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.

Why 'Run' Is The Most Complex Word in the English Language

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iStock.com/VectorStory

English can be hard for other language speakers to learn. To use just one example, there are at least eight different ways of expressing events in the future, and conditional tenses are another matter entirely. For evidence of the many nuances and inconsistencies of the English tongue, look no further than this tricky poem penned in 1920. (For a sample: “Hiccough has the sound of cup. My advice is to give up!”)

As author Simon Winchester wrote for The New York Times, there’s one English word in particular that’s deceptively simple: run. As a verb, it boasts a record-setting 645 definitions. Peter Gilliver, a lexicographer and associate editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, spent nine months sussing out its many shades of meaning.

“You might think this word simply means ‘to go with quick steps on alternate feet, never having both or (in the case of many animals) all feet on the ground at the same time,’” Winchester writes. “But no such luck: that is merely sense I.1a, and there are miles to go before the reader of this particular entry may sleep.”

This wasn’t always the case, though. When the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary was published in 1928, the word with the most definitions was set. However, the word put later outpaced it, and run eventually overtook them both as the English language's most complex word. Winchester thinks this evolution is partly due to advancements in technology (for instance, “a train runs on tracks” and “an iPad runs apps”).

He believes the widespread use of run—and its intricate web of meanings—is also a reflection of our times. “It is a feature of our more sort of energetic and frantic times that set and put seem, in a peculiar way, sort of rather stodgy, rather conservative,” Gilliver told NPR in an interview.

So the next time you tell your boss you "want to run an idea" by them, know that you’re unconsciously expressing your enthusiasm—as well as all the other subtleties wrapped up in run that previous words like set failed to capture.

[h/t The New York Times]

11 Little-Known Words for Specific Family Members

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iStock.com/kali9

The words we use for family members in English are specific about some things, and vague about others. Our vocabulary marks a distinction between our mother and her sisters (some languages use one word for mother and maternal aunts), but doesn't say whether siblings are older or younger (some languages have different words for brother and sister depending on their age relative to you). We lack words that pick out particular family members (we have cousin, but what about child-of-my-father's-brother?) as well as certain general terms (we have siblings for brothers-and-sisters, but what about nieces-and-nephews?)

If you look hard enough, you can find some words to help fill in the gaps. Here are 11 unusual English kinship words for family members.

1. Patruel

This one means "child of your paternal uncle." Also, a child of your own brother. It hasn't gotten a lot of use in the past few centuries, but it was once convenient to have a term for this relationship because it factored into royal succession considerations. The first citation for it in the OED, from 1538, reads, "Efter his patruell deid withoutin contradictioun he wes king."

2. Avuncle

Your mother's brother. Latin distinguished between patruus, father's brother, and avunculus, mother's brother. (There was also amita, father's sister, and matertera, mother's sister.) It's the root of the word avuncular, meaning "having to do with uncles" or "uncle-like" (i.e., kind and friendly, like an uncle). You won't find the word avuncle in the dictionary, but it has been used in anthropology texts and in papers concerning royal matters.

3. Niblings

Your nieces and nephews. You won't find this in the dictionary either, but use of this term seems to be growing among favorite aunts and uncles who want an easy way to refer to their little bundles of sibling-provided joy in a collective or gender-neutral way.

4. Fadu

Your father's sister. Latin amita covers this relationship, but we don't have to reach that far back to find an English equivalent. Old English made a distinction between aunts and uncles depending on whether they were maternal or paternal. We lost all that when we borrowed the more general aunt and uncle from French.

5. Modrige

"Your mother's sister," from Old English.

6. Fœdra

"Your father's brother," from Old English.

7. Eam

Your mother's brother. It survived in some dialects as eme, with a more general meaning of uncle or friend, into the 19th century.

8. Brother-uterine

Your half-brother from the same mother. This is a term used in old legal documents or other discussions of inheritance and succession. Half-siblings of the same mother are uterine and of the same father are consanguine.

9. Brother-german

Full brother, sharing both parents. Nothing to do with Germany. The german here is related to germane, which originally meant "of the same parents" and later came to mean just related or relevant.

10. Double cousin

Full first cousin, sharing all four grandparents. This comes about when a pair of sisters marries a pair of brothers, among other circumstances.

11. Machetonim

The parents of your child's spouse. Your child's in-laws. Ok, this is a Yiddish word, but one that, like a lot of Yiddish words, has poked its way into English because it fills a gap. When it comes to marriage, this can be a very important relationship, so it’s good to have a word for it. If your parents get along with their machetonim, the family—the whole mishpocheh—will be happier.

This story was republished in 2019.

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