fantastic F-Words To Further Your Vocabulary

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One of the earliest ancestors of our humble letter F was a Phoenician letter, waw, which was assimilated into the early Greek alphabet more than 2500 years ago. It’s thought that the Phoenicians used their letter waw to represent an array of different sounds—including “u,” “v,” and “w”—and as a result, when they adopted it the ever-ingenious Greeks cleverly divided its use in two. On the one hand, the Greek letter upsilon (Y) took over the “u” and “v” sounds, while another letter, digamma (F), took over the “w” sound. Unfortunately, “w” (or rather, the labio-velar approximant, if you want to get technical) wasn’t the most widely-used sound in Ancient Greek, and digamma soon fell out of use. But it was salvaged from the linguistic scrapheap by the Romans, whose Latin letter V took over where upsilon left off, leaving F to represent a newly-emerging softer “v” sound—“f.”

The letter F has remained in use in the Roman alphabet ever since, and now accounts for on average around 2.5 percent of any page of written English—a figure boosted by its appearance in high-frequency words like for, if, from and of (the only English word in which F is pronounced “v”). You can also expect it to begin around 3 percent of all the words in a standard dictionary, including the 40 fantastic F-words listed here…

1. FACETIAE

A Latin word for “cleverness” or “skillfulness,” facetiae came to be used to refer to a collection of witty sayings in 16th century English. But things took a turn for the worse in Victorian slang, when facetiae came to be used as a euphemism for pornographic literature.

2. FAKEMENT

An 18th century word for a forged signature.

3. FALSILOQUENCE

Also known as fallaciloquence, falsiloquence is another word for lying, deceitful speech. Fatiloquence or fatiloquy is another word for soothsaying or predicting the future, while if you’re flexiloquent then you like to deliberately use ambiguous language to confuse people.

4. FAMELICOSE

Fames was the Latin word for “hunger,” and it’s from there that both famelic (an adjective meaning “pertaining to being hungry”) and famelicose (an 18th century word meaning “often very hungry”) are derived. 

5. FAMGRASP

Famble was a 16th century word for a hand (probably originally derived from a slang mispronunciation of “fumble”), and from there the English language has gained a number of equally handy fam– words: on its own, a fam was a gold ring in 18th century English; gloves were nicknamed fam-snatchers in 19th century slang; among Victorian criminals, to fam-squeeze someone was to throttle them with your bare hands; and to famgrasp is to shake hands in agreement.

6. FAMIGERATE

Derived from a Latin word meaning “to carry,” to famigerate is to report news from abroad.

7. FAMILY-DISTURBANCE

An old cowboy slang nickname for whisky.

8. FANFARONADE

As well as being another word for an ostentatious fanfare, fanfaronade is a 17th century word for arrogant, self-aggrandizing language. Likewise, a fanfaron is an arrogant boaster.

9. FANG-FAKER

Victorian slang for a dentist.

10. FEDIFRAGOUS

If someone is fedifragous then they’ve broken a promise or pledge, or they’re faithless or disloyal. A fedifraction, likewise, is a breach of an oath or a broken promise.

11. FELL-LURKING

A Shakespearism, used in Henry VI: Part 2 to mean “hanging around waiting to do something bad.”

12. FESCENNINE

Fescennia was a city in Etruria, an ancient region of northern and central Italy occupied by the Etruscan civilization more than 2,500 years ago. As the Roman Empire expanded outwards from Rome, it’s thought that a number of local Etruscan songs and poems were adopted into Roman culture in the process. These “Fescennine verses” as they were known were originally sung at harvest time or at large celebrations like weddings, but steadily they became less celebratory and ever more coarse and raucous. Ultimately, the adjective fescennine has ended up being used to describe anything obscene, lewd, or licentious.

13. FILLYLOO

A noisy uproar or exclamation.

14. FIRE-SCORDEL

An old English dialect word for someone who lounges around in front of the fire all day. A dog that does precisely that is a fire-spannel.

