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What very obscure English words are actually very useful?
May 16, 2014 8:32 PM   Subscribe

I'm not looking for obscure words that are just baroque synonyms for common English words, or highly specialised David Foster Wallacesque curiosities, but rather words that are actually quite functional for day-to-day use but for whatever reason are not widely known.
posted by dontjumplarry to Writing & Language (99 answers total) 148 users marked this as a favorite
 
Concomitant.
posted by escabeche at 8:37 PM on May 16 [4 favorites]


Vestibule.
posted by escabeche at 8:37 PM on May 16 [5 favorites]


Prepone :)
posted by dave99 at 8:38 PM on May 16 [1 favorite]


Cloying
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:39 PM on May 16 [2 favorites]


Ohh I forgot....
Palimpsest
posted by dave99 at 8:42 PM on May 16 [2 favorites]


Alacrity
Fecundity
posted by bleep at 8:46 PM on May 16 [5 favorites]


Pettifogging.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:48 PM on May 16 [1 favorite]


penultimate and antepenultimate
posted by 7segment at 8:50 PM on May 16 [9 favorites]


Jejune
posted by Carillon at 8:51 PM on May 16 [1 favorite]


Oh, and calumny.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:54 PM on May 16 [1 favorite]


Velleity.
posted by nicwolff at 8:56 PM on May 16 [8 favorites]


Cromulent.
posted by sanka at 8:56 PM on May 16 [19 favorites]


Optimal.
posted by Nerd of the North at 9:03 PM on May 16


velutinous
posted by Lorin at 9:08 PM on May 16


insipid
posted by Confess, Fletch at 9:10 PM on May 16


Words I find myself using all the time that other people sometimes give me funny looks for:

salient
ostensibly
diegetic
especial
posted by 256 at 9:18 PM on May 16 [2 favorites]


Aglet.
posted by lollusc at 9:24 PM on May 16 [5 favorites]


Dendrophilous
Juglandaceous
Walm
Slibbersauce

I had a book with a list of these as a kid and will never forget.
posted by univac at 9:25 PM on May 16 [2 favorites]


Fantod.

I actually use it all the time.
posted by spinifex23 at 9:29 PM on May 16 [1 favorite]


Oh and I also find flibbertigibbet quite useful.
posted by 256 at 9:30 PM on May 16


gruntled.
posted by otherchaz at 10:03 PM on May 16 [1 favorite]


obviate
posted by rhizome at 10:10 PM on May 16 [2 favorites]


profluence.
posted by vrakatar at 10:36 PM on May 16 [1 favorite]


tine
posted by Room 641-A at 10:39 PM on May 16


Senescence
vagile/sessile
crepuscular
germane (tend to get some looks for this one, surprisingly?)
fortnight
posted by cardinality at 10:54 PM on May 16


nibling
posted by cgg at 11:06 PM on May 16 [1 favorite]


inchoate
diaphanous
elucidate (instead of "clear up")
posted by a halcyon day at 11:20 PM on May 16 [3 favorites]


Sisyphean
Pyrrhic (victory)
peripatetic
posted by neilb449 at 11:34 PM on May 16 [1 favorite]


comport
anodyne
perfidy
duplicity
conflate
posted by carmicha at 12:24 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]


persnickety
posted by JujuB at 12:41 AM on May 17


Obfuscate. I use that all the time.
posted by kariebookish at 1:05 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]


ne'er-do-well
posted by Mister Bijou at 1:14 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]


pellucid
posted by batter_my_heart at 1:29 AM on May 17


egregious
spurious
posted by neilb449 at 2:15 AM on May 17


Petrichor
posted by bz at 2:37 AM on May 17 [3 favorites]


Quotidian, accidie and obloquy are three of my favourites. Arguably not very obscure, but certainly not widely used, I think.
posted by Decani at 3:51 AM on May 17 [2 favorites]


words that are actually quite functional for day-to-day use but for whatever reason are not widely known.

Oxymoron? If you want to use words for communicating, that relies on other people knowing what those words mean or being able to figure it out from context using critical thinking skills. That said, I love some of these words.
posted by whatzit at 3:56 AM on May 17 [5 favorites]


Obsequious
Petulant
Thwarted
posted by halfbuckaroo at 4:49 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]


Consanguineous
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:07 AM on May 17


Chrysopoeia
posted by 517 at 6:39 AM on May 17


Maffick
posted by General Tonic at 7:01 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]


prosody.
posted by fake at 7:02 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]


knave, varlet, blackguard, jackanapes...

