40 Excellent E-Words To Enlarge Your Vocabulary

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iStock/bgblue

The history of the letter E can be traced all the way back to an Egyptian hieroglyphic that probably depicted a praying or celebrating man, with the open horizontal lines of an “E” being the modern-day descendants of his arms or legs. Over time, this original pictogram simplified massively: the Phoenicians adopted it and made it into nothing more than a slanted, back-to-front, slightly elongated E-shape, which they used to represent their letter he. This in turn was rotated, truncated, and straightened up to form the Greek letter epsilon, E, and it’s from there (via Latin) that E as we know it ended up in English.

E is the most frequently used letter in the English language—in fact, it’s held the top spot in the English language ever since the Old English period [PDF]. It’s nearly 57 times more common than the least-used letter, Q, and is the most-used letter in a host of other languages, including French, German, Spanish, Dutch, Italian, and Latin. E accounts for around 11 percent of all the language you’ll ever use. Not only that, but you can expect it to begin just under four percent of all the words in a dictionary—including the 40 extra-special E-words explained here.

1. EAGGLE-BAGGLE

An old Scots dialect word meaning “to argue” or “to thrash out a bargain.” Derived from a local pronunciation of argle-bargle.

2. EARNEST MONEY

The cash used to secure a deal or a bargain? That’s earnest money.

3. EARTH-BATH

An 18th-century euphemism for a grave. To take an earth-bath meant to be buried. Coffins, meanwhile, were nicknamed eternity-boxes.

4. EASTIE-WASTIE

An old Scots dialect word for someone who can’t be relied upon. It literally means “east-west”—namely, someone who is inconstant, or changes like the wind.

5. EASYOZIE

An old English dialect word meaning “easygoing” or “laid back.”

6. EBRANGLE

A 17th-century word meaning “to shake violently.” Not to be confused with embrangle, which means “to confuse” or “to entangle.”

7. EBULLATE

We might use ebullience to mean “enthusiasm” or “liveliness,” but it literally means “boiling” or “boiling hot.” Derived from the same root, to ebullate is to boil, while the formation of bubbles in a boiling liquid is called ebullism.

8. EEL-SKINS

Nineteenth-century slang for very tight trousers. Tight shoes were known as excruciators.

9. EGG-BAG

An old Yorkshire dialect word for a pointless argument. Likewise, an egg-battle is someone who pushes other people to quarrel or argue.

10. EGGTAGGLE

An old Scots word meaning “the act of wasting time in bad company.”

11. ELBOW-CROOKER

Derived from the image of someone “crooking” (i.e. bending) their elbow to raise their hand to their mouth, an elbow-crooker is a drunk or a hard drinker. Whereas …

12. ELBOW-SHAKER

… an elbow-shaker is a prolific gambler, derived from the image of someone shaking dice.

13. ELENGE

If something or someone is elenge, then it’s remote, isolated, or lonely.

14. ELOZABLE

Derived from a French word meaning “praise,” if you’re elozable then you’re susceptible to flattery.

15. ELSEWHAT

Whereas elsewhere means “somewhere else,” elsewhat means “something else.” It’s one of a number of else words to have long fallen out of use in English, including elsewards (“heading towards somewhere else”), elsewhen (“at another time”), elsewhence (“from somewhere else”), and elsehow (“in some other way”).

16. ELT

To elt is simply to press or knead something, but elting-moulds are the ridges of Earth formed when a field is plowed.

17. ELUCUBRATE

Elucubrate literally means “to work by candlelight,” but it’s typically used in a looser sense meaning “to work late into the night." In other words, “to burn the midnight oil.” Someone who does just that is an elucubrator, while the work that you end up producing is an elucubration.

18. EMBUSQUÉ

An embusqué is someone who tries to avoid military service, and in particular, someone who takes a clerical job just to avoid joining up. The word is derived from a French word meaning “to ambush,” in the figurative sense of someone hiding in plain sight.

19. ENANTIOMORPH

The proper word—originally used only in reference to crystallography—for a mirror image or reflection.

20. ENDARKEN

As well as meaning simply “to get dark,” you can use the verb endarken to mean “to obscure” or “to cast a shadow over” something.

21. ENDEMONIASM

The opposite of being divinely inspired is endemoniasm—namely, inspiration from a demon, or from the Devil himself.

22. ENDOLOUR

If you’re endoloured, then you’re consumed by grief.

23. ENSNARL

If something is ensnarled, then it’s tangled up in knots.

24. ENTERCOMMON

An 18th-century word meaning “familiar to, or common to, everyone.”

25. ENTOMOPHOBIA

If you hate insects, you’re entomophobic. It’s one of a number of E-phobias in the language, including eophobia (fear of the dawn), epistolophobia (the hatred of receiving mail), eisoptrophobia (the fear of mirrors or reflections), and enetophobia (hatred of pins).

26. EPANORTHOSIS

When someone stops what they’re saying to go back and change a word to an even stronger one (as in, “I’m very happy—no, ecstatic—to be here”), that’s called epanorthosis. It derived from a Greek word meaning “correction.”

27. EPEXEGESIS

Literally meaning “explain in detail,” an epexegesis is an additional clarifying comment, often tagged onto the end of a more detailed or ambiguous sentence. That is to say, it’s the kind of sentence that often begins, “that is to say.”

28. EQUICRURAL

An isosceles triangle would be an example of an equicrural shape: it literally means “equal-sized legs.”

29. ERYTHROPHYLL

The substance that makes leaves green is of course chlorophyll, but the pigment that takes over in the autumn and makes leaves look red is erythrophyll.

30. EUCATASTROPHE

Coined by JRR Tolkien, a eucatastrophe is the opposite of a catastrophe—a sudden and unexpected event of happiness or good fortune.

