56 Delightfully Unusual Words for Everyday Things
If your dream is to talk like Moira Rose from Schitt’s Creek, look no further than Mrs. Byrne’s Dictionary of Unusual, Obscure, and Preposterous Words, one of the dictionaries Catherine O’Hara used to tweak her iconic character's lines. As its name promises (and by design), the book is full of weird and wonderful words—some for things decidedly exotic, and many for things we experience regularly. The following terms for everyday things are ones you'll want to add to your lexicon ASAP.
This fancy word for theft dates back to the 16th century.
Taken from the Old English bæc-berende, this law term means “bearing on the back,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary, and refers to a person who is caught while carrying off stolen goods. The OED traces its first usage to 1292.
Another word for gibberish that dates back to the early 1600s.
Why yes, this is a 17th-century word for toilet paper. According to the OED, a second usage that popped up not long after this one is “Worthless or inferior literature; any written or printed material that is perceived as useless, tedious, or unnecessary.” In other words, pages you could probably use as toilet paper. Ouch.
Who among us hasn’t suffered from a little betweenity, or indecision?
Journalists, you’ll make your interview subjects take notice if you refer to your tape recorder as a blattnerphone instead. The word derives from the name of the device’s inventor, Ludwig Blattner.
This term for someone looking to start trouble or an argument dates back to the late 16th century, but would be right at home in today’s social media landscape.
A 17th-century term for loud laughter.
If you get into a confrontation with a jerk, consider calling them a clinchpoop, which the OED defines as “A term of contempt for one considered wanting in gentlemanly breeding.” The word originated in the mid-16th century and is now obsolete, but is definitely ready to make a comeback.
This word for “any food eaten as an accompaniment to bread, esp. as part of an allowance to a worker, tenant, etc.,” dates back to 1350.
A mid-16th-century word for buying something.
Don’t call your copy of Wine for Dummies a manual—call it an enchiridion.
A fancy word for belching, or, as the OED puts it, “The action of voiding wind from the stomach through the mouth.”
“To be inconsistent in speech,” according to one 1781 text. Mrs. Byrne’s Dictionary defines it as “to stutter or mumble.”
An obsolete term for not working or going on a holiday. It’s not a vacation, it’s a feriation!
A 19th-century British slang term for a really lame excuse—think “I can’t go out because I have to, uh … wash my hair!”
From the Old French forrel, meaning “case” or “sheath,” this word dates back to 1393 and means “A case or covering in which a book or manuscript is kept, or into which it is sewn.” In other words, a book jacket.
“Forjesket sair, with weary legs,” Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote in 1785’s “Second Epistle to J. Lapraik.” It was the first use of the word, which means “exhausted from work,” according to Mrs. Byrne’s Dictionary.
Initially a term for a particular type of wide pants worn in the 1500s and 1600s, galligaskins later came to be “a more or less ludicrous term for loose breeches in general,” according to the OED.
When the mosquito you’re looking at is huge, call it a gallinipper instead.
An obsolete term from the 1600s for a strong flavor. As the author of 1653’s The Compleat Angler—a book devoted to fishing that apparently also included cooking tips—advised, “To give the sawce a hogoe, let the dish (into which you let the Pike fall) be rubed with [garlick].”
A Scottish word for an ear of corn.
It’s time to retire thinamajig and use this word—which according to Mrs. Byrne’s Dictionary is “a word used for lack of a more specific one”—instead.
Another word for cursive handwriting.
A kindergraph is what you get back after school picture day: a photograph of a kid.
If you have a lot of freckles, you’re lentiginous.
This British dialect phrase, often used with kids, is derived from lowe, meaning a fire or bright flame.
Use this delightful Scottish word to refer to the palm of your hand. According to Mrs. Byrne’s Dictionary, it can also be used for “the inside of a cat’s paw.”
A word from the 1500s for a troublemaker.
Another word for makeup that dates back to the late 1800s.
According to Mrs. Byrne’s Dictionary, this term means “getting up on the wrong side of the bed.” Macmillan Dictionary notes that the word “is derived from the Latin name Matuta from Matuta Mater, the Roman Goddess of the dawn, and the Greek word lype meaning 'grief or sorrow.’”
You’re probably not the only one who had a meldrop—a.k.a. a drop of snot or mucus—hanging off your nose under your mask.
A Scottish word that the OED traces back to a 1786 poem by Robert Burns, mixty-maxty means “Oddly mixed or jumbled together; motley; muddled, confused.”
Another word for a person who pens obituaries.
Why call it a toy shop when you can call it a nicknackatory?
To nid-nod is to nod repeatedly when you’re sleepy.
A nixie is “a letter so badly addressed it can’t be delivered,” according to Mrs. Byrne’s Dictionary. (This is such an issue that the USPS has a whole plant dedicated to decoding terrible handwriting.)
A 17th-century word for a lighthouse or lamp bearer.
According to Mrs. Byrne’s Dictionary, ombibulous describes “someone who drinks everything.” It was coined by H.L. Mencken, who once wrote, “I am ombibulous. I drink every known alcoholic drink and enjoy them all.”
According to one book, published in 1800, an oneirodynia is “inflamed or disturbed imagination during sleep”—in other words, a nightmare.
British slang for “a man inordinately fond of jam,” according to The Long Trail: What the British Soldier Sang and Said in the Great War of 1914-18.
The next time you encounter a coward, call them by another name: quakebuttock.
A verb, dating to the 15th century, that means “To warm again; to turn (leftovers) into a new dish,” according to the OED.
A mid-17th-century word for lying down.
According to the OED, this 17th-century word for a large glass for wine or boozy beverage probably has its roots in Dutch, Middle Low German, and German. Used up until the first half of the 19th century, rummers were usually round and short with a thick stem.
The Queen’s Gambit is scacchic—“of or pertaining to chess,” according to the OED.
Pretty much exactly what it sounds like: something that scares a baby.
There are multiple definitions for this frankly wonderful phrase, which dates to 1670: “a person or animal who slobbers (in various senses); one who drools copiously or excessively; a messy or noisy eater or drinker; a wet or enthusiastic kisser,” according to the OED.
There are two possible definitions of this word, according to Mrs. Byrne’s Dictionary: One is gimcrackery (a word coined by Ben Franklin, by the way), a.k.a. “cheap, vulgar decoration”; the other is ambition or the will to succeed.
Another word for a bartender.
An Anglo-Indian word for a light meal.
53. Vade mecum
“A book or manual suitable for carrying about with one for ready reference; a handbook or guidebook,” according to the OED. A meaning that came about slightly later is “A thing commonly carried about by a person as being of some service to him.”
This word, which derives from the Latin ventose, means “Windiness, flatulence, ventosity.” Basically, being gassy.
If you would like to deliver a hard blow but call it by a much more pleasant name, consider whisterpoop, or whister-clister, or whister-sniff, or whister-twister.
Yex or yesk is a very old word for a sob, a hiccup, or a belch, according to the OED. Whichever one you’re referring to, though, it sounds much more delightful this way.