Some Interesting words you may like to know and if you do then well done!
schadenfreude [n. SHAW-den-froy-duh] Taking malicious satisfaction in another person’s troubles is schadenfreude. Even though there may be some guilt involved, this noun comes in handy when someone feels glee or gloats over another person’s suffering. Example: “She had a feeling of schadenfreude when the boy who dumped her was unable to find a date for the prom.”
Sometimes capitalized, schadenfreude is a compound of two German words: schaden (damage) and freude (joy). Although this word was in use in the German language early in the 19th century, its first appearance in English is thought to be 1895.
maudlin [adj. MAWD-luhn] Do you know someone who is easily moved to tears? If so, you can describe them as maudlin. Anyone who is effusively sentimental is maudlin. Near synonyms include weepy, syrupy, mawkish, and mushy. Example: “Anne had a tendency to get maudlin when looking through family photo albums.”
Maudlin is derived from Magdalene, as in Mary Magdalene, the weeping sinner who washed Jesus’ feet with her repentant tears. According to the Bible she was present at Christ’s crucifixion and was the first to meet with him after he had risen from the dead. In religious paintings of the Middle Ages she was often shown with red eyes or crying. By the 16th century Magdalene had gradually eroded into maudlin which the English used to describe someone who was in a tearful drunken state. This second sense of maudlin, describing someone who has had so much to drink that they are emotionally silly or sad about life in general, remains in contemporary use.
louche [adj. LOOSH] Someone who is louche has questionable taste or morals, or they could be lacking in respectability. If you’re imagining a squint-eyed character who makes you suspicious or anxious you’re not far off from this word’s origins. Louche is a borrowed French word (meaning cross-eyed) derived from the Latin luscus which literally meant blind in one eye. First used in the English language in the early 19th-century, louche refers to character, behavior, or appearance. It can also describe something that is less than decent. Example: “The louche air of the hotel room left Lucy fantasizing about a suite at the Four Seasons.” Near synonyms include shady, shifty, indecent, and disreputable.
calumniate [vb. ku-LUM-nee-ate] Making false statements about a person, intending to hurt their reputation, is to calumniate. Example: “He calumniated his opponent for the political candidacy by spreading false rumors.”
Let us hope the number of near synonyms – malign, slander, vilify, defame, blacken, libel, smirch, smear, and sully – do not indicate how often people falsely accuse one another. Traced back to the mid-1500s, calumniate entered the English language a century after the noun calumny (false accusation). Both are derived from the Latin calumnia which is thought to have originated in the verb calvi (to devise tricks, deceive).
Zeitgeist [n. TSYTE-gaist or ZYTE-gaist] The meaning of this word never changes, but what it describes is subject to society’s whims. Zeitgeist is the popular outlook -intellectually, morally, and culturally – in a particular period or generation. Scholars maintain that each era has a unique spirit distinguishing it from other periods. The pervasive cultural climate is described as the Zeitgeist. It is most often reflected in the music, movies, literature, and philosophy of the time. Example: “The film’s workaholic Wall Street broker went over well with audiences because he tapped into the Zeitgeist of the 1980s.”
First introduced in the English language in the late 19th century, Zeitgeist is a loaner from German. Literally translated Zeitgeist means “spirit of the times” since zeit is time and geist is spirit. It is often capitalized.
hoi polloi [n. pl HOY puh-LOY] If you find yourself lumped in with the hoi polloi it’s likely not a compliment. The expression is most often used as a term of contempt describing the common people, the rabble. Example: “The rich ate caviar and drank champagne but it was bread and water for us hoi polloi.”