15. FIRKYTOODLE

To fondle or caress someone is to firkytoodle them. It probably derives from an earlier work, firk, meaning “to beat.”

16. FIRTLE

To fidget or move around distractedly is to firtle, as is to look busy despite doing very little.

17. FLAMBUGINOUS

Like flimflam, a flam is a fanciful or whimsical idea—and anything flambuginous is “flam-like.”

18. FLAMFOO

An old Scots dialect word for a gaudily over-dressed woman. Derives from flamfew, a 16th century word for anything useless or trifling.

19. FLAPDOODLER

Flapdoodle is a 19th century slang word for nonsense or humbug, and so a flapdoodler is someone who talks rubbish.

20. FLAUNT-TANT

Appropriately enough, a flaunt-tant is a showy array of highfalutin words or language.

21. FLAYBOTTOMIST

Because they caned unruly pupils’ behinds, schoolteachers were nicknamed flaybottomists in 18th century slang. Much more pleasant nicknames for teachers include haberdasher of pronouns and knight of grammar.

22. FLITTER-MOUSE

Alongside flickermouse and flinder-mouse, flitter-mouse is a Tudor-period word for a bat.

23. FLOCCINAUCINIHILIPILIFICATION

Floccus (literally “a wisp”), naucum (“a trifle”), nihil (“nothing”) and pilus (“a hair”) are all Latin words that can be essentially interpreted as meaning “very little,” or “nothing at all.” The nonsense word floccinaucinihilipilificationapparently coined by students studying Latin at England’s famous Eton College—brings all four of them together in one noun, meaning “the act of estimating something as worthless.” Often considered one of the longest words in the English language and one of the longest words in most dictionaries, floccinaucinihilipilification is related etymologically to the 16th century verb…

24. FLOCCIPEND

…which similarly means “to regard as insignificant.” 

25. FLUCKADRIFT

An old word from the far north of Scotland for a sudden haste or hurry.

26. FLUG-FISTED

An Irish dialect word for being left-handed. 

27. FLUMMATY-GUMPTION

An old Yorkshire dialect word for a state of unrest or agitation, or, by extension, a profuse sweating.

28. FLUNTER-DRAWER

Flunter is an old English dialect word for a loose fragment or piece of something, or for the untidy tail-end of something, like the unraveled end of a rope or piece of string. Derived from that, the flunter-drawer is that untidy, shambolic drawer in which you keep all your odds and ends.

29. FLURRY-GO-NIMBLE

An astoundingly appropriate-sounding old Cornish dialect word for diarrhea.

30. FOISTER

A pickpocket or cheat.

31. FOLLIFUL

Derived from folly, if you’re folliful then you like to play pranks.

32. FOLLOW-ME-LADS

In the 19th century, loose curls of hair or bonnet-ribbons that hung down a lady’s back or over her shoulders were nicknamed follow-me-lads. There’s an old myth that claims single girls would deliberately leave their hair trailing or their bonnets untied as a signal to any potential suitors that they were looking for love, but sadly it seems the word inspired the myth, not the other way around.

33. FORDRUNKEN

No surprises for guessing that if you’re fordrunken, then you’re drunk.

34. FORE-WITTER

Someone who knows something before it takes place. If you’re fat-witted, incidentally, then you’re foolish or slow-thinking.

35. FORFEX

A “humorously pedantic” (according to the Oxford English Dictionary) Latin-origin word for a pair of scissors. Derived from that, if something is forficate then it’s shaped like a pair of scissors, while…

36. FORFICULATE

…to forficulate is to experience a creeping, tingling sensation. It derives from forficula, the Latin word for an earwig (which also derives from forfex), and so literally means “to have a sensation like an insect crawling over your body.”

37. FORTRAVAILED

A Scots dialect word meaning “exhausted,” or “wearied by work.”

38. FOX-FIRE

The glowing phosphorescence emitted by a dying ember is a fox-fire. Although it only survives in some local American dialects today, the word fox-fire dates back to mid-1400s.

