25 Smart Words You Should Be Using But Aren’t

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Over its lengthy history, the English language has amassed the largest vocabulary of any comparable language on the planet. That’s great when it comes to picking precisely the right word for a very specific situation, but not so great when you think about the countless words that are lying ignored in the murkier corners of the dictionary, being overlooked in favor of their more familiar synonyms and equivalents. So in the interest of improving your vocabulary (and scoring a few smart points along the way) why not try ditching the familiar for the unfamiliar, and dropping one of these 25 fantastically obscure phrases into a conversation?

1. ABLOCATE

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Dating from the 17th century, to ablocate something is to hire it out. For obvious reasons, it literally means “to put in a different place.”

2. AGELASTIC

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Derived from a Greek word meaning “laughter”, someone who is agelastic literally never laughs. Or, put another way, they’re extremely miserable.

3. APRICATION

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The early lexicographer Henry Cockeram defined aprication as “a baking in the sun” in his 1623 English Dictionarie. Derived from a Latin word literally meaning “exposed,” it’s basically a fancy alternative to “sunbathing.”

4. BRACHYLOGICAL

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Brachylogy is brevity of speech, which makes someone who is brachylogical a succinct, terse, straight-to-the-point speaker.

5. BUCCULA

A man with a double chin
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Instead of saying "double chin," say buccula. It sounds a lot more complimentary and literally means “little cheek.”

6. CALAMISTRATION

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In Latin, a calamistrum was a curling iron, which makes calamistration the act or process of curling your hair and calamistrate—a word dating from the mid 1600s in English—the verb for precisely that.

7. DEOSCULATION

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They’re not the most romantic of words, but both osculation and deosculation are 17th-century words for kissing.

8. DECEMNOVENARIAN

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The word decemnovenarian is derived from the Latin word for the number 19, and so literally means “characteristic of the 19th century”—or more loosely, “outdated” or “old-fashioned.”

9. ECHINATE

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Your hairbrush might be echinate, and so too might a hedgehog—for good reason. Although it’s usually used more generally of anything covered in prickly spikes or points, echinate literally means “hedgehog-like.”

10. ÉCLAIRCISSEMENT

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English has picked up some very smart-sounding words from French over the years, including the noun éclaircissement, which has been used to mean “a clearing up of that which is obscure or unknown” since the late 1600s. More generally, it's an enlightening explanation of something seemingly inexplicable.

11. FACINOROUS

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Derived from a Latin word for an evil deed, the adjective facinorous dates from the mid 16th century in English and refers to anything or anyone atrociously, heinously evil or bad.

12. FRITINIENCY

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The Latin word fritinnire meant, onomatopoeically, “twittering” or “chirping.” And derived from that, fritiniency is a 17th-century word for the chirruping sounds made by birds or insects.

13. INFUCATION

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To fucate is to paint or color something. Derived from there, infucation is a 17th-century word for the process of applying makeup—or, as one 1658 English dictionary put it, the “laying on of drugs or artificial colors upon the face."

14. LAODICEAN

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Derived from the name of an ancient region of the eastern Mediterranean (whose inhabitants, according to the Book of Revelation, were singled out for their indifference or lukewarm interest in Christianity), a Laodicean is someone who holds no particular opinion or interest, especially in contentious subject like politics or religion; as an adjective, it means “indifferent” or “uninterested."

15. MALVERSATION

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To malverse is to act corruptly in an elected office or position of trust, and malversation—originally a Scottish legal term—is the act of doing precisely that.

16. NIMBOSE

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Nimbus (as in words like cumulonimbus and nimbostratus) was the Latin word for “cloud,” which lies at the root of a handful of weather-related words like nimbosity (meaning “storminess” or “cloudiness”) and nimbose, which means “stormy” or “overcast."

17. PENELOPIZING

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If you know your classic literature, you’ll know that Penelope was the faithful wife of Odysseus in The Odyssey by Homer (more on him in a moment), who spent her time waiting for her husband’s return by working on a never-ending tapestry. With Odysseus presumed dead, Penelope managed to put off all her potential suitors by explaining that she would only begin to consider their marriage proposals once her embroidery was completed—but every night, she would secretly unpick her day’s work so that she remained busy until Odysseus finally returned. From that story of pure fidelity, the name Penelope came to be used allusively in English of any enduringly faithful partner, while the verb penelopize came to be used variously to mean “to make one’s work fill up the time available,” “to procrastinate” or “put off a decision,” and “to deliberately waste one’s time."

