The best words for describing people and their annoying habits
The subject of this post is somewhat niche, we’ll admit, but here at Interesting Literature we love the English language and the fact that at some point in its rich history a word has been invented for just about everything, or so it would seem. In this post we’ve confined ourselves to those particularly vexing and irritating things which people do – whether online, in person, outside your bedroom window, or in tedious meetings at work. It’s fascinating, for instance, to learn there’s a word for people who use overly long pretentious-sounding words. (In fact, there are several, but we’ll avoid getting unnecessarily sesquipedalian here.) If you enjoy these words, be sure to have a look at our list of rare but useful words everyone should know.
Girouettism is the practice of frequently altering personal opinions to follow popular trends. Aptly, it comes from a girouette, another name for a weather-cock. Just as a weather-cock changes its position according to the wind, so a figurative ‘girouette’ is a fair-weather sort who changes their metaphorical ‘position’ according to what’s ‘in’ at the moment. The term dates from the 1820s.
Verbomania is abnormal talkativeness. There is, however, little more to say about this one – ironically.
Hellenomania refers to the act of using long Latin and Greek terms instead of readily understandable English words.
Word-grubber was eighteenth-century slang for someone who used unnecessarily long and complicated words in conversation. So, a word-grubber suffers from hellenomania. Simple and straightforward – unlike the words such a person is likely to use.
But then some people are just aeolistic, a nice word which means ‘long-winded’. Its plethora of vowels nicely catches the hot air that an aeolist spouts. The word ‘aeolist’ makes its debut in Jonathan Swift’s 1704 Tale of a Tub: ‘The Learned Æolists, maintain the Original Cause of all Things to be Wind.’ Its adjectival form didn’t turn up in print, according to current estimates, until over a century later.
A buttinsky is a person who constantly interrupts or butts in; it was coined by George Ade in his 1902 novel The Girl Proposition. Ade, by the way, also provides us with the first recorded use of the word ‘bad’ to mean ‘good’, in his 1897 book Pink Marsh.
Humdudgeon is an imaginary illness or pain, or a loud complaint about nothing. It sounds like a combination of ‘humbug’ (as in the famous Ebenezer Scrooge catchphrase, meaning a hoax or load of nonsense) and ‘dudgeon’ (anger or resentment: to be ‘in high dudgeon’ and so on), and that’s because it probably is. You’re in high dudgeon about a humbug, about a sham or a load of nothing.
A quisby is someone who idles; ‘doing quisby’ was old slang for idling or not working. ‘Doing quisby’ is first recorded in Henry Mayhew’s great work of Victorian reportage, London Labour and the London Poor (1861) – the work in which ‘bloke’ also makes its debut.
One of the great words to feature in Samuel Johnson’s eighteenth-century Dictionary is bedpresser, which Johnson defines as ‘a heavy lazy fellow’. We’ve written about the funny peculiarities of Johnson’s Dictionary here.
Cuggermugger is whispered gossiping. It’s an Irish English word, influenced by the phrase hugger mugger.
There must be other annoying words – or rather, perfectly nice words that describe annoying things people do – so which words have we left out here? Let us know what gets your goat, and if there’s a word for it. It’s a tragedy if there isn’t one. (Now tragedy: there’s a goat-word. It’s thought to derive from the Greek meaning ‘goat song’…)
If you enjoyed these words, you might also enjoy our interesting word and language facts.
Image: Jonathan Swift, from The International Magazine (1850), Wikimedia Commons.