THIS ONE’S FOR WORD LOVERS

(You know who you are!)

Yep, I confess to being an unabashed logophile (lover of words).  (This seldom-used word comes from Greek roots: logos, meaning speech, word, reason; and philos, meaning dear, friendly.) 

Some people are logomaniacs—i.e., obsessed with words. I may be borderline, but I don’t think I’m quite there yet! On the one hand, I do have more than five full shelves of dictionaries, from general ones like Random House and the OED to specialized ones for everything from slang and historical periods to non-American English (e.g., Australian and South African). On the other hand, I can go whole days without even opening one!

Mrs. Malaprop, from The Rivals

Of course, there is a big difference between being a logomaniac and acrylog. The former are not necessarily loquacious but prefer the mellifluous to the sesquipedalian and can use catachresis rhetorically. The latter are generally more interested in verbiage and tend to commit malapropisms without irony.

Still, I’m gratified to know (according to the Cambridge English Dictionary) that gobby means talks too much. Closely related—but with different nuance—in American English, gabby means excessively or annoyingly talkative.

Recently, I began posting a word a day on FaceBook, just the word, no definition. The only criterion is that it strike my fancy on a given day. But maybe I should theme it.

Uncomfortable Words

These are perfectly good, innocent words that tend to make people squirm. And of course there is a dictionary for that!  The Dictionary of Uncomfortable Words: What to Avoid Saying in Polite (Any) Conversation by Andre Witham and Brian Snyder. Here are a few samples of such words early in the alphabet:

  • Abreast
  • Bunghole 
  • Dong
  • Emission
  • Globule
  • Horehound
  • Arrears
  • Crotch
  • Dangle
  • Feckless
  • Grotty
  • Ball cock
  • Crapulous
  • Elongate
  • Fecund
  • Hocker

Old Words That Deserve a Rerun 

Why be exhausted when you could be ramfeezled or quaked? Why be surprised when you could be blutterbunged?

One of the best dictionaries for these and other old words is The Word Museum: The Most Remarkable English Words Ever Forgotten by Jeffrey Kacirk.

  • Biblioklep: book thief
  • Bouffage: satisfying meal
  • Bruzzle: to make a great to-do
  • Cabobble: to mystify/puzzle/confuse
  • Cark: to be fretfully anxious
  • Fabulosity: the quality of being fabulous
  • Falling weather: rain, snow, hail
  • Flamfoo: a gaudily dressed woman
  • Fleshquake: a tremor of the body
  • Flonker: anything large or outrageous
  • Flurch: a multitude, a great many (things, not people)
  • Gutterblood: people brought up in the same immediate neighborhood
  • Hipshot: strained or dislocated in the hip
  • Leg-bail: run from the law, desertion from duty
  • Nicknackitarian: dealer in curiosities
  • Noggle: to walk awkwardly 
  • Overmorrow: the day after tomorrow
  • Prinkle: tingling sensation
  • Rooped: hoarse, as in bronchitis
  • Scruze: squeeze, compress
  • Smoothery: medicine or salve to remove hair
  • Tazzled: entangled or rough, untidy head of hair
  • Thenadays: in those days, times past
  • Thinnify: to make thin
  • Woman-tired: henpecked
Not to be confused with the Planet Word Museum, in Washington DC.

Words That Are Seldom Seen—or Heard 

I just like them. 

  • Rantipole: a wild, reckless, sometimes quarrelsome person; characterized by a wild, unruly manner or attitude.
  • Solivagant: rambling alone, marked by solitary wandering.
  • Agathokakological: composed of both good and evil. True of many (most?) people, and of all good villainous characters!
  • Noctiphany: something that happens only at night.
  • Skice: to frisk about like squirrels in spring.
  • Lethologicawhen a word is on the tip of your tongue. 
  • Sesquipedalian:

And when it just won’t come in time, you can substitute. Here are some words for an object, event, type of media, abstract concept, or person whose name is forgotten, unknown, or unmentionable. There are regional variations, but some of these seem to be universal.

  • Thingamajig
  • Thingummy
  • Thingamabob
  • Whatchamacallit
  • Whatsit
  • Thingy
  • What’s-his/her-name
  • What’s-his/her-face
  • Doohickey: object or device
  • Doodad
  • Gizmo

And then there are the nuances of words to consider. By this, I mean words that can objectively mean the same thing but create different impressions of age, social class, education, gender, etc. Some words are essentially unintelligible to people outside a particular social group. This is where a good thesaurus comes in handy (or Urban Dictionary). A few examples:

A geographic explanation of why English is so weird
  • Old, aged, elderly, antique, boomer
  • Curvy, overweight, fat, thicc [sic]
  • Whopperjawed, off-kilter, crooked, ill-fitting, skeevy
  • Heart, ticker, vascular organ
  • Tall, high, elevated
  • Angry, upset, ticked, pissed off, aggro
  • Vessel, container, bowl, pot, urn

Writing about words could go on forever.  So I think I’ll wrap this up for now, without even touching on insults and name-calling. Maybe another time.

