To start with I found an amazing etymological podcast called The Allusionist by Helen Zaltzman. She has some great episodes on cursing [NSFW], Mountweazels (fictional words used in dictionaries for copyright purposes), portmanteaus (combination words like “brunch”) and eponyms (words named after people). She also had a great TED talk on how the letter i got a dot on top of it.
Old words that come from Rhetoric
- Abecedarian — The word means “alphabetical” but don’t the letters line up so nicely?
- Battologia — The meaningless repetition of words or ideas. To me, it sounds like using words as a battering ram.
- Zeugma — Using more than one meaning for a single word in a sentence like the phrase “Last week John lost his wallet and his life.”
My Favorite Words With an “S” Sound
- Corpus — A collection of written texts.
- Feckless — Irresponsible. I liked this word before the Samantha Bee controversy.
- Insouciant — Showing a casual lack of concern; indifferent.
- Screed — A long piece of writing, especially one that is boring or expresses an unreasonably strong opinion.
- Sibilant — The speech sounds produced by forcing air through a constricted passage (as ‘f’, ‘s’, ‘z’, or ‘th’ in both ‘thin’ and ‘then’). I also like a similar word plosive which is stopping the airflow using the lips, teeth, or palate, followed by a sudden release of air (e.g, t, k, and p).
- Sphygmomanometer — A blood pressure cuff.
My Favorite Pompous, High Faluting Words
- Bloviate — Talk at length, especially in an inflated or empty way.
- Ebullient — Cheerful and full of energy.
- Stentorian — Loud, powerful, booming, suitable for giving speeches to large crowds.
- Treacle — Cloying sentimentality or flattery.
- Unctuous — Excessively or ingratiatingly flattering; oily.
My Favorite Names of Real People
- David Dollar — Former employee of the U.S. Treasury with an oddly eponymous name.
- Catarina Fake — Co-Founder of Flickr. That’s her real name.
- Robert Lowth — I loathe Robert Lowth. This is the man who came up with the silly English grammar rules like don’t end a sentence with a preposition. Lowth had a misguided notion that English was basically Latin that had lost its way.
- Hugo Munsterberg — The academic advisor to William Marston, creator of Wonder Woman. In the audiobook for A Secret History of Wonder Woman, I can’t help but feel that the author, Jill Lepore, giggles every time she says Munsterberg’s name.
- Sol Price — Founder of Price Club which later merged with Costco. Possibly the most eponymous name ever.
- Ignaz Semmelweis — Early pioneer of antiseptic procedures. I just love the way his Hungarian name sounds.