31. EUTRAPELY

Derived from Ancient Greek and mentioned in the writings of Aristotle, the word eutrapely or eutrapelia originally referred to ease of conversation, repartee, or someone’s ability to talk to anyone on any subject. By the time it first began to appear in English in the 16th century however, eutrapely had become a more general term meaning “courtesy,” “urbanity,” or “sophistication.”

32. EVENENDWAYS

To move evenendways is to move in an unfaltering straight line, from one place to another.

33. EXCULCATE

While to calcate is to stamp with your heel, to exculcate, derived from the same root, is to trample or tread something down.

34. EXSIBILATION

The word explode originally meant “to jeer a performer off the stage,” but the collective hissing and booing of a dissatisfied audience is called exsibilation.

35. EXTRANEAN

An extranean is a stranger, or someone who does not belong to your family or friends despite being in close proximity to you. The term once referred to pupils who join the school a year later, typically from another school or area.

36. EXTRAVAGE

To wander about with no particular purpose is to extravage.

37. EYE-WATER

Eye-water is just another name for eye lotion or eye-wash, but in 18th-century English it came to refer to weak or watered-down alcohol. Whereas…

38. EYE-OPENER

… an eye-opener, as well as being something surprising or remarkable, was a very strong alcoholic drink in Victorian slang.

39. EYE-SERVANT

A Tudor-period word for an employee (originally a maid or servant) who is only hard working when they’re being observed by their boss.

40. EYEWINK

A 19th-century slang word for an eyelash.

This article originally ran in 2016.

15 Long-Lost Words To Revive This Christmas

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iStock.com/duncan1890

Nog. Tidings. Wassail. Every time Christmas rolls around it brings with it its own vocabulary of words you barely hear the rest of the year. But while words derived from ancient English ales (like the nog in eggnog) and Middle English greetings (wassail is thought to derive from a Germanic phrase meaning “good health!”) are one thing, some choice festive words haven’t stood the test of time, and are basically unknown outside of the dustiest corners of the dictionary.

Here are 15 long-lost and long-forgotten words to get you through the holiday season.

1. Ninguid

Derived from Latin, a landscape that is ninguid is snow-covered. And if that’s what your walk to work looks like over the festive period, you might also need to know that to meggle is to trudge laboriously through snow. (A peck-of-apples, meanwhile, is a fall on ice.)

2. Crump

That crunching sound you make walking on partially frozen snow is called crumping.

3. Hiemate

Hibernate is sleeping throughout the entire winter; hiemate is to spend winter somewhere.

4. Yuleshard

As another word for the festive period, Yule comes via Old English from jol, an ancient Scandinavian word for a series of end-of-year festivities. A yuleshard—also called a yule-jade (jade being an insult once upon a time)—is someone who leaves a lot of work still to be done on Christmas Eve night.

5. Yule-Hole

And the yule-hole is the (usually makeshift) hole you need to move your belt to after you’ve eaten a massive meal.

6. Belly-Cheer

Dating from the 1500s, belly-cheer or belly-timber is a brilliantly evocative word for fine food or gluttonous eating.

7. Doniferous

If you’re doniferous then you’re carrying a present. The act of offering a present is called oblation, which originally was (and, in some contexts, still is) a religious term referring specifically to the presentation of money or donation of goods to the church. But since the 15th century it’s been used more loosely to refer to the action of offering or presenting any gift or donation, or, in particular, a gratuity.

8. Pourboire

Speaking of gratuities, a tip or donation of cash intended to be spent on drink is a pourboire—French, literally, for “for drink.” Money given in lieu of a gift, meanwhile, has been known as present-silver since the 1500s.

9. Toe-Cover

A cheap and totally useless present? In 1940s slang, that was a toe-cover.

10. Xenium

A gift given to a houseguest, or a gift given by a guest to their host, is called a xenium.

11. Scurryfunge

Probably distantly related to words like scour or scourge, scurryfunge first appeared in the late 18th century, with meanings of “to lash” or, depending on region, “to scour.” By the mid-1900s, however, things had changed: perhaps in allusion to scrubbing or working hard enough to abrade a surface, scurryfunge came to mean “to hastily tidy a house” before unexpected company arrive.

12. Quaaltagh

Quaaltagh was actually borrowed into English in the 1800s from Manx, the Celtic-origin language spoken on the Isle of Man—a tiny island located halfway between Britain and Ireland in the Irish Sea. It was on the Isle of Man that festive tradition dictates that the identity of the first person you see (or the first to enter your house) on Christmas or New Year morning will have some bearing on the events of the year to come. And in Manx culture, the person you meet on that early-morning encounter is called the quaaltagh.

13. Lucky-Bird

We’re more likely to call them a first-footer these days, but according to old Yorkshire folklore the first person across the threshold of your home on New Year’s morning is the lucky-bird. And just like the quaaltagh, tradition dictates that the identity of the lucky-bird has an important bearing on the success of the year to come: Men are the most fortuitous lucky-birds; depending on region, either dark-haired or light-haired men might be favored (but dark-haired is more common). Other regional variations claimed the man had to be a bachelor, had to bring a gift of coal (though by the 1880s whisky was increasingly popular), and/or had to have a high arch on the foot. People with a suitable combination for their region could “become almost professional,” according to the Leeds Mercury Weekly Supplement.

14. Apolausticism

Derived from the Greek word for “to enjoy,” apolausticism is a long-lost 19th-century word for a total devotion to enjoying yourself.

15. Crapulence

Once all the festive dust and New Year confetti has settled, here’s a word for the morning after the night before: crapulence, as the Oxford English Dictionary puts it, is an 18th-century word for “sickness or indisposition resulting from excess in drinking or eating.”

Which Author Invented Each of These Words?

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