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What obscure words should we bring back into daily use?

Jonny Diamond

January 11, 2022, 10:50am

My father, upon being called into school because of a fairly serious act of public nudity committed by his 16-year-old son (me) accused the vice-principal of being a Jansenist (in reference to a fairly obscure Catholic movement of the 17th century that echoed much of Calvinism’s severe view of the human propensity to sin).

To say the least, this was a very obscure word to drop into a conversation about high school discipline, but it underscored to me then (as it does now) the almost infinite linguistic richness available to us. English is a larcenous mess of dozens of languages, and it will steal your vocabularies as readily as its users will steal your land; setting aside the evils of colonialism and empire for a moment (if we can, for this little blog post), this has meant that English is almost overflowing with ways to describe the world we encounter, and yet we only use a small percentage of those words to do so.*

So I wholeheartedly support the work of the Wayne State “Word Warriors,” who annually present a collection of words they deem worthy of reintroduction into daily conversation, which I have pasted below.

Now, [extreme Alan Partridge voice], being something of an amateur philologist myself, words like grandiloquent, desiderata, and otiose don’t seem all that obscure to me, but I absolutely love the clarity and utility of scurryfunge and malapert. Read on for what they mean.

Cacoethes
An irresistible urge to do something inadvisable.
“My commitment to weight loss was derailed by my cacoethes to eat the entire pizza.”

Collywobbles
Intense anxiety or nervousness, especially with stomach queasiness.
“While he was confident in rehearsal, performing before a crowd sent him running to the restroom with a case of the collywobbles.”

Desiderata
Things that are required or wanted.
“The committee met to discuss the various desiderata of a successful village fete.”

Elflock
Hair matted as if by elves.
“She woke up in the morning with her hair knotted in elflocks.”

Foozle
To fumble, bungle or make a mess of.
“I thought that I had the skills to complete that exercise, but instead I completely foozled the whole thing.”

Fudgel
To pretend to work when in reality one is not doing anything.
“He fudgeled at his desk, a comic book hidden inside his history text.”

Grandiloquent
Pompous or extravagant in language, style, or manner, especially when used in a way that is intended to impress.
“His grandiloquent affectations, meant to endear him to the elite, instead made him an object of ridicule.”

Malapert
Boldly disrespectful to a person of higher standing.
“He had skill, but his malapert behavior put him at odds with executives and prohibited any chance of promotion.”

Otiose
Serving no practical purpose or result.
“He asked for suggestions but was met by the otiose ramblings of his disinterested peers.”

Scurryfunge
To hastily tidy a house.
“Upon receiving the call that their parents were due home two hours earlier than planned, the kids scurryfunged in an attempt to hide evidence of their weekend party.”

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*Forgive this prolix** lede.
**I nominate prolix for reintroduction into common usage. Along with hogo.***
***A high stench; a real stink. (From the French, haut gout, “high taste”)

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