Fun facts about words and the English language
The stuff of literature is, of course, words. As Samuel Taylor Coleridge observed, ‘Prose = words in their best order; – poetry = the best words in the best order.’ In this post, we’ve gathered up 27 of the best facts about words that we’ve unearthed since beginning this blog a couple of years ago. Where necessary, we’ve provided a link to further information.
If you enjoy these weird and wonderful word facts, you might also like our 10 rare but useful words everyone should know.
The word ‘onomatomania’ means ‘intense mental anguish at the inability to recall some word or to name a thing’.
A ‘dysphemism’ is an unpleasant or derogatory word or expression substituted for a pleasant or inoffensive one; the opposite of a euphemism.
Though of uncertain origin, the word ‘bad’ may stem from the Old English ‘bæddel’ meaning ‘hermaphrodite’ or ‘effeminate or homosexual man’.
The first recorded use of ‘bad’ to mean ‘good’ is from an 1897 book, Pink Marsh, by American writer George Ade.
‘Pristine’ originally meant primitive.
To ‘scan’ originally meant to study closely.
To ‘peruse’ originally meant to use up or exhaust.
‘Epizeuxis’ is the repetition of a word or phrase in immediate succession, e.g. the line from King Lear: ‘Never, never, never, never, never.’
A sentence containing a single word is a ‘monepic’ sentence.
Hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia is the fear of long words. (We have more facts about long words in literature here.)
‘Word-grubber’ was 18th-century slang for someone who used unnecessarily long and complicated words in conversation.
‘Hellenomania’ refers to the act of using long Latin and Greek terms instead of readily understandable English words.
Samuel Johnson left the letter X out of his dictionary, claiming that X ‘begins no word in the English language’.
‘Aardvark’ isn’t the first word in the dictionary – the Oxford English Dictionary lists several words before it including a, aa (a stream), aal (a mulberry), aam (an old unit of liquid measure), aandblom (a wild flower), and aapa (a term, originating in South Asia, for an older sister).
Ezra Pound coined the word ‘logopœia’, which he defined as ‘the dance of the intellect among words’.
A ‘logodaedalus’ is someone who is cunning with words; it was first used by Ben Jonson in 1611.
‘Logamnesia’ means the act of forgetting a word.
‘Loganamnosis’ refers to the mania for trying to recall a forgotten word.
‘Logomisia’ denotes a disgust for certain words.
‘Logodaedaly’ refers to the arbitrary coining of new words.
C. S. Lewis coined the word ‘verbicide’ to denote the killing of a word or the distortion of its original meaning.
Richard Lederer coined the word ‘verbivore’ to describe someone who devours and feasts on words.
‘Verbigeration’ is the habit of frequently repeating favourite words or expressions.
The word ‘epeolatry’ means ‘the worship of words’; it first appears in an 1860 book by Oliver Wendell Holmes Senior.
Logan Pearsall Smith coined the word ‘milver’ for ‘a person with whom one shares a strong interest in a particular topic; esp. wordplay’.
More interesting word facts can be found in our interesting lexicon series, which examines the curious origins of well-known words.
Image (bottom): Multi-volume Latin dictionary (photo by Dr Marcus Gossler, 2005), Wikimedia Commons.