39. FUTRAT

A 19th century word for a weasel or ferret—and so, metaphorically, a nickname for someone with a thin face.

40. FUZZLE

A Scots dialect word for just enough liquor to make someone feel slightly intoxicated.

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10 Facts About Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary
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October 16 is World Dictionary Day, which each year celebrates the birthday of the American lexicographer Noah Webster, who was born in Connecticut in 1758. Last year, Mental Floss marked the occasion with a list of facts about Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language—the enormous two-volume dictionary, published in 1828 when Webster was 70 years old, that established many of the differences that still divide American and British English to this day. But while Webster was America’s foremost lexicographer, on the other side of the Atlantic, Great Britain had Dr. Samuel Johnson.

Johnson—whose 308th birthday was marked with a Google Doodle in September—published the equally groundbreaking Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, three years before Webster was even born. Its influence was arguably just as great as that of Webster’s, and it remained the foremost dictionary of British English until the early 1900s when the very first installments of the Oxford English Dictionary began to appear.

So to mark this year’s Dictionary Day, here are 10 facts about Johnson’s monumental dictionary.

1. IT WASN’T THE FIRST DICTIONARY.

With more than 40,000 entries, Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language was certainly the largest dictionary in the history of the English language at the time but, despite popular opinion, it wasn’t the first. Early vocabularies and glossaries were being compiled as far back as the Old English period, when lists of words and their equivalents in languages like Latin and French first began to be used by scribes and translators. These were followed by educational word lists and then early bilingual dictionaries that began to emerge in the 16th century, which all paved the way for what is now considered the very first English dictionary: Robert Cawdrey’s Table Alphabeticall—in 1604.

2. SAMUEL JOHNSON BORROWED FROM THE DICTIONARIES THAT CAME BEFORE HIS.

In compiling his dictionary, Johnson drew on Nathan Bailey’s Dictionarium Britanicum, which had been published in 1730. (Ironically, a sequel to Bailey’s dictionary, A New Universal Etymological English Dictionary, was published in the same year as Johnson’s, and borrowed heavily from his work; its author, Joseph Nicoll Scott, even gave Johnson some credit for its publication.)

But just as Johnson had borrowed from Bailey and Scott had borrowed from Johnson, Bailey, too had borrowed from an earlier work—namely John Kersey’s Dictionarium Anglo-Britannicum (1708)—which was based in part on a technical vocabulary, John Harris’s Universal English Dictionary of Arts and Sciences. Lexicographic plagiarism was nothing new.

3. THE DICTIONARY WASN’T THE ONLY THING JOHNSON WROTE.

Although he’s best remembered as a lexicographer today, Johnson was actually something of a literary multitasker. As a journalist, he wrote for an early periodical called The Gentlemen’s Magazine. As a biographer, he wrote the Life of Mr Richard Savage (1744), a memoir of a friend and fellow writer who had died the previous year. Johnson also wrote numerous poems (London, published anonymously in 1738, was his first major published work), a novel (Rasselas, 1759), a stage play (Irene, 1749), and countless essays and critiques. He also co-edited an edition of Shakespeare’s plays. And in between all of that, he even found time to investigate a supposed haunted house in central London.

4. IT WAS THE FIRST DICTIONARY TO USE QUOTATIONS.

Johnson’s dictionary defined some 42,773 words, each of which was given a uniquely scholarly definition, complete with a suggested etymology and an armory of literary quotations—no fewer than 114,000 of them, in fact.

Johnson lifted quotations from books dating back to the 16th century for the citations in his dictionary, and relied heavily on the works of authors he admired and who were popular at the time—Shakespeare, John Milton, Alexander Pope, and Edmund Spenser included. In doing so, he established a lexicographic trend that still survives in dictionaries to this day.

5. IT TOOK MORE THAN EIGHT YEARS TO WRITE.

Defining 42,000 words and finding 114,000 quotes to help you do so takes time: Working from his home off Fleet Street in central London, Johnson and six assistants worked solidly for over eight years to bring his dictionary to print. (Webster, on the other hand, worked all but single-handedly, and used the 22 years it took him to compile his American Dictionary to learn 26 different languages.)