Bottom line: never too many words.

MORE THAN ONE WAY TO SKIN A CAT

(No cats were harmed in the making of this blog.)

Which is to say, there is more than one way to say just about anything. Idioms, slang, and dialect vary greatly by geographic location and by time, so they can be a great way to ground a character in a particular time and place. Here, for your enjoyment and inspiration, are some variations on common concepts.

Drunk

Commode-hugging drunk
  • Inebriated
  • Intoxicated
  • Buzzed
  • Blitzed
  • High
  • Knee-walkin’ drunk
  • Commode-hugging drunk
  • Boozed up
  • Feeling no pain
  • Plastered
  • Ploughed
  • Bladdered
  • Liquored up
  • Under the influence 
  • Seeing double
  • Wall-eyed
  • Goggled
Sloshed
  • Stewed
  • Pickled
  • Battered
  • Blotto
  • Pissed
  • Three sheets to the wind
  • Drinks like a fish
  • Lit up like a Christmas tree
  • Drunk as a skunk
  • Pissed as a newt
  • Tight as a tick
  • Rat-arsed
Legless
  • Under the table
  • Bend an elbow
  • In the bag
  • In his/her cups
  • On Liquorpond Street
  • Away with the fairies
  • Have a load on
  • Well oiled
  • Lush
  • Worse for wear
  • Off the wagon
  • So drunk he opened his shirt collar to piss

Evil/Mean

Covidiot
  • Devil
  • Scum bucket
  • Sinner
  • The second half of saints and sinners
  • Troublemaker 
  • Villain
  • Benighted
  • Snake in the grass
  • Back-biting
  • Oxygen thief
  • Lower than a snake’s belly (in a wagon rut)
  • Sonofabitch 
  • Abbreviated piece of nothing
  • Farging icehole

Frigidity/Arousal/Sex (Female)

Amazons
  • Colder than a witch’s tit
  • Cold fish
  • Like making love to a corpse
  • Enough to make a man choose celibacy 
  • Built like a brick shit-house
  • Body to die for
  • Man magnet
  • Everyman’s wet dream
  • Wanton
  • On the pull
  • Always ready to ride
  • Just call her Eveready
  • Get a bit of sugar stick
  • Make a sausage sandwich
  • Give juice for jelly
  • Little Miss Roundheels
  • Celing Inspector
  • MILF/ GILF
  • No better than she should be
  • She’ll put out for anything in pants
  • She’s had more pricks than a secondhand dartboard
  • Scarlet woman  
  • Cougar
  • Cure for an Irish toothache
  • Go like a herd of turtles

Impotence/Arousal/Sex (Male)

Bro or Dude-bro
  • Can’t get it up/ can’t keep it up
  • Wilts like cut flowers in the sun
  • Drained away like an ice cube in the desert
  • Get a hard on
  • Get his rocks off
  • Carrying a woody
  • Hung like a prize bull
  • Butter her buns
  • Put his little hat on
  • He’s a regular Energizer Bunny
  • Manwhore
  • Roacher
  • Rake
  • Lounge lizard
  • Beau-nasty
  • Dipping his wick
  • Jumping her bones
  • Doing a little front-door work
  • Ring her bells/chimes
  • On the make
  • Jesuit boxer
  • Punk
  • Gym rat
  • Tosser
  • He’d fuck anything with a hole in
  • He gets more ass than a toilet seat
  • All mouth and no trousers

Incompetent

Not the sharpest tool in the shed/ brightest crayon in the box
  • All foam, no beer
  • Doesn’t have all her cornflakes in one box
  • All the cheese slid off his cracker
  • Body by Fisher, brains by Mattel
  • Can’t find his ass with both hands
  • Her sewing machine is out of thread
  • Receiver is off the hook
  • Skylight leaks a little
  • Not up to XXX
  • Not cut out for XXX
  • Out to lunch
  • Just doesn’t have it
  • Can’t walk and chew gum at the same time
  • He would fuck-up a wet dream
  • Not able to hit the ground with his hat
  • Batting zero
  • One step forward, three steps back

Lazy

Permanently set to “Stand-By”
  • Layabout
  • Do-nothing
  • Shiftless
  • Slow as molasses in January
  • Doesn’t have the gumption God gave a turnip
  • His get up and go has got up and gone
  • Too lazy to scratch an itch
  • Wouldn’t even scratch his ass if he could get someone else to do it for him
  • Laggard
  • Goldbrick
  • Freeloader
  • Sponger
  • He counts sawing logs as working