Taken from Greek, hoi polloi entered the English language in the early 19th century. Hoi polloi literally translates to “the many.” Near synonyms include the masses, the mob, the general public, and the commoners. In contemporary usage you will often see the phrase “the hoi polloi.” Since hoi already means “the” this is redundant, effectively saying “the the many.” At least if someone tries to put you down by saying you’re part of the hoi polloi you can come back with a recommendation that they stop repeating themselves.
gambit [n. GAM-bit] A clever move or maneuver, especially one made in the early part of a game, is a gambit. Example: “Her opening gambit earned her a quick lead in the match.” If this noun’s strategy had been to increase its usage, its ploy has paid off over the years. We now also use gambit to describe a remark made to open a conversation.
Taken from the Italian gambetto which described the act of tripping someone, gambit was used in English in the 17th century primarily to describe a chess play. The noun still describes a chess opening in which a player sacrifices a pawn or other minor pieces to gain an attacking position. Other words from chess that have entered common usage includes stalemate (at a standstill) and checkmate (thwart completely).
raconteur [n. rah-con-TUR] Someone who tells amusing or interesting stories is known as a raconteur. Near synonyms include storyteller and anecdotist. This noun is a compliment to the person it describes since a raconteur is known for relating stories well. Example: “Michael is always welcome at parties because he is such a witty raconteur.”
Raconteur was taken from the French verb raconter (to relate) in the 1800s. It is a variation on the Old French re- and -aconter (to tell) or -acompter (to count up, to reckon). Acompter is the same French word that gave us the English word account (a record of finances) in the 14th century. A history of storytelling can be found at: http://storyteller.net/post/.
pithy [n. PIH-thee] Pithy, when used accurately, describes speech or writing that is short, direct, and memorable. Examples of pithy slogans are “Save the whales” and “Don’t worry, be happy.” Pithy is something that consists or abounds in pith. While pith refers to the white substance under the peel of a citrus fruit, it also means force or energy.
Both pith and pithy are derived from the Old English pitha which is a variant on the German pith (pit). Pithy is traced back to the 1500s but pith was around before the 12th century. A collection of pithy sayings: http://www.clanvis.com/loc/pithey.htm.
internecine [adj. in-tur-NEH-seen or in-TUR-neh-seen] An internecine battle is a deadly one. It is characterized by bloodshed on all sides involved. Example: “The internecine warfare threatens the existence of communities on both sides of the border.” Internecine can also be used to describe conflict, particularly within a group.
Internecine has its roots in the Latin internecinare (to destroy, kill), a conjunction of inter- (all the way to) and necare (to kill), from nex, nec- (death). This adjective first appeared in the 1600s and meant “deadly”. However, Samuel Johnson accidentally introduced a new meaning when he created his dictionary in 1755. He thought that the prefix “inter-” meant “between,” as it does in “international” and many other words. (In fact, “inter-” was simply an intensifier, meaning “all the way to”.) He thus defined internecine as “endeavoring in mutual destruction.” It wasn’t until the 1800s that Noah Webster reintroduced the original “deadly or destructive” meaning. By then, Johnson’s definition was in common use. Now both remain.
agitprop [n. AH-jut-prop] A political message, particularly one that is declared in drama, literature, music or other of the arts, is agitprop. The creator may intend the agitprop to educate and inform, but the audience may feel an attempt is being made to indoctrinate them. As a result, this word typically has a negative connotation.
The word agitprop is Russian, an abbreviation of the conjunction of agitatsiya (agitation) and propaganda. These strategies for revolution were first twinned by Marxist Georgy Plekhanov. His ideas were later elaborated upon by Lenin in the 1902 pamphlet “What is to be Done?” These ideas prompted Communist leadership in the early 1920s to form an Agitation and Propaganda Section of the Central Committee. The shorthand term for this department was the agitprop bureau. Even today, every unit of a Communist party will have an agitprop section.
craven [adj. or n. KRAYVEN] If you were frustrated by a person’s cowardly ways, you might want to use the adjective craven to describe their actions. Example: “Emily was soon tired of Pat’s craven screams whenever a spider appeared.” The noun is applied to a coward. Someone who is contemptibly timid is craven. Near synonyms include: sissy, weakling, poltroon, and recreant. In use in English since the 13th century, craven originally simply described someone who had been defeated. It is a variant on the Old French cravante (to crush, overwhelm) a past participle of cravanter which is likely derived from the Latin crepare (burst).
halcyon [adj. or n. HALSEE-un] Something that is halcyon is calm, peaceful, or tranquil. This sense of the adjective often describes weather. Halcyon can also be used to describe a joyful, carefree, or prosperous time in the past. This nostalgic sense is perhaps most prevalent. People wish to recapture or relive their halcyon days.