6. JOHNSON WAS WELL PAID FOR HIS TROUBLES.

Johnson was commissioned to write his dictionary by a group of London publishers, who paid him a princely 1,500 guineas—equivalent to roughly $300,000 (£225,000) today.

7. HE LEFT OUT A LOT OF WORDS.

The dictionary’s 42,000-word vocabulary might sound impressive, but it’s believed that the English language probably had as many as five times that many words around the time the dictionary was published in 1755. A lot of that shortfall was simply due to oversight: Johnson included the word irritable in four of his definitions, for instance, but didn’t list it as a headword in his own dictionary. He also failed to include a great many words found in the works of the authors he so admired, and in several of the source dictionaries he utilized, and in some cases he even failed to include the root forms of words whose derivatives were listed elsewhere in the dictionary. Athlete, for instance, didn’t make the final cut, whereas athletic did.

Johnson’s imposition of his own tastes and interests on his dictionary didn't help matters either. His dislike of French, for example, led to familiar words like unique, champagne, and bourgeois being omitted, while those he did include were given a thorough dressing down: ruse is defined as “a French word neither elegant nor necessary,” while finesse is dismissed as “an unnecessary word that is creeping into the language."

8. HE LEFT OUT THE LETTER X.

    At the foot of page 2308 of Johnson’s Dictionary is a note merely reading, “X is a letter which, though found in Saxon words, begins no word in the English language."

    9. HIS DEFINITIONS WEREN’T ALWAYS SO SCHOLARLY.

      As well as imposing his own taste on his dictionary, Johnson also famously employed his own sense of humor on his work. Among the most memorable of all his definitions is his explanation of oats as “a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.” But he also defined monsieur as “a term of reproach for a Frenchman,” excise as “a hateful tax levied upon commodities and adjudged not by the common judges of property but wretches hired by those to whom excise is paid,” and luggage as “anything of more weight than value.” As an example of how to use the word dull, he explained that “to make dictionaries is dull work.”

      10. HE POKED LOTS OF FUN AT HIS OWN OCCUPATION.

      Listed on page 1195 of his dictionary, Johnson’s definition of lexicographer was “a writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge.”

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      This Game About Soup Highlights How Tricky Language Is
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      Something Something Soup Something

      Soup, defined by Merriam-Webster as "a liquid food especially with a meat, fish, or vegetable stock as a base and often containing pieces of solid food," is the ultimate simple comfort food. But if you look closer at the definition, you'll notice it's surprisingly vague. Is ramen soup? What about gumbo? Is a soy vanilla latte actually a type of three-bean soup? The subjectivity of language makes this simple food category a lot more complicated than it seems.

      That’s the inspiration behind Something Something Soup Something, a new video game that has players label dishes as either soup or not soup. According to Waypoint, Italian philosopher, architect, and game designer Stefano Gualeni created the game after traveling the world asking people what constitutes soup. After interviewing candidates of 23 different nationalities, he concluded that the definition of soup "depends on the region, historical period, and the person with whom you're speaking."

      Gualeni took this real-life confusion and applied it to a sci-fi setting. In Something Something Soup Something, you play as a low-wage extra-terrestrial worker in the year 2078 preparing meals for human clientele. Your job is to determine which dishes pass as "soup" and can be served to the hungry guests while avoiding any items that may end up poisoning them. Options might include "rocks with celery and batteries in a cup served with chopsticks" or a "foamy liquid with a candy cane and a cooked egg served in a bowl with a fork."

      The five-minute game is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but Gualeni also hopes to get people thinking about real philosophical questions. According to its description page, the game is meant to reveal "that even a familiar, ordinary concept like 'soup' is vague, shifting, and impossible to define exhaustively."

      You can try out Something Something Soup Something for free on your browser.

      [h/t Waypoint]

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