40 Excellent E-Words To Enlarge Your Vocabulary

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iStock/bgblue

The history of the letter E can be traced all the way back to an Egyptian hieroglyphic that probably depicted a praying or celebrating man, with the open horizontal lines of an “E” being the modern-day descendants of his arms or legs. Over time, this original pictogram simplified massively: the Phoenicians adopted it and made it into nothing more than a slanted, back-to-front, slightly elongated E-shape, which they used to represent their letter he. This in turn was rotated, truncated, and straightened up to form the Greek letter epsilon, E, and it’s from there (via Latin) that E as we know it ended up in English.

E is the most frequently used letter in the English language—in fact, it’s held the top spot in the English language ever since the Old English period [PDF]. It’s nearly 57 times more common than the least-used letter, Q, and is the most-used letter in a host of other languages, including French, German, Spanish, Dutch, Italian, and Latin. E accounts for around 11 percent of all the language you’ll ever use. Not only that, but you can expect it to begin just under four percent of all the words in a dictionary—including the 40 extra-special E-words explained here.

1. EAGGLE-BAGGLE

An old Scots dialect word meaning “to argue” or “to thrash out a bargain.” Derived from a local pronunciation of argle-bargle.

2. EARNEST MONEY

The cash used to secure a deal or a bargain? That’s earnest money.

3. EARTH-BATH

An 18th-century euphemism for a grave. To take an earth-bath meant to be buried. Coffins, meanwhile, were nicknamed eternity-boxes.

4. EASTIE-WASTIE

An old Scots dialect word for someone who can’t be relied upon. It literally means “east-west”—namely, someone who is inconstant, or changes like the wind.

5. EASYOZIE

An old English dialect word meaning “easygoing” or “laid back.”

6. EBRANGLE

A 17th-century word meaning “to shake violently.” Not to be confused with embrangle, which means “to confuse” or “to entangle.”

7. EBULLATE

We might use ebullience to mean “enthusiasm” or “liveliness,” but it literally means “boiling” or “boiling hot.” Derived from the same root, to ebullate is to boil, while the formation of bubbles in a boiling liquid is called ebullism.

8. EEL-SKINS

Nineteenth-century slang for very tight trousers. Tight shoes were known as excruciators.

9. EGG-BAG

An old Yorkshire dialect word for a pointless argument. Likewise, an egg-battle is someone who pushes other people to quarrel or argue.

10. EGGTAGGLE

An old Scots word meaning “the act of wasting time in bad company.”

11. ELBOW-CROOKER

Derived from the image of someone “crooking” (i.e. bending) their elbow to raise their hand to their mouth, an elbow-crooker is a drunk or a hard drinker. Whereas …

12. ELBOW-SHAKER

… an elbow-shaker is a prolific gambler, derived from the image of someone shaking dice.

13. ELENGE

If something or someone is elenge, then it’s remote, isolated, or lonely.

14. ELOZABLE

Derived from a French word meaning “praise,” if you’re elozable then you’re susceptible to flattery.

15. ELSEWHAT

Whereas elsewhere means “somewhere else,” elsewhat means “something else.” It’s one of a number of else words to have long fallen out of use in English, including elsewards (“heading towards somewhere else”), elsewhen (“at another time”), elsewhence (“from somewhere else”), and elsehow (“in some other way”).

16. ELT

To elt is simply to press or knead something, but elting-moulds are the ridges of Earth formed when a field is plowed.

17. ELUCUBRATE

Elucubrate literally means “to work by candlelight,” but it’s typically used in a looser sense meaning “to work late into the night." In other words, “to burn the midnight oil.” Someone who does just that is an elucubrator, while the work that you end up producing is an elucubration.

18. EMBUSQUÉ

An embusqué is someone who tries to avoid military service, and in particular, someone who takes a clerical job just to avoid joining up. The word is derived from a French word meaning “to ambush,” in the figurative sense of someone hiding in plain sight.

19. ENANTIOMORPH

The proper word—originally used only in reference to crystallography—for a mirror image or reflection.

20. ENDARKEN

As well as meaning simply “to get dark,” you can use the verb endarken to mean “to obscure” or “to cast a shadow over” something.

21. ENDEMONIASM

The opposite of being divinely inspired is endemoniasm—namely, inspiration from a demon, or from the Devil himself.

22. ENDOLOUR

If you’re endoloured, then you’re consumed by grief.

23. ENSNARL

If something is ensnarled, then it’s tangled up in knots.

