DURING MY UNDERGRADUATE studies as a Linguistics major, one of the things that struck me most is the amazing fluidity of language. New words are created; older words go out of style. Words can change meaning over time, vowel sounds shift, consonants are lost or added and one word becomes another. Living languages refuse to be static.
The following words have sadly disappeared from modern English, but it’s easy to see how they could be incorporated into everyday conversation.
Words are from Erin McKean’s two-volume series: Weird and Wonderful Words and Totally Weird and Wonderful Words. Definitions have been quoted from the Oxford English Dictionary.
Verb trans. – “To confuse, jumble” – First of all this word is just fun to say in its various forms. John Locke used the word in a 1692 publication, writing “I fear, that the jumbling of those good and plausible Words in your Head..might a little jargogle your Thoughts…” I’m planning to use it next time my husband attempts to explain complicated Physics concepts to me for fun: “Seriously, I don’t need you to further jargogle my brain.”
Verb intr. – “To take one’s pleasure, enjoy oneself, revel, luxuriate” – Often I feel the word “enjoy” just isn’t enough to describe an experience, and “revel” tends to conjure up images of people dancing and spinning around in circles – at least in my head. “Deliciate” would be a welcome addition to the modern English vocabulary, as in “After dinner, we deliciated in chocolate cream pie.”
Verb trans. – “To scrape together; to gather together from various sources” – I’m sure this wasn’t the original meaning of the word, but when I read the definition I immediately thought of copy-pasting. Any English teacher can picture what a corraded assignment looks like.
Verb intr. – “To laugh loudly” – This Middle English word sounds like it would do well in describing one of those times when you inadvertently laugh out loud while reading a text message in class and manage to thoroughly embarrass yourself.
Adj. – “Apt to be a subject of jest or mockery” – This word describes a person, thing or situation that is likely to be the butt of jokes. Use it when you want to sound justified in poking fun at someone. “How could I resist? He’s just so ludibrious.”
Noun – “Addiction to bloodshed” – Could be a useful word for history majors and gamers, as in “Genghis Khan was quite the sanguinolent fellow” or “Do you think spending six hours a day playing Postal 2 actually fosters sanguinolency?”
Noun - Slang phrase used in the late 18th century to describe a “fat person” – Although I’m not sure whether this word was used crudely or in more of a lighthearted manner, to me it sounds like a nicer way to refer to someone who is overweight. “Fat” has such a negative connotation in English, but if you say “He’s a bit of a jollux” it doesn’t sound so bad!
Adj. – “Dismal” – This adjective is from Scots and may be derived from an old Irish word that refers to the wrinkling of one’s brow. An 1826 example of its use is “He looketh malagrugorous and world-wearied.” I’m tempted to also make the word into a noun: “Stop being such a malagrug!”
Verb – “To quarrel about trifles; esp. to quarrel noisily, brawl, squabble” – Brabble basically means to argue loudly about something that doesn’t really matter, as in “Why are we still brabbling about who left the dirty spoon on the kitchen table?” You can also use it as a noun: “Stop that ridiculous brabble and do something useful!”
Verb intr. – “To move swiftly or nimbly” – I can think of a lot of ways to use this one, like “I hate it when I’m frecking through the airport and other people are going so slow.”
Noun – “A drinking bout; a spree or ‘binge’” – Brannigan was originally a North American slang word, but it is now rarely used. “Shall we go for a brannigan on Friday?” can be a more sophisticated way to discuss such activities.
Noun – “Use of more words than are necessary; redundancy or superfluity of expression” – A useful word for editors: “Thanks for your 4,000-word submission. Unfortunately there is too much perissology in this piece for us to publish it.”
Noun – “The action of shaking to and fro” – This can also be used in verb form, to quagswag, and is pronounced like “kwag swag.” It could definitely work as the name for a new type of dance, or possibly serve as an alternate way to describe a seizure.
Noun – “A fool, simpleton, noodle, blockhead” – This one doesn’t need any explanation as to how you could use it; you may already have someone in mind who fits the description.
Noun – “A too earnest desire after drink.” – “Bibesy” may have been completely made up in the 18th century and it’s unclear whether it ever made it into common use, but it could easily be used today: “Wedding guests waited anxiously for the bar to open; bibesy should be expected after such a long, dull service.”
Noun – A 17th-century word meaning “continual writing” – Matadorians taking part in this year’s National Novel Writing Month are getting good practice at scriptitation!
Noun – “A state of mental disturbance or confusion” – I can start using this obsolete Scottish word right away: “While working on writing my thesis, I find I am constantly in widdendream.”
Adj. – An Old English and Middle English word meaning “careless, heedless, negligent” – Pronounced as “yeem-lis,” this is another word that could prove useful for teachers around the world: “Handing in messy and incomplete work just shows me you are being yemeles, and I won’t hesitate to give you a zero for the assignment.”
Noun – “Twilight” – Used in the early 17th century, “twitter-light” sounds like a romantic way to refer to the hours as the sun goes down.
Adj. – “Alluring, enticing, attractive” – Alright, so at first this word kind of sounds a way to describe something diseased, but if you put the stress on the second syllable for emphasis, it does sound like a compliment: “That girl was so illecebrous; I’ve got to figure out how to see her again.”
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