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.
Other Words Too Good to Leave Out
- Tsundoku — The Japanese word for acquiring reading materials but letting them pile up in one’s home without reading them.
- Velben goods — Demand for most products increases as the price goes down. Velben goods are more demanded as prices go up, like in designer handbags.
- Exceptional Working Day — Sometimes countries will create special holidays, like to honor the death of a president. This is the opposite, when the government decides people should work on a weekend. I’ve seen this happen in India when they needed to open the banks to clear payments and in China so that they could give people the whole week off for Chinese New Year.
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.
- M. T. Lott — A shell company that was used when assembling parcels to create Walt Disney World.