The Friday Fillip

You would think that after a week spent wielding words I would have had enough of those pesky signifiers. Oddly, though, I feel the urge to write about them in this week’s fillip. The “odd,” I think, is what I’m attracted to.

Here’s the setup.

The English language is a very loose bag containing something like three-quarters of a million words, though the very idea of counting words is nonsensical. It’s no wonder, then, that many — most? — in this hoard are strange to me. I mean, who apart from a chemist is likely to be familiar with osotriazoles; and only a scholar of English might know alabandical. As Hopkins said, all trades have their “their gear and tackle and trim,” the names of which lay folks are unlikely to know. And history is littered with forgone and forgotten words. So there’s no shortage of arcane or strange.


The occasional word floats into my ken from time to time and I take a fancy to it as an object. (I think I’ve mentioned here that I used to keep a list of words the meaning of which I didn’t know, just so I could savour the possibilities — the oddness.) Sometimes I know the meaning, or at least think I do; other times I don’t. For the most part I like the way they feel in the mouth, or I’m surprised by the fact that such a simple-seeming word could be opaque to me. Here, then, are some of my current favourite “strange” words, with links to their meanings for those who simply must know (a tic I well understand):

bloviation (risky, I know) / swale (one of those short surprises, and way nicer than its neighbour birm) / nep (not so lovely as swale; more lovely than cousin slub; and big on the short-but-strange factor) / decrement (maybe because I’m getting older) / and deliquesce (simply because it feels right and, somehow, like its meaning — and also maybe because I’m getting older)

Do you have favourite words that you carry around as objects? If so, share. There are millions of bright, shiny pebbles on the beach, and one can never have enough in a collection.


  1. One of my favourites is “mallemaroking”; for a great collection of peculiar words with discussions of etymology and usage, check out Michael Quinion’s World Wide Words.

    Paul Dawson