My friend and colleague Kathleen Corcoran sent me an archaic word.

  • Spuddle (v)
    • To work feebly and ineffectively because your mind is elsewhere or you haven’t quite woken up yet.
    • To make a lot of fuss about trivial things, as if it were important.
    • To work tirelessly without achieving anything of worth. To put in a great deal of effort and achieve only very little.
    • To loosen and dig up stubble and weeds left after a harvest with a broadshare or similar device.

I took one look at it and said, “That’s got to be one of the best, most useful words ever!” Indeed, I’ve been spuddling for years.

So began my search for old, forgotten, seldom used, and archaic words and phrases that need to take (or retake) their rightful places in our written and the spoken vocabularies.

Autophoby (n) Fear of referring to oneself, usually exhibited by a reluctance to use the pronouns I or me.

Balderdash (n) Spoken or written nonsense.

Blithering (adj) Complete; utter (Used to express annoyance or contempt, as in “a blithering idiot.”)

Bloviate (v) To speak in a pompous or overbearing way. (Made popular by Pres. Warren G. Harding.)

Caddywonked (adj) Southern slang for sideways, unconventional, askew.

Caddywompus/cattywampus (adj) Variations of catawampus, meaning askew, diagonal, first recorded in the 1830-1840s.

Catty-cornered (adj) Diagonally opposite someone or something

Flagitation (n) The act of asking or demanding with great passion; begging.

Clishmaclaver (n) Idle talk; gossip.
(chiefly Scottish)

Conniption (n) Informal, meaning a fit of rage

Crackbrained (adj) extremely foolish; crazy; insanely irresponsible.

Embrangle (v) To entangle, mix up, confuse, perplex. Embranglement, the noun form.

Flapdoodle (n) Nonsense; a fool

Flexanimous (adj) Having the power to influence, move, affect

Gabble-monger (n) Gossip

Hoik (v) To move or pull abruptly; yank.
(also a wild hook shot in cricket)

Lollop (v) to move in an ungainly way, in a series of clumsy paces or bounds.
(n) A person or animal who moves in such a way.

Mizzle (n) Light rain or drizzle.

Skellington (n) A skeleton

Percolation (n) The process of something spreading slowly.

Pilgarlic (n) Literally “peeled garlic” the word is used for a bald person or a person held in amused contempt or treated with mock pity.

Runnel (n) A narrow channel in the ground for liquid to flow through; a crook or rill; a small stream of a particular liquid, e.g., a runnel of sweat.

Sitooterie (n) A summerhouse or gazebo; also an out-of-the-way place to sit with your partner at a dance (or other event).

Skiwapiddy (adj) Crooked, off-kilter

Stramash (n) Disturbance or racket.
(chiefly Scottish)

Taradiddle (n) Petty lie, nonsense.

Trug (n) A shallow basket made from strips of wood for carrying flowers or vegetables.

Ultra-crepidarian (n) A person who expresses opinions on things outside the scope of his/her knowledge or expertise. Can also be an adjective.

Whinge (v) To complain persistently and in a peevish or irritating way.

Bottom Line: Linguists say you can make any word, even an obscure or archaic word, your own by repeating it aloud five times and using it in a sentence every day for a week.


Carat and Carrot and Caret and Karat
Pi Pie!

Today I feel like playing with words! Considering the history of the English language, it’s no wonder there are so many strange juxtapositions in our syllables. An easy illustration is lay and lei: one from Proto-Germanic and one from Hawaiian.

English is not the only language with homophones and homographs, of course. German, Korean, Vietnamese, and Mandarin are notorious for wordplay based on homophones and homonyms. The language with the most homonyms might be Rotokas, spoken by the people of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea. There are only 150 possible syllables, so each syllable gets a lot of use!


I’ll start with homophones, words that sound the same but are different in meaning or spelling. I’ve chosen words that are both! Here, in no particular order are some examples. (This is by no means an exhaustive list. Check here or here for many more examples!)

Colonel and Kernel

Can you use all the variations in a single sentence that makes sense?

