Lexicology and other clever words for you to use 

By Thomas van den Wyngaert

[Lexicology] The world of words, their meaning, structure, history, and usage. 

Words: fascinating when coming from a friend, boring when being used by a teacher. We all have our own vocabulary, and our own idiosyncrasies when using words, be it using a word too often or mispronouncing the number ‘three’. Words have many uses, from making you sound smart, to simply the enjoyment that comes with learning about ridiculous words. Whilst most people will never scratch the surface of all the fantabulous and silly words we call ‘advanced’, through this article you will! 

  1. Floccinaucinihilipilification 

Not only does this word provide you the wondrous opportunity to listen to Google Translate attempt to pronounce this word in every language, it’s also surprisingly useful. It is the act or habit of considering something unimportant, trivial, or worthless. So, feel free to use it to describe that one teacher who keeps on giving you bad grades! 

This barely pronounceable word comes from a Latin word, which – surprise, surprise – is spelt the same.  

The word “floccinaucinihilipilification” is a combination of four other Latin words: “flocci” (at a wisp of wool), “nauci” (of little value), “nihil” (nothing), and “pili,” (of hair) which mean “at a wisp of wool,” “at a trifle,” “nothing,” and “of hair,” respectively. The word was first recorded in the mid-18th century, and it was used by the English author William Shenstone in his Letters, where he defined it as “the act of estimating as worthless”.  

2. Collywobbles 

Collywobbles, which must be my favourite word, is the feeling of nervousness – That gnawing pain and queasiness felt in your stomach right before an exam. Unlike our first word, “‘collywobbles” is easy to pronounce and tends to make people smile while using it. An example of it in use could be: ‘I’ve got collywobbles because of my exam in 30 minutes’. The precise origin of the word is uncertain, but one theory suggests that it may be derived from the Old English word “Wamble”, which means “to move unsteadily” Another theory suggests that it may have been influenced by the word “colic,” which refers to severe abdominal pain. But let’s be frank, you don’t need a completely accurate origin of a word to be able to enjoy using it!  

3. Quixotic 

The word “quixotic” comes from the character Don Quixote from the novel of the same name by Miguel de Cervantes. Don Quixote is known for his chivalrous but impractical ideas, and the word “quixotic” has come to mean ‘idealistic to a fault, impractical, or extremely optimistic in a way that is not realistic’. The term “quixotic” was first used in English in the 18th century. 

4. Ragamuffin 

This delightful word refers to a person, typically a child, in ragged, dirty clothes. 

In the 19th century, it was sometimes used as a term of endearment (showing affection) for children or pets, and in the early 20th century it was used to describe a particular type of bohemian or artistic lifestyle (reggae). 

5. Ultracrepidarian 

Ultracrepidarian is used to describe someone who gives advice about things that they know little or nothing about, something which most of us will encounter in our lives… The word is derived from the Latin phrase “ultra crepidam”, which means “beyond the sole”. This phrase was famously used by the ancient Greek artist Apelles to critique a cobbler who had offered unsolicited advice on his artwork. The word was coined in the early 19th century by William Hazlitt, who was inspired by the story of Apelles and the Cobbler

6. Defenestration  

Defenestration is a word that deserves a prize for its beautiful simplicity and purity. As French speakers will have noticed, ‘defenestration’ is derived from the Latin word “fenestra”. Its meaning directly translates to ‘de-windowing’ someone – the act of throwing something, or someone, out of a window. However fun this word is to use, you’ll have to jump at the opportunity to use it, as I doubt that it’ll come in handy anytime soon… 

The word has its roots in a number of historical events in which political or religious figures were… defenestrated… as a form of protest or rebellion. 

One of the most famous instances of defenestration occurred in Prague in 1618 when a group of Protestants threw several Catholic officials out of a window in Prague Castle. This event, known as The Defenestration of Prague, was a major factor in the outbreak of the Thirty Years’ War in Europe. 

7. Hullabaloo One of the most charming words on this list (second perhaps only to collywobbles), the word “hullabaloo” dates back to the 18th century and was originally spelt “hullo-balloo.” It was likely derived from the Old English words “hullo,” (hello), and “baloo,” which was used in lullabies. 

Over time, “hullo-balloo” evolved into “hullabaloo,” and its meaning shifted to refer to a commotion or uproar. The word was popularised in the 19th century in the US, where it was frequently used in newspaper headlines to describe scandals, political controversies, and other sensational events. Today, “hullabaloo” is still used to describe a noisy disturbance or a tumultuous situation. It is also sometimes used in a more light-hearted sense to describe a party or celebration. 

8. Blatherskite A rather ordinary-sounding word with a somewhat relatable meaning, blatherskite refers to a person who talks at length without making any sense. The word “blatherskite” is thought to have originated in Scotland in the late 17th century. It is a combination of two words; “blather”, meaning to talk in a long-winded or nonsensical manner, and “skite”, meaning a person who talks boastfully or arrogantly. Personally, I think we all know someone who’s a bit of a blatherskite. 

9. Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia 

Quite a new word, only thought of in the 1960s, this playful term is a combination of the Greek words “hippopotamos” (meaning “hippopotamus”), “monstrum” (meaning “monster”), “sesquipedalian” (see 10.), and “phobia”. It translates to: “fear of the monster river horse with many foot-and-a-half-long words”. 

So, rather ironically, this word describes the fear of long words… 

10. Sesquipedalian      A fitting description, and end to this article is “sesquipedalian”. The word comes from the Latin word “sesquipedalis,” which means “a foot and a half long”. It is used to describe someone who tends to use long, and complicated words or language, and is often associated with verbose or pretentious writing or speech. The term is typically used critically or mockingly, to suggest that someone is trying too hard to sound smart or sophisticated.  

So, feel free to go out and use your new vocabulary, but make sure that no one is tempted to call you sesquipedalian!