August 2013 Flashback

Here’s a post worth recycling.

Give this word a whirl:


Any guesses?

Potato taster?


Photo by Scott Bauer, USDA ARS via Wikimedia Commons

Try again.

Poet … taster?


Portrait of Elizabeth Barrett Browning via Wikimedia Commons

Uhmmm, no, not that either. No eating of poets, no matter how yummy their words.

It’s actually pronounced poh-it-as-ter,

negating the whole “taster” angle.

Poetaster actually refers to

Continue reading

one-word wonders

How does this photo make you feel?

Photo by Pezibear via Pixabay

Would you say it gives you a sense of ukiyo?

Whoa … what was that?

You know, ukiyo: living in the moment, detached from the bothers of life?

That’s the vibe in a nutshell, right?

Thank Japan for summing up something like “contentment mixed with whimsical nostalgia and feelings of freedom” into one perfect gem.

You probably see these sorts of one-word wonders on Pinterest all the time—obscure terms from other languages that describe feelings we Americans simply haven’t invented words to convey.

Pinning these pretties is easy as pie, but can you actually incorporate them into daily use?

Nope, me neither. But wouldn’t you like to?

How lovely would it be to describe our feelings with such concision?

Rambling not required.

Inspired, I set out to broaden our linguistic horizons a bit, to deepen our pool of descriptive vocabulary. I pulled together a little 5-word dictionary (complete with pronunciations) of words that eloquently evoke emotion.

Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to try to use one of these words in casual conversation each day for a week. And, of course, leave a comment to tell me how you managed to squeeze ‘em in.

Ready, set …


  1. Laotong (lao-dong), from China:

A friendship that bonds two girls together for eternity as kindred sisters.

As in: “Sally and I agreed that our serendipitous meeting on MaryJane’s Farmgirl Connection was the beginning of our laotong.”

  1. Gigil (GEE-gil), from the Philippines:

The overwhelming urge to pinch or squeeze something cute.

As in: “I was overcome with gigil at the site of the baby’s smiling cheeks.”

  1. Mudita (moo-DEE-tah), from India:

Sympathetic or unselfish joy; delight in the good fortune of others.

As in: “We all shared a deep feeling of mudita when Mom announced that she’d won a trip to a yoga retreat in India because she has always wanted to go there.”

  1. Voorpret (foor-bdet), from the Netherlands:

The sense of joyous anticipation felt before an event actually takes place.

As in: “As Daisy Jo prepared for the midsummer garden party, she could barely contain her voorpret.”

  1. Meraki (MER-a-kee), from Greece:

Soul, creativity, or love put into a project; the essence of yourself that is put into your work.

As in: “She loves to make jewelry with sea glass, and she crafts each piece with profound meraki.”






ancient (in)justice

While our modern justice system might have its problems, it’s a vast improvement from the courts of old. Today’s word,


is a perfect example.

Cephalonomancy was used in ancient times to detect the guilt of a person accused of a crime. It involved, of all things, boiling the head of an ass.


While boiling the head of the ass, the prosecutor would recite the names of possible suspects. If the skull cracked or the jaw moved when a name was spoken, that person was deemed to be guilty.

Engraving of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Trial by Jury, 1875





Define: viridity (vi-RID-i-tee)

I’ll give you three hints …


Photo by Pink Sherbet Photography via Flickr


Photo by Skitterphoto via Pixabay


Photo by JensEnemark via Pixabay

Hopefully, we’ll be needing it in our vocabulary before long. (Hopefully spring is eternal:)

1. greenness; verdancy; verdure




First-foot: [furst-foo t] Scot.

noun: the first person to cross the threshold of a house on New Year’s Day.

In Scotland, the first person to enter your house after midnight on New Year’s Eve is called a “first-foot” or “first-footer.” And if that person is tall, dark, and handsome …

well, lucky you … in more ways than one!

Tristan and Isolde with the Potion by John William Waterhouse via Wikimedia Commons

That tall, handsome, dark-haired man is thought to bring you good fortune for the year ahead. And even more good fortune if he knows to bring along a silver coin (good luck); bread (prosperity), salt (good eats), or whiskey (good cheer).

Who was your first-footer? I think my sure-footed tom cat, Jasper Tomkins, was my first-footer.


Neologism [nee-ol-uh-jiz-uhm] is an old term (c. 1790) that means a new one.

Properly defined, it refers to “a newly coined word or expression.”

This, of course, could also be interpreted as noodle-brained nonsense by literature’s most literate logophiles.

But should it?

While we English enthusiasts are quick to note made-up words in the course of conversation,

(“I like to squirgle a little aloe vera gel after brushing my teeth.”)

the fact that we can glean their meaning from context suggests that these words carry the same clout as their established, dictionary-approved counterparts.

“Do not be afraid to make up your own words. English teachers, dictionary publishers, and that uptight guy two cubicles over who always complains about the microwave being dirty, they will all tell you that you can’t. They will bring out the dictionary and show you that the word isn’t there—therefore it doesn’t exist. Don’t fall for this,” urges blogger Andrew Kaufman of The Guardian. “It is easy to forget there was a time before dictionaries, when everything was less defined and words had a little more wiggle room. This kept the English language alive. Dictionaries turned the language from a house that we are all free to renovate into a museum we are only allowed to look at. So go ahead, step over that velvet rope, make up your own words. Remember that somebody, a long time ago, made up every single word in this sentence.”

Liberating perspective, isn’t it?

Building momentum within this mounting rhetorical revolution, lexicographer Erin McKean is reshaping how we interact with language. In her talk from TEDYouth, below, McKean emboldens us to embrace our neologistic urges.

McKean recently launched Wordnik, an online dictionary that houses all the traditionally accepted words and definitions, but also asks users to contribute new words as well as new uses for old words. Sounds headiforus. Funner too.