Mentally Unbalanced

Coocoo for Cocoa Puffs
  • Insane
  • Bonkers
  • Crazy
  • Berserker
  • Cracked
  • Lunatic
  • Deranged
  • Mad as a hatter
  • Nut case/job
  • Fruitcake
  • Potty
  • Psycho
  • Mental
  • Unglued
  • Batty
  • Bats in the belfry/attic
  • Looney (Tunes)
  • Has a screw loose
  • Sees the world slant/sideways
  • Has his/her own reality

Stupid

The lights are on, but nobody’s home.
  • World’s only living brain donor
  • Musclebound between the ears
  • Not enough brains to give himself a headache
  • Not the sharpest tool in the shed
  • A few clowns short of a circus
  • A few fries short of a Happy Meal
  • An experiment in Artificial Stupidity
  • A few beers short of a six-pack
  • Dumber than a box of rocks
  • A few peas short of a casserole
  • Has an IQ of 2, but it takes 3 to grunt
  • The wheel’s spinning but the hamster’s dead
  • One Fruit Loop shy of a full bowl
  • Sharp as a corner on a round table
  • One taco short of a combination plate
  • A few feathers short of a whole duck
  • Warning: objects in mirror are dumber than they appear
  • Couldn’t pour water out of a boot with instructions on the heel
  • Fell out of the Stupid Tree and hit every branch on the way down
  • An intellect rivaled only by garden tools
  • As smart as bait
  • His chimney’s blocked
  • She’s so dumb she thinks her bottom is just to sit on
  • Elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top floor
  • Forgot to pay his brain bill
  • Antenna doesn’t pick up all the channels
  • His belt doesn’t go through all the loops
  • If he had another brain, it would be lonely
  • Missing a few buttons on her remote control
  • No grain in the silo
  • Proof that evolution CAN go backwards
  • Several nuts short of a full bar
  • Surfing in Nebraska
  • Slinky’s kinked
  • Too much yardage between the goalposts
  • One of her dogs has slipped the leash
  • Dead from the neck up
  • Only 50 cards in his deck

Ugly

A face like the south end of a horse walking north
  • A face only a mother could love
  • A face not even a mother could love
  • Should have been drowned at birth
  • As for how s/he looks, s/he has a great personality
  • Homely
  • Ill-favored
  • Not much to look at
  • As attractive as hairs on a mole
  • Beaten with an ugly stick
  • Doesn’t need a mask for halloween
  • A face that could crack mirrors
  • Face that could scare the walking dead
  • “If my dog was as ugly as he is, I’d shave his butt and walk him backward!”
The Bard is a very useful friend to those looking for creative insults.

For more feline desquamation alternatives, browse through variations of slang used in countries where English is spoken around the world. Some of my favorites are Irish, Scottish, Jamaican, Kiwi, Australian, South African, and New York English. (Yes, New York English deserves a separate listing.) If you really want be specific about a character’s background, consider idioms and slang distinct to a particular region within a country.

Bottom line for writers: fresh phrases or clichés, take your pick.

This Just In!

American Dictionary of the English Language front cover
American Dictionary of the English Language

As many of you know, I collect dictionaries. This facsimile edition of the first American Dictionary of the English Language arrived yesterday and I’ve been enjoying it for hours. Who would have thought there could be 58 definitions of pass?

Portrait of Noah Webster, creator of Dictionary of American English
Noah Webster

According to the preface, Webster was being urged to compile such a volume as early as 1783. He was too busy to even think about it till 1801. The work became ever more ambitious, as you can see from the title page.

American Dictionary of the English Language title page
American Dictionary of the English Language

And the rest is history. Webster’s became almost synonymous with dictionary. He predated the Oxford English Dictionary (1933) by more than a hundred years, and I would claim his scholarship (including historical roots and literary examples) inspired those involved in the OED.

A Dictionary of South African English, title page
A Dictionary of South African English

According to Webster, new locations and new governments require the standardization of modified English. Hence, you can also find dictionaries of Australian English, Indian English, etc.
We are not using Webster’s 1828 dictionary today because—ta da!—language evolves. You heard it here first—unless you read Bill Bryson’s Mother Tongue: English and How It Got That Way.
 

The Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson, book cover
The Mother Tongue

 
The evolution of language comes not only from changing political needs, but also from science, art, technological advances, etc. While some of these changes primarily affect relatively narrow bands of society, others are more pervasive. Based on the sheer variety of offerings, I would argue that slang is one of the most changeable aspects of language, both universal and specialized.
 

two dictionaries
Mob Speak and Knickers in a Twist

 
Slang varies by occupation. I have dictionary of carnival slang, for example, as well as several dealing with war.

War Slang by Paul Dickson, cover of dictionary
War Slang

And of course language varies by time period and sub-culture.

Much as I love them, I’m afraid hard-copy dictionaries are becoming extinct. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary claims to be the best available. Given the rapidity of language evolution, online is probably the only way to keep up.

The Oxford American Dictionary and Language Guide front cover
The Oxford American Dictionary and Language Guide

What’s your newest dictionary? And why do you still have it?