The noun halcyon means any kingfisher of the genus Halycon. These birds with brightly colored plumage are native to Europe, Africa, and Australia. The word’s roots, which lie in Greek mythology, tie all of these meanings together. The story goes that Alcyone (or alternately Halcyone) threw herself into the sea at the news that her husband Ceyx had drowned in a storm. Zeus took pity on her and turned the loving couple into kingfishers. In antiquity “halcyon days,” when the sea was calm, were credited to Alcyone’s father Aeolus (the ruler of the winds) who kept his winds at home so that his daughter could lay her eggs in a nest floating on the sea. The myth of Ceyx and Halcyone can be found at: http://www.webcom.com/shownet/bulfinch/fables/bull9.html. More about the kingfisher: http://www.kingfish.net/central/kfmyth.htm.
paean [n. PEE-‘n] A paean is a song or shout of triumph or exultation. This noun can also be a written or spoken expression of praise or joy. Near synonyms include: eulogy, hymn, and hosanna. Example: “The victor’s paean to his country was so heartfelt it even the other competitors smiled.” This celebratory noun first appears in English between 1535 and 1545. It is ultimately from the Greek paian which was a hymn of thanksgiving made to the god Apollo, the healer. A prayer to Apollo for safety or deliverance in battle was a paian. Find more on Apollo in Greek mythology: http://www.www3.cybercities.com/j/justapollo/home.html.
Luddite [n. LUH-dite] The noun Luddite specifically refers to one of a group of early 19th century English workmen who were campaigning against the automation of the power loom. Under cover of night and generally masked, the workers often destroyed the equipment that had displaced them. Today the word broadly refers to anyone who is opposed to technological change or new working methods.
The name Luddite is presumed to come from the leader of these angry workmen: Ned Ludd. The Leicestershire worker is said to have rushed into a stocking weaver’s house and destroyed his equipment. More about Ned Ludd and the Luddites: http://www.bigeastern.com/ludd/nl_whats.htm and http://publish.uwo.ca/~nallen1/ludd.htm.
polyglot [n. or adj. POLY-glot] Someone who is able to speak, write, or read several languages is a polyglot. This noun also describes a mixture or confusion of languages. Example: “Caroline was quite overwhelmed by the polyglot of voices that met her when she entered the youth hostel.” Polyglot is often capitalized when it is used to mean a book, especially a Bible, that contains the same text in several languages. Polyglot can also be used as an adjective. A synonym of this sense is multilingual.
Borrowed from the French polyglotte in the 17th century, polyglot is originally from the Greek poluglottos (many tongued). Read about a living polyglot who had a handle on 56 languages at: http://www.bayscenes.com/ind/spidra/fazah.html.
basilisk [n. BAS-uh-lisk or BAZ-uh-lisk] A basilisk is a legendary creature from classical mythology that is said to have killed its prey with either its breath or a fatal look. This monster has been variously described as a serpent, lizard, or dragon. In the main description for the basilisk from Pliny’s Natural History in A.D. 77 it is said to be the king of serpents so named because of a crown-shaped mark on its head.