18. PERVICACIOUS

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Derived from a Latin word meaning “to convince someone of your point” or “to demonstrate without doubt,” someone who is pervicacious is extremely obstinate or stubborn.

19. PRODROMUS

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That “drom” in the middle of prodromus—which is the same root as words like velodrome and hippodrome (which is literally a race course)—derives from a Greek word meaning “running.” That makes a prodromus literally a “forerunner,” or just something that comes before something else. Today, it's most often used in the natural sciences in reference to "a prelimary publication or introductory work."

20. PRODITORIOUS

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A proditor is a traitor, which makes someone who is proditorious untrustworthy or disloyal.

21. ROCAMBOLESQUE

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Rocambole was the name of a flashy fictional adventurer created by a 19th-century French writer named Pierre Alexis Ponson du Terrail. The stories in which Rocambole appears grew ever more outlandish as the series continued, and ultimately gave rise to the word rocambolesque, meaning “utterly extraordinary” or “too bizarre to be believable."

22. SOMNILOQUY

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Derived from the same roots as words like insomnia and soliloquy, somniloquy is a more formal word for sleep talking. Sleepwalking, incidentally, is somnambulism, while to somniate is to dream and something that is somnifacient puts you to sleep.

23. TEMPORICIDE

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A derivative of the Latin word for “kill” or “cut,” the suffix cide is found at the end of all kinds of words in English, from the familiar (homicide, suicide) to the rare (ceticide, “the killing of whales”), and to the downright bizarre (coquicide, “the killing of a cook”). At the rarer end of the scale is temporicide, a term coined as relatively recently as 1851 for the figurative “killing of time."

24. XYRESIC

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Derived from the Ancient Greek word for a razor, xyresic literally means “razor-sharp”—or, more figuratively, “cutting” or “keen."

25. ZOILISM

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Zoilus was a 4th-century BC Greek grammarian and philosopher, who was known to be one of the harshest critics of Homer. Homer may have been the author of The Iliad and The Odyssey, but his work was not viewed in particularly high regard by Zoilus, who wrote extensively on the shortcomings and loopholes he found in Homer's writings. It was this unending, near-constant nitpicking of the author's work that not only earned Zoilus the nickname “Homeromastix” (literally, “Homer-whipper”) in his lifetime, but also eventually gave the English language the brilliant word zoilism—meaning “fault-finding” or “unfair, overly fastidious criticism.”

    The 10 Best Memorial Day 2020 Sales

    iRobot,GoWise,Funko via Wayfair, Entertainment Earth
    iRobot,GoWise,Funko via Wayfair, Entertainment Earth

    The Memorial Day sales have started early this year, and it's easy to find yourself drowning in offers for cheap mattresses, appliances, shoes, and grills. To help you cut through the noise and focus on the best deals around, we threw together some of our favorite Memorial Day sales going on right now. Take a look below.

    1. Leesa

    A Leesa Hybrid mattress.
    A Leesa Hybrid mattress.
    Leesa

    Through May 31, you can save up to $400 on every mattress model Leesa has to offer, from the value-minded Studio by Leesa design to the premium Leesa Legend, which touts a combination of memory foam and micro-coil springs to keep you comfortable in any position you sleep in.

    Find it: Leesa

    2. Sur La Table

    This one is labeled as simply a “summer sale,” but the deals are good only through Memorial Day, so you should get to it quickly. This sale takes up to 20 percent off outdoor grilling and dining essentials, like cast-iron shrimp pans ($32), a stainless steel burger-grilling basket ($16), and, of course, your choice of barbeque sauce to go along with it.

    Find it: Sur la Table

    3. Wayfair

    KitchenAid Stand Mixer on Sale on Wayfair.
    Wayfair/KitchenAid

    Wayfair is cutting prices on all manner of appliances until May 28. Though you can pretty much find any home appliance imaginable at a low price, the sale is highlighted by $130 off a KitchenAid stand mixer and 62 percent off this eight-in-one GoWise air fryer.

    And that’s only part of the brand’s multiple Memorial Day sales, which you can browse here. They’re also taking up to 40 percent off Samsung refrigerators and washing machines, up to 65 percent off living room furniture, and up to 60 percent off mattresses.

