10 Rare But Useful Words Everyone Should Know

By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)

Ever caught yourself thinking, ‘There should be a word for that. Is there a word for that?’ We’re here to help. In this new post, we’ve gathered up ten useful words which should be better known, but aren’t. Many of them, of course, have literary origins or histories, which we’ll mention and discuss as we go.

UHTCEARE: This highly useful word means ‘lying awake before dawn worrying’. It appears in the Anglo-Saxon poem ‘The Wife’s Lament’, and has recently become more widely known thanks to Mark Forsyth, who includes it in his book The Horologicon.

QUAKE-BUTTOCK: This is another term for a coward, and appears in the plays of seventeenth-century playwrights Beaumont and Fletcher. We reckon it should be revived.

ACCISMUS: A very handy way of referring to ‘the pretended refusal of something one keenly desires’. It dates from 1565, showing that manners have been much the same for the last four or five centuries.

METANOIA: This is the act or process of changing your mind; the word first appeared in English in a 1577 book on rhetoric and style.

QUIDNUNC: A useful word for a gossip, or nosy person. It comes from the Latin for ‘what now?’ because such a person is always trying to find out what the latest news is on something.

THRASONICAL: Next time someone’s being rather boastful in your presence (whether a ‘humble brag’ or otherwise) why not remark on how ‘thrasonical’ they’ve been. They may well think you’re paying them a compliment, but in reality you’re observing just how bloomin’ big-headed they’re being. The adjective ‘thrasonical’ is derived from Thraso, a braggart soldier who appears in a comedy by the Roman playwright Terence.

CUNCTATION: This word refers to the action of putting something off. The seventeenth-century poet Robert Herrick used it in a poem, but we’d wager it has never been in widespread use. However, it’s a rather nicer way of admitting you’re procrastinating or, if you will, merely being lazy, without admitting too much.

LORTHEW: In the Middle Ages, the word ‘lorthew’ was another name for a teacher, but it’s the derivation which many teachers may find particularly apt. The word comes from two Old English words meaning ‘teacher’ and ‘slave’.

DEIPNOPHOBIA: This useful word refers to a very specific dread – the dread of dinner parties. It dates from as early as 1891. Meanwhile, a ‘deiponosophist’ (which is also found in the Oxford English Dictionary) is ‘a master of the art of dining’ – this word dates from 1581. It stems from a Greek word which the OED defines as ‘one learned in the mysteries of the kitchen’. And finally…

EPEOLATRY: We’ll conclude this top-ten of our favourite useful rare words he word ‘epeolatry’ means the worship of words themselves. It first appears in an 1860 book by Oliver Wendell Holmes Senior.

Here at Interesting Literature, we obviously love words and have even tried to get two of our own suggestions, ‘bibliosmia’ and ‘colygraphia’, in wider circulation. (These were coined for two of our posts: the first was on 10 words every book-lover should know, and the second provided 10 unusual writers’ words for NaNoWriMo, if you’re curious to find out which specific phenomena these coinages were our attempts to define.) However, it seems that their widespread use (and inclusion in the Oxford English Dictionary) remains a fair way off yet. Why not get them out there, into the Twittersphere? It would be great to see ‘bibliosmia’ trending one day…

If you enjoyed these rare useful words, check out our interesting facts about language and words.

37 thoughts on “10 Rare But Useful Words Everyone Should Know”

  1. As You Like It 5.2.12 – Rosalind: ‘…Caesar’s thrasonical brag of “I came, saw and overcame”.’

    Ever since I directed a production of the play I’ve loved this line because ‘overcame’ is so much more elegant a word than the rather leaden ‘conquered’. It also pairs neatly with ‘came’ – Shakespeare really was a handy wordsmith. So anyway that’s why I already knew this word.
    By the way, just after that quote, in the same line from Rosalind is a beautiful little anadiplosis. Just thought I’d mention it.

  2. This was both useful information and fun to read. The only thing that might make it better but would be time consuming would be to include a pronunciation guide with your definitions, your post is very well done.

  3. This is priceless–way better than the debate I saw the other day (I’m a gonna curse now) over which was bigger: a shitload or a fuck ton. And these are real words that won’t get me tossed from the grocery store. Made my day.

  4. One of my favorite rare words; ultracrepidarian. It means someone who speaks with authority on topics they know very little about. I keep wanting to use it, and then I remember nobody else knows what it means. It’s a very sad feeling.

  5. Great post. “Quake-buttock” is fantastic.

    In addition, “deipnosophist” is actually a great word for a literary blog. The original Greek word comes from the title of the “Deipnosophistae,” written by the sophist and grammarian Athenaeus of Naucratis, who lived in the second and/or third century A.D. This work is a massive, fifteen-volume dialogue about dining, literature, philosophy, and many other miscellaneous topics. My favorite translation of the word “deipnosophist” into English is “contriver of feasts,” a rendering that is found in some nineteenth-century scholarly discussions of Athenaeus’s work.

      • Ah yes, another nifty Greek word with literary connections! From the Greek “euphues,” meaning “good-natured” or “witty,” introduced into English via Roger Ascham’s “The Scholemaster” and the romances of John Lyly. The elaborate style of the latter led to the label “euphuism.”

  6. Well, I can definitely relate to UHTCEARE, but it seems that you in the next word relate it to being a coward. Some may use it to avoid the unpleasant, while others (like myself) experience it as a result of the desire not to be blindsided, or preparing oneself for something unknown done or said the previous day or so coming back to bite one on the ass.


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