Let’s talk about unusual words.
One of the best things about the English language is its ability to adapt and change over time- like how some words from the 1800s are currently obsolete in favor of more concise versions, or how the words we use today may fade away as each generation brings its unique flair to the language.
However, just because a word is unusual or obsolete doesn’t mean it’s worthless. In fact, it can be wildly entertaining to research unusual words and see how far language has come- which is precisely what this article is about!
The following is a list of unusual or forgotten words that every writer needs in their vocabulary- and, if used right, can make you sound like the most intelligent person in the room!
Adj- A word or phrase expressing opposition, often used as a conjunction.
It comes from the Latin adversari (oppose) and fell out of favor around 1945. However, it regained some popularity in 2002.
Adversative Example: She loved ice cream but was lactose intolerant.
Noun- A pun or play on words.
It comes from the Latin annominatio (designation) but became obsolete around 1810 and never recovered.
Annomination Example: “Well, mom always said it was hard to beat a boiled egg!”
Noun- A bad choice of words or faulty pronunciation.
From the Greek kakologia (abusive language) and dropped out of use around 1928.
Cacology Example: The farmer’s cacology was so bad that the banker wasn’t sure if he needed a loan for a horse or hose.
Noun- The circumlocution used to avoid speaking unlucky words.
Originating from the Greek κληδὼν (rumor, omen), Cledonism became obsolete in 1862. However, it did regain popularity in the occult community because they also used it as a form of divination.
Cledonism Example: Referring to McBeth as “the Scottish Play” while in a theater for fear of disaster.
Prosody- Extending the line of verse by adding an extra syllable.
It comes from the Greek diekteinein (to stretch out), but there isn’t much more information on it.
Diectasis Example: Roses are Red, Violets are Blue (8 syllables) and adding a 9th syllable (Roses are Red, Violets are bluer).
Noun- The worship of words.
From the Greek epos (word) –latry (worship), it became obscure around 1948 and has remained there ever since.
Epeolatry Example: The new book stirred my epeolatry like never before!
Noun- The custom of using pleasant-sounding words.
From the Greek εὐϕωνία (euphōnía), this word lost popularity around 1980 and hasn’t quite recovered.
The universe is in her eyes Which sparkle like the sea But every moment deftly flies For time cares not for me
Adj- Speaking ambiguously or using words of doubtful meaning.
From the Latin flexibilis (bent, flexible) and -loquent (speak, say), Flexiloquent is a rare word that still has a lot to offer!
Flexiloquent Example: Make me a sandwich. (Does the speaker want a sandwich, or do they want to become a sandwich?)
Noun- A constant use of the word hell in speech.
From the Greek Haidēs (Hades, god of the Underworld) and the Italian aria (air), it’s unknown when this word fell out of our vocabulary.
Hadeharia Example: “He’s hell-bound for sure, what with that hellish wife of his on his back every waking hour. Hell, it’s enough to drive anyone crazy!”
Noun- A pedantic word or expression.
From the English inkhorn (small portable vessel, originally made of horn, used to hold ink), inkhornism vanished around 1823 but reappeared around 1869 and has had a rollercoaster ride since then.
Inkhornism Example: His constant inkhornism grated on her nerves. How often could one talk about the striations of different screw types, anyway?
Adj- Talkative and full of words.
From the Latin largiloquus garrulous (talkative), this unusual word disappeared around 1977, returned in 2014, dropped again in 2017, and is now on the rise.
Largiloquent Example: Emma and her sister, Katie, were proud to be from a long line of largiloquent women!
Noun- The inability to remember the right word.
It irregularly comes from Greek lēthē (forgetfulness) and logos (word), and its popularity has risen steadily since 1917. That’s because lethologica is a genuine medical condition caused by stress, physical fitness, social interaction, base memory capacity, and other lifestyle choices.
Lethologica Example: John stumbled over his words as he tried to remember what to call the food before him. Finally, he sighed and blurted out, “the sweet disks!”- prompting his tablemates to laugh at his sudden lethologica.
Noun- The misapplication of words without mispronunciation.
Interestingly, this word comes from the name of the character Mrs. Malaprop from Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 1775 play The Rivals.
Malapropism Example: “Come, girls! This gentleman will exhort us.” (Mrs. Malaprop, Rivals, act 5, scene 1)
Noun- The fear of hearing a specific word or name.
From the Greek onoma (word) and suffix -phobia (from the Greek phóbos, meaning fear or panic), this unique affliction is often associated with a traumatic experience involving a word, name, or phrase.
Onomatophobia Example: Someone who avoids all mentions of weight loss after suffering an eating disorder.
Noun- A word with many meanings.
From the Greek polysēmantos (with many meanings), this word reached peak popularity around 1988, dropped in 2005, and has slowly risen since then.
Polysemant Examples: Words like:
- Tear (she shed a tear. His jeans have a tear)
- Record (he set the record. I should record that)
- Lie (I like to lie in bed and think. He lied about his experience)
Adj- Having each word one syllable longer than the one before.
From the Greek ῥόπαλον (cudgel thicker towards one end), the word gained popularity around 1803, then dipped off the map from 1840 until its reemergence around 1856. Now, it’s a popular writing style for authors and poets alike.
Rhopalic Example: She murmurs silently, recognizing subterranean circumnavigation.
Noun- A poem where the final letters of each line spell a name.
Possibly from the Greek tellein (to accomplish) and stichos (line), this poetry form gained popularity around 1860 and has steadily grown since then.
Who is She That Strives to Deliver Impeccable Poetry Full of imagination and Fun
Noun- Destroying or distorting the meaning or sense of a word.
From the Latin verbum (word) and the -cide suffix (cut, kill), verbicide lost popularity around 1844 but regained notice around 1888. It reached its peak in 1977 but has since struggled to remain relevant.
Verbicide Example: Using the term “salty” in place of “angry or bitter” takes away from salty’s original meaning/ purpose, which is “tasting of, containing, or preserved with salt.”
Noun- A craze or obsession for words.
From the Latin verbum (word) and the Greek mania (madness), this word is one for all the authors and book-lovers out there! Unfortunately, it lost popularity in 2008, but it’s slowly rising again!
Two things cause Liz to experience these late nights: too much coffee during the day and an unhealthy sense of verbomania that kept her reading well into the early morning.
Noun- Being unable to find expression in words.
The opposite of Largiloquent, someone who is wordbound may not speak at all. Unfortunately, the etymology is non-existent, but that’s probably because it fell into obscurity around 1816 and hasn’t made a comeback.
Wordbound Example: Harold sat in the corner of his booth, lips tightly sealed as his family talked around him. Sometimes, being wordbound was a blessing, but today it felt like a curse.
There you go! A long list of obscure or unusual words to add to your vocabulary. If you’d like more information, check out the Phrontistery! It’s the source for this article, but the dates came from the Google Ngram Viewer.
What are your favorite obscure or unusual words? Let me know in the comments!