    Find it: Wayfair

    4. Blue Apron

    If you sign up for a Blue Apron subscription before May 26, you’ll save $20 on each of your first three box deliveries, totaling $60 in savings. 

    Find it: Blue Apron

    5. The PBS Store

    Score 20 percent off sitewide at Shop.PBS.org when you use the promo code TAKE20. This slashes prices on everything from documentaries like Ken Burns’s The Roosevelt: An Intimate History ($48) and The Civil War ($64) to a Pride & Prejudice tote bag ($27) and this precious heat-changing King Henry VIII mug ($11) that reveals the fates of his many wives when you pour your morning coffee.

    Find it: The PBS Store

    6. Amazon

    eufy robot vacuum.
    Amazon/eufy

    While Amazon doesn’t have an official Memorial Day sale, the ecommerce giant still has plenty of ever-changing deals to pick from. Right now, you can take $100 off this outdoor grill from Weber, $70 off a eufy robot vacuum, and 22 percent off the ASUS gaming laptop. For more deals, just go to Amazon and have a look around.

    7. Backcountry

    You can save up to 50 percent on tents, hiking packs, outdoor wear, and more from brands like Patagonia, Marmot, and others during Backcountry's Memorial Day sale.

    Find it: Backcountry

    8. Entertainment Earth

    Funko Pops on Sale on Entertainment Earth.
    Entertainment Earth/Funko

    From now until June 2, Entertainment Earth is having a buy one, get one half off sale on select Funko Pops. This includes stalwarts like the Star Wars and Batman lines, and more recent additions like the Schitt's Creek Funkos and the pre-orders for the upcoming X-Men movie line.

    Find it: Entertainment Earth

    9. Moosejaw

    With the promo code SUNSCREEN, you can take 20 percent off one full-price item at Moosejaw, along with finding up to 30 percent off select items during the outdoor brand's summer sale. These deals include casual clothing, outdoor wear, trail sneakers, and more. 

    Find it: Moosejaw

    10. Osprey

    Through May 25, you can save 25 percent on select summer items, and 40 percent off products from last season. This can include anything from hiking packs and luggage to outdoorsy socks and hats. So if you're planning on getting acquainted with the great outdoors this summer, now you can do it on the cheap.

    Find it: Osprey

    At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

    What’s the Difference Between a Tiara and a Crown?

    Jonathan Brady-WPA Pool/Getty Images
    Jonathan Brady-WPA Pool/Getty Images

    Fancy headgear of any kind is often a dead giveaway that the wearer is of some importance, be it the bride-to-be at a bachelorette party or the Queen of England herself. But while you might refer to those ornate accessories as crowns or tiaras without giving too much thought to which term is most accurate, there are specific differences between the two accessories.

    One way to distinguish a crown from a tiara is by looking at who’s wearing it. Traditionally, only sovereigns don crowns, while other members of the royal family and nobility occasionally wear coronets, which are essentially smaller, less elaborate crowns. You don’t have to be royal to wear a tiara, but you do have to be a bride or a married woman (at least if you’re following tradition).

    “The tiara has its roots in classical antiquity and was seen as an emblem of the loss of innocence to the crowning of love,” Geoffrey Munn, jewelry expert and author of Tiaras: A History of Splendour, told Town & Country.

    According to Insider, there is one exception to this rule: If you’re born a princess, you can wear a tiara when you’re still single. Queen Elizabeth II’s daughter, Princess Anne, for example, wore her mother’s Cartier Halo  tiara during a trip to New Zealand in 1970, a few years before she was married. Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle, who didn’t hail from royalty, both wore tiaras for the first time on their wedding days.

    The designs for tiaras and crowns differ, too. As Jewelry Shopping Guide explains, a crown is always a full circle, while a tiara is sometimes only semi-circular. Crowns are also usually larger—and taller—than tiaras. And though there aren’t any specific rules about what gems or materials crowns and tiaras should include, crowns are often more colorful and ostentatious than tiaras. Britain’s Imperial State Crown, for instance, includes sapphires, rubies, emeralds, purple velvet, and more.

    However, since there isn’t a headdress enforcement squad in Britain or anywhere else (at least not one that we know of), there’s no reason you can’t sport a crown during your next Zoom happy hour, royal or not.

    Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.