Today basilisk describes any of several tropical American iguanid lizards who are noted for their ability to run across the surface of the water on their hind legs. Basilisk shares the same root as the words basil (an herb) and basilica (a church characterized by an oblong building plan). These all derive from the Latin basilicus which is a variant of the Greek basiliskos (little king). Basil likely gained its royal roots because it was used in potions for royalty. The basilica’s structure follows the original plan of a royal palace. A Cool Fact about basilisk lizards: http://features.LearningKingdom.com/fact/archive/1997/09/24.html More about the mythical monster: http://webhome.idirect.com/~donlong/monsters/Html/Basilisk.htm.
coterie [n. KO-tuh-ree or ko-tuh-REE] An intimate group of people unified by a common interest or purpose is a coterie. Often, a coterie is an exclusive or select group that distinguishes itself from outsiders. Example: “Erin longed to be a member of her school’s exclusive coterie.” The original coterie was an association of French peasants who held land together. The English borrowed this French word in the mid-18th century. It is a variation on the Old French cotier (cottager or tenant), which is of Germanic origin. It is akin to the Old English cote (hut). Near synonyms of coterie include: clique, club, society, set, and inner circle.
imbroglio [n. im-BROL-yo] An imbroglio is a confused, often embarrassing, state of affairs. Perplexing entanglements or bitter disagreements are also imbroglios. Example: “Jeff had no idea how he ended up in this imbroglio but knew it would take a great deal of explaining to get out of it.” A near synonym of imbroglio is embroilment, which shares the same roots. Imbroglio is an Italian word borrowed by the English in the mid-18th century from the verb imbrogliare (to entangle). This was a variant on the French verb embrouiller which developed from the conjunction of the Middle French en- and brouiller (to broil). Imbroglio can also mean a confused heap or tangle.
paroxysm [n. PAR-ox-sih-zem] A paroxysm is a fit, attack, or convulsion. It can also describe a sudden violent action or uncontrollable outburst of emotion. “She went into paroxysms of joyful laughter every time she looked at her new engagement ring.” The earliest use of paroxysm in English is in the 15th century when it denoted agitation or intensification of a disease or its symptoms. Paroxysm is still used this way in today’s medical terminology. The noun is derived from the ancient Greek paroxynein (to stimulate, to irritate). It is a compound of the prefix para- and oxunein (to sharpen). Oxunein is a variation on oxys (acidic, sharp), which is also the root, via French, of the word oxygen.
tableau [n. ta-BLOW or TA-blow] A tableau is a striking or artistic grouping of people or things in a picture or a dramatic scene. A presentation of a scene by a group of people who pose appropriately and remain silent and motionless is also called a tableau. In this case it is an abbreviation of the French tableau vivant (living picture).
Tableau traces back to the Latin tabula (a board or plank, hence a slab for writing on) but it entered English via the French. It has been in use in English since the late 17th century. Photographer Sandy Skoglund uses a tableau technique:
aegis [n. E-jis] To act under the aegis of someone is to act with their protection, support, or guardianship. Aegis can also be working with the sponsorship of or under the auspices of someone or something. Example: “He was acting under the aegis of the Prime Minister.” The original aegis is found in Greek mythology. Zeus, and later Athena, bore the aegis (sometimes a shield or a breastplate made from the skin of a divine goat). It was associated with giving protection and possessed supernatural powers.
Aegis, which is also occasionally spelled egis, entered English at the turn of the 18th century from the Latin. The Latin was derived from the Greek aigis (a type of shield made from goatskin) which used the Greek word aig (goat). Read the myth of how Athena was born and later was given the aegis.
philistine [n. or adj. FIl-ih-steen] A philistine is a person who is disdainful of intellectual or artistic pursuits. A philistine can also be someone who is ignorant or uncultured. Near synonyms include: boor, churl, barbarian, and yahoo. Example: “After reading the negative review, the director raged that the paper had sent a philistine to see her play.” Philistine is often capitalized when used as an adjective. Near synonyms of this form include: ill-bred, vulgar, rough, rude, and boorish. This word is always capitalized when referring to the natives or inhabitants of the ancient Philistia (a coastal region of southern Palestine). Philistine came into English use in the 17th century as a way of describing groups considered the enemy. Later that same century in Germany, university students used philister to denote people who were not students and who were considered, as a result, uncultured.