Ewe and Yew
Fairy/ Faerie and Ferry
Key and Quay

There are many pairs of homophones (some estimate as many as 6,000!), but some syllables work extra hard and mean three or more different things. Again, this is nowhere near an exhaustive list.

Bawled and Balled and Bald
Furze and Furs and Firs

Some homophones are dependent on the speaker’s accent. Words that sound the same in Johannesburg may be entirely different in Toronto.

Floor and Flower and Flour

If you really want to go crazy, consider raise, rays, rase, rehs, res, réis, and raze.

  • Rase is a verb meaning “to erase”
  • Rehs is the plural of reh, a mixture of sodium salts found as an efflorescence in India
  • Réis is the plural of real, a currency unit of Portugal and Brazil
  • Res is the plural of re, a name for one step of the musical scale
Hair and Hare


Then there are homographs, words that are spelled the same but differ in meaning or pronunciation. I’ve focused on the former here.

  • Bar as in drinking place, bar as in fasten the door, bar as in fastener or weapon
  • Part as in separate, part as in a piece of something
  • Snuff as in tobacco product, snuff as in smothering a candle flame
  • Yen as in Japanese currency, yen as in a desire
  • Clear as in weather, clear as in clean up
  • Foot as in body part, foot as in length
  • Wind as in moving air, wind as in turning something
  • Chair as in furniture, chair as in run a meeting
  • Stand as in get up, stand as in take a stand, stand as in piece of furniture
  • Case as in luggage or box, case as in court case
  • Bit as in took a bite of, bit as in horse harness, bit as in small amount
  • Swallow as in ingest, swallow as in bird
  • Pot as in vessel, pot as in plant, pot as in marijuana
  • Ring as in jewelry, ring as in bell
  • Wire as in piece of metal, wire as in electrical work, wire as in telegraph
  • Dig as in make a hole, dig as in “like it”
  • Bow as in bend from the waist, bow as in front of a boat
  • Stern as in firm, stern as in back of a boat
  • Park as in outdoor space, park as in leave a vehicle
  • Ear as in body part, ear as in corn
  • Second as in time, second as in between first and third 
Bark and Bark

Many of these homographs are variations from a single word origin, and their various meaning can be traced back. If you want to wander down an internet rabbit hole, try looking up the etymology of homophones.

  • Walk from the Proto-Indo-European root “wel-” meaning “to turn or revolve
    • Travel on foot
    • A pathway along which one might travel on foot
  • Pregnant from Latin “praegnantem” meaning “before birth
    • Person who is with child
    • Tense pause (full of meaning)
  • Plate from Proto-Indo-European root “plat-” meaning “to spread
    • Flat sheet of metal that holds food
    • Flat sheet of very thin metal coating an object so it looks like gold or silver
    • Layer of the planet’s mantle holding continents, floating on magma
  • Secretary from Medieval French “secretarie” meaning “confidant, someone entrusted with secrets
    • Administrative assistant
    • Officer
    • Type of desk used by a secretary
  • Port from Proto-Indo-European root “prtu-” meaning “passage
    • Wine variety originating from the Portuguese city Oportus
    • Place where boats anchor
    • Left side of a ship when facing forward from the stern
    • Medical appliance installed under the skin
  • Book from Proto-Germanic “bōk(ō)-” meaning “the part of a beech tree used to make tablets for written documents
    • Reading material
    • Make a reservation (originally marked in a book, now more likely kept on a tablet)
  • Table from Latin “tabula” meaning “small flat slab, usually for inscriptions or games
    • Furniture for holding meals or other objects
    • List of numbers and figures
    • To enter into return to a list
  • Lift from Proto-Germanic “luftijan” meaning “to elevate”
    • Pick up
    • Elevator
    • Giving a ride
Port and Port and Port and Port

Homographs (non-homophonic)

And then there are homographs that are spelled the same but differ in pronunciation as well as meaning. How many of these do you recognize?

  • Wind
  • Buffet
  • Minute
  • Bow
  • Bass
  • Evening
  • Coordinates
  • Proceeds
  • Does
  • Axes
  • Agape
  • Putting
  • Moped
  • Tear
  • Wound
Double Bass

In many cases, only a shift in stress from one syllable to another indicates whether the word functions as a noun or a verb. As with many elements of the English language, this “rule” has many exceptions.