24. ENTERCOMMON

An 18th-century word meaning “familiar to, or common to, everyone.”

25. ENTOMOPHOBIA

If you hate insects, you’re entomophobic. It’s one of a number of E-phobias in the language, including eophobia (fear of the dawn), epistolophobia (the hatred of receiving mail), eisoptrophobia (the fear of mirrors or reflections), and enetophobia (hatred of pins).

26. EPANORTHOSIS

When someone stops what they’re saying to go back and change a word to an even stronger one (as in, “I’m very happy—no, ecstatic—to be here”), that’s called epanorthosis. It derived from a Greek word meaning “correction.”

27. EPEXEGESIS

Literally meaning “explain in detail,” an epexegesis is an additional clarifying comment, often tagged onto the end of a more detailed or ambiguous sentence. That is to say, it’s the kind of sentence that often begins, “that is to say.”

28. EQUICRURAL

An isosceles triangle would be an example of an equicrural shape: it literally means “equal-sized legs.”

29. ERYTHROPHYLL

The substance that makes leaves green is of course chlorophyll, but the pigment that takes over in the autumn and makes leaves look red is erythrophyll.

30. EUCATASTROPHE

Coined by JRR Tolkien, a eucatastrophe is the opposite of a catastrophe—a sudden and unexpected event of happiness or good fortune.

31. EUTRAPELY

Derived from Ancient Greek and mentioned in the writings of Aristotle, the word eutrapely or eutrapelia originally referred to ease of conversation, repartee, or someone’s ability to talk to anyone on any subject. By the time it first began to appear in English in the 16th century however, eutrapely had become a more general term meaning “courtesy,” “urbanity,” or “sophistication.”

32. EVENENDWAYS

To move evenendways is to move in an unfaltering straight line, from one place to another.

33. EXCULCATE

While to calcate is to stamp with your heel, to exculcate, derived from the same root, is to trample or tread something down.

34. EXSIBILATION

The word explode originally meant “to jeer a performer off the stage,” but the collective hissing and booing of a dissatisfied audience is called exsibilation.

35. EXTRANEAN

An extranean is a stranger, or someone who does not belong to your family or friends despite being in close proximity to you. The term once referred to pupils who join the school a year later, typically from another school or area.

36. EXTRAVAGE

To wander about with no particular purpose is to extravage.

37. EYE-WATER

Eye-water is just another name for eye lotion or eye-wash, but in 18th-century English it came to refer to weak or watered-down alcohol. Whereas…

38. EYE-OPENER

… an eye-opener, as well as being something surprising or remarkable, was a very strong alcoholic drink in Victorian slang.

39. EYE-SERVANT

A Tudor-period word for an employee (originally a maid or servant) who is only hard working when they’re being observed by their boss.

40. EYEWINK

A 19th-century slang word for an eyelash.

This article originally ran in 2016.

13 Alternative Lyrics From “The Twelve Days of Christmas”

craftyjoe/iStock via Getty Images Plus (pear tree), snegok13/iStock via Getty Images Plus (peacock)
craftyjoe/iStock via Getty Images Plus (pear tree), snegok13/iStock via Getty Images Plus (peacock)

First published in English in 1780, "The Twelve Days of Christmas" (actually the 12 days after Christmas) is thought to have originated in France as a children’s forfeit game with ever more elaborate gifts added to the collection, verse by verse, as a test of memory. Whatever its origins may be, however, as the carol grew in popularity throughout the 19th century, numerous versions and variations of its lyrics began to emerge.

Some of these differences still survive in different versions sung today: The traditional “five gold rings” are sometimes described as “five golden rings,” and while some performances describe what “my true love gave to me,” others say the gifts were “sent to me.” But these kinds of subtle differences are nothing compared to some of the gifts in the song’s earlier incarnations.

1. "A Very Pretty Peacock"

One early version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" was recorded by the Scottish poet and artist William Scott Bell in 1892. Although most of Bell’s lyrics are identical to what we sing today, in his version each verse concludes not with “a partridge in a pear tree,” but with a considerably more ostentatious “very pretty peacock upon a pear tree.”

2. "Four Canary Birds"

In the original 1780 version, the “four calling birds” are instead described as “four colly birds,” colly—literally “coaly”—being an old English dialect word meaning “soot-black.” By the mid-19th century, however, the word colly had largely fallen out of use, leaving several Victorian editions of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" to come up with their own replacements. “Colour’d birds” and even “curley birds” were used in some editions, while an exotic “four canary birds” were added to the lyrics of one version. The now standard “four calling birds” first appeared in the early 1900s.