badinage [n. or v. bad-n-AZH or BAD-n-ij] Badinage is light, teasing banter. This noun refers to playful remarks or conversations that are not serious. Example: “The badinage between celebrities and late night talk show hosts is one of the main reasons viewers tune in.” Badinage is also a verb describing the act of bantering playfully or teasing someone in a lighthearted way. This word first appeared sometime in the mid-17th century. Badinage is a variation on the French verb badiner (to joke, trifle), which evolved from the Latin batare.
dross [n. DRAHSS] Something that is useless or worthless is dross. This noun refers to the less-than-desirable parts of something. Near synonyms include: refuse, rubbish, and impurity. Another more specific use of the word dross describes the scum or slag thrown off from metals in the process of melting them. It traces back to the Old English dros, which corresponds to the Middle Dutch droes and the Germanic dros. All of these are words for dregs (less than desirable parts).
rapacious [adj. ruh-PAE-shus] Rapacious describes someone who is given to plundering or taking things by force. Near synonyms include ravenous, voracious, and gluttonous. Example: “The serfs suffered in poverty while catering to the whims of the rapacious Lord.” In animals, rapacious describes creatures that survive by capturing live prey. In English use since the mid 1600s, rapacious is from the Latin rapax (greedy) which is derived from the verb rapere (to seize). The Latin verb rapere is the source of other English words: rapture (seized with ecstasy); ravage (to do ruinous damage); and ravish (to transport with strong emotion).
terpsichorean [adj. turp-si-kah-RE-an or turp-si-KOR-e-an] The namesake of the adjective terpsichorean is the Greek muse Terpsichore. Terpsichore was one of the nine muses of Greek mythology. Often shown dancing and holding a lyre, she presided over the arts and sciences. Terpsichore was said to have inspired those who excelled at dancing. Not surprisingly, the adjective terpsichorean describes something that relates to dance. Example: “Amy’s terpsichorean activities had given her an enviable grace and agility.” The adjective has been in use in English since the 1800s.
dudgeon [n. DUH-jun] Dudgeon is a feeling of resentment or anger. Near synonyms include offense and indignation. This noun is most often used in the phrase “in high dudgeon,” which describes someone doing something angrily, taking offense at the way he or she has been treated. Example: “He left the party in high dudgeon saying that he was tired of always being the butt of jokes.”
The archaic meaning of dudgeon is a wood used especially for dagger hilts. In the 15th century the noun also described the dagger itself if the hilt was made of the dudgeon. How the sense of indignation came to be attached to this word is unknown but this usage was first seen in the late 1500s. The word dudgeon is likely from French. There is an archaic French word digeon that is sometimes linked with this English noun.
bon vivant [n. BAWN vee-VAHN] A bon vivant is a person who is devoted to the finer things in life, especially good food and drink. Example: “She enjoyed visiting her uncle the bon vivant, who always provided fine wine and plenty of rich foods.” Bon vivant is a French phrase combining bon (good or favorable) and vivant (living, healthy, animated). Vivant is the present participle of the French verb vivre (to live). Near synonyms include epicure and gourmand.
harridan [n. HAR-ih-den] A sharp-tongued woman, especially one who is older, can be called a harridan. This noun describes fierce, ill-tempered women who are always scolding and disapproving. Near synonyms include: shrew and hag. Example: “Bianca’s older sister was an ill-tempered harridan named Kate.” The word, in use since the 1700s, is perhaps a modification of the French haridelle, which described an old horse or gaunt woman. Making the leap from a horse to a woman who nags is not so far-fetched when you recognize that the noun nag has been in use since the 15th century to describe a horse that is old or in poor condition. This latter noun developed from the Middle English nagge, akin to the Dutch negge (small horse).