  • Attribute
  • Produce
  • Refuse
  • Frequent
  • Discharge
  • Second
  • Entrance
  • Digest
  • Interchange
  • Content
  • Advocate
  • Discount
  • Contract

And just to increase your vocabulary one more time: homonyms can be either or both!

Bottom Line: It’s no wonder people have difficulty learning English as a second language!

Mince and Mints
(Do not confuse these two in recipes!)


Sometimes, it’s fun just to fool around with language. Word play comes in wide variety, of course. Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde are famous (infamous?) for their clever manipulation of the English language. Way back before the English language settled into its modern form, Geoffrey Chaucer turned Middle English into his personal plaything.

Anagrams and whimsical stories are two of my favorites because they require nothing but an awake brain! However, for the purposes of this discussion, I’ll write them out.


For anagrams, think of a word—longer is better—and then see how many other words can be made from those letters. Whether plurals or contractions are allowed is up to the player! For example, thanksgiving. The options here are limited by the fact that there is no E, the most frequently used letter in the English language. 

  • thanks
  • thank
  • sang
  • snag
  • nag
  • than
  • tan
  • gnat
  • kin
  • king
  • stag
  • stank
  • stink
  • ink
  • skin
  • sin
  • gas
  • tank
  • tang
  • aging
  • staging
  • thigh
  • tights
  • thighs
  • knights
  • night
  • thanking
  • kings
  • hats
  • giving
  • gating
  • knit
  • ask
  • at
  • an
  • as
  • in
  • asking
  • ski
  • skiing
  • vast
  • gist
  • hat
  • scathing
  • gangs
  • hating
  • shit
  • hit
  • has
  • having
  • task
  • nights
  • hank
  • hang
  • sing
  • ailing
  • tin
  • vat
  • shank
  • shiv
  • shaving
  • van
  • shag
  • shank
  • gash
  • this
  • task
  • scat
  • tasking
  • thinking
  • his
  • has
  • hag
  • hit
  • tat
  • stat
  • sighing
  • sighting
  • tag
  • sag
  • sagging
  • gin
  • thin
  • think
  • gang
  • sting
  • shag
  • sank
  • hag
  • sink
  • shin
  • saving
  • hint
  • gag
  • skit
  • shining
  • gait
  • having
  • gas
  • it
  • sting
  • singing
  • angst
  • sigh

Story Word

One way I like to launch into writing whimsy is to find a word and ring as many changes on it as I can. Here’s one such piece. 

Writers note: this is not the sort of writing that would pass muster in a class or critique group! It’s an example of writing fun, not good writing!


Abelia hates her name. She is forever telling people not to call her Abby, abby being altogether too descriptive for comfort. All her adult life she’s longed to abolish her belly, but she’s seldom succeeded even in abbreviating her abs. They are aboriginal.

Today she is at that abattoir they call a fitness center. She abhors the place, and cannot walk through the door without sinking into abjection. But so strong is her wish for an absolution, she puts her abhorrence in abeyance and follows the yellow brick abscissa to the abs machine. The results are abysmal. After fifteen minutes, she abandons the effort.

The trainer shrieks, “It’s too soon for you to abscond!”

Everyone stares and Abelia is abashed, wishing fervently for an alien abduction. She wishes she were abalone, or perhaps an abstract painting, anything but abnormally abby. She no longer counts leg raises and crunches. She knows they’re absurd. Her abs are absolutely aberrant, an abomination she wishes absent. If she were royalty, she’d have to abdicate. She considers ablation but decides to abstain. The pitfalls of surgery are not abstruse.

Her therapist says, “There’s absolutely nothing abnormal about your abdominals!” She points out that Abelia’s absorption has become an abstraction. “You must abjure that.”

Abelia takes the advice of her high abbess of health, vowing that from this day forward, she will abrogate concern for her abs and embrace abundance. She dons a flowing silk abba  in red, gold and purple. No more abstemiousness. No more abstinence. No more abnegation.

Bottom line: When you just want to unwind or jolt some creativity, consider word play!