3. And 4. "Eight Hares A-Running" and "Eleven Badgers Baiting"

In 1869, an article appeared in an English magazine called The Cliftonian that described a traditional Christmas in rural Gloucestershire, southwest England. The author of the piece wrote that he had heard some local carol singers singing a curious Christmas song, which he noted for the “peculiarity and the utter absurdity of the words.” After outlining the first two of "The Twelve Days of Christmas," he went on to explain that the carol “proceeds in this ascending manner until on the twelfth day of Christmas the young lady receives … [an] astounding tribute of true love”—among which are “eight hares a-running” and “eleven badgers baiting.”

5., 6., 7., And 8. "Seven Squabs A-Swimming," "Eight Hounds A-Running," "Nine Bears A-Beating," And "TEN Cocks A-Crowing"

One of the earliest American versions of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" was listed in The American Journal of Folklore in 1900. Credited to a contributor from Salem, Massachusetts, and dated to “about 1800,” there are no pipers, drummers, maids, or swans here (and lords and ladies had a number change). Instead, in their place are “ten cocks a-crowing,” “nine bears a-beating,” “eight hounds a-running,” and “seven squabs a-swimming.”

9. And 10. "Ten Asses Racing" and "Eleven Bulls A-Beating"

An edition of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" included in Folk Songs From Somerset published in 1911 discarded the “pipers piping” and “lords a-leaping” in favor of “eleven bulls a-beating” and “ten asses racing.” In fact, not even the partridge in the pear tree made the final cut here: In its place was a “part of a mistletoe bough.”

11. and 12. "Ten Ships A-Sailing" and "Eleven Ladies Spinning"

In an 1842 edition of Specimens of Lyric Poetry, out went the “ten drummers drumming” and the “eleven lords a-leaping” (downgraded to only nine lords, still a-leaping) and in came “ten ships a-sailing” and “eleven ladies spinning.” Not only that, but this edition also explained in a footnote how "The Twelve Days of Christmas" might once have been used: “Each child in succession repeats the gifts of the day, and forfeits for each mistake. The accumulative process is a favourite with children.”

13. "An Arabian Baboon"

An alternative Scots version of "The Twelve Day of Christmas" was reported in use in Scotland in the first half of the 19th century, before finding its way into a collection of Popular Rhymes of Scotland published in 1847. Although there are a handful of similarities between this version and the version we’d sing today (“ducks a-merry laying” and “swans a-merry swimming” both make an appearance), relatively little of what we’d recognize remains intact. “The king sent his lady on the first Yule day,” is the new opening line, and many of the gifts are given in sets of three rather than as part of a larger 12-part sequence—but it’s what the gifts themselves are that is the most striking. Alongside the swans and ducks, the king sends his lady “a bull that was brown,” “a goose that was gray,” “three plovers,” “a papingo-aye” (an old Scots dialect word for a parrot, although occasionally translated as peacock)—and, just when things can’t get any stranger, “an Arabian baboon.”

Merriam-Webster Declares They Its Word of the Year

artisteer/iStock via Getty Images
artisteer/iStock via Getty Images

Merriam-Webster’s 2019 Word of the Year is one that you probably use about a dozen times a day: they.

It’s been a big year for the gender-neutral pronoun, whose definition in Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary was expanded to include its use as a singular nonbinary pronoun in September.

CNN notes that searches for they on the Merriam-Webster site have increased 313 percent over last year’s data, but the Word of the Year isn’t determined by growth alone. As Merriam-Webster senior editor and lexicographer Emily Brewster explained on WRSI, a word also needs to have considerable search spikes throughout the year in order to qualify.

“That says to us that a word is significant for that particular year; that it has some kind of important association with the actual year,” she said.

And they definitely had several landmark search spikes in 2019. According to CNN, look-ups peaked when nonbinary model Oslo Grace walked in Paris Fashion Week in January, when U.S. Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal disclosed that her child was gender-nonconforming in April, and during Pride celebrations around the world in June (this year was also the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots). Many major style guides, including the Associated Press, have recognized they as an accepted singular pronoun in the past few years.

In addition to the Word of the Year, Merriam-Webster also published their top 10 most-searched terms, which paint an intriguing portrait of 2019 in review. There were political terms like quid pro quo, impeach, and clemency, the word the—which spiked after The Ohio State University tried to trademark it in August—and the enigmatic word camp, which baffled many a fashion blogger as the theme of the Met Gala in May.

[h/t CNN]

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