batrachian, rugose, eldritch
posted by bruce at 7:06 AM on May 17


Perfunctory
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:10 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]


vicarious
posted by hydropsyche at 7:15 AM on May 17


Prolix
Verisimilitude
Coeval
posted by janey47 at 7:22 AM on May 17


In order of "huh?" factor that people give me (or in random order as they come):

Cognizant (especially British people for some reason!)
reticent
amorphous
ameliorate
vernacular
colloquial
Collate
amalgamation
quorum
microcosm
Interdict
ameliorate
aberrant
loquacious
ebullient
niggardly
inchoate
siliceous
tacit
codify
feral
progeny
proffer
valetudinarian


Of course I think special mention should go to words that are commonly misused, abused, and mispronounced:
Adverse versus averse
credible versus creditable
amiable vs. amenable vs. amicable
remuneration versus renumeration

And finally, my pet peeve, the most frequently abused/mispronounced even by the well-educated that I meet:

Beijing versus Bei /ʒ/ing
posted by chinabound at 7:33 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]


orthogonal
posted by Obscure Reference at 7:35 AM on May 17 [2 favorites]


oops. I think I just added my own because of my voice recognition.
"Salacious" that should've been rather than "siliceous"
posted by chinabound at 7:36 AM on May 17


detritus
posted by Room 641-A at 7:58 AM on May 17


Bimodal.
posted by escabeche at 8:08 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]


lubricious
even better in the adjectival form: lubriciously
posted by Jesse the K at 8:22 AM on May 17


complimentary and complementary are not the same word.

discreet and discrete are not the same word.

philanthropy, philandery and philately...

i.e. versus e.g....

and on one memorable occasion: "he's a WHAT? [pause] no barry, catamount and catamite are NOT the same word."
posted by bruce at 8:23 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]


recondite
posted by mean square error at 8:49 AM on May 17


chary
concatenate
involute
imbricate
internecine
nacreous
oleaginous
propinquity
salutary
tenebrous
vinous
posted by Lorin at 9:00 AM on May 17


Segue
posted by odinsdream at 9:04 AM on May 17


anomalous
recurrence
recalcitrant
reticent
posted by Rob Rockets at 9:06 AM on May 17


flummox - Mary was utterly flummoxed by this nonsense.
discombobulate - Mary was too discombobulated to continue.
quine - The quine just sat there, quietly writing itself.
furtive - I suppose they'd be suitable for a furtive nocturnal perambulation.
posted by ephemerae at 10:15 AM on May 17


My Dad was a blue-collar factory worker who often used double negatives and other such ungrammatical speech. But for some reason there were a few "fancy" words he'd latched onto long ago, because for as long as I can remember he would describe an uproar or big fuss as a "brouhaha", even in casual conversation. Likewise "cacophony" - any time he happened to walk through the room when I was listening to, say KISS, he'd pause and grumble "That's not music, that's just a cacophony of sound."

I hear Judge Judy use "brouhaha" once in a while on her TV show, and so many of the litigants look flummoxed when she says it - they obviously don't know what it means.
posted by Oriole Adams at 10:28 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]


copacetic
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:33 AM on May 17


I find myself with cause to use perfunctory, recursive, and histrionic fairly often.
posted by xenization at 10:59 AM on May 17


I love the word horripilate. I find the times horripilating indeed.
posted by jcworth at 11:02 AM on May 17 [1 favorite]


canthus
zugzwang
vernalagnia
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:31 AM on May 17


Someone mentioned niggardly, I'd just like to warn you that several people have been fired over the years for using that perfectly cromulent word.
posted by Yowser at 12:08 PM on May 17


capricious
posted by NoraCharles at 12:23 PM on May 17


reify
posted by capricorn at 12:27 PM on May 17 [1 favorite]


tenebrific
posted by General Malaise at 12:34 PM on May 17


I shall absquatulate without further cunctation.
posted by Rufus T. Firefly at 1:38 PM on May 17


Also, pusillanimous
posted by Rufus T. Firefly at 1:42 PM on May 17


sniglet
posted by percor at 2:10 PM on May 17


celerity
posted by Wordshore at 3:38 PM on May 17 [1 favorite]


Perspicacious, imbricated, apotropaic, borborygm, indolent, casuistry, festoon, corbel, legerdemain, stemwinder, captious, importune.
posted by zeri at 5:15 PM on May 17


Also, previously.
posted by zeri at 5:17 PM on May 17 [1 favorite]


Bailiwick
posted by I'm Brian and so's my wife! at 6:20 PM on May 17


illustrious
posted by Pallas Athena at 6:51 PM on May 17


Captious
posted by ctmf at 7:18 PM on May 17


My mother loves the word unctuous. It really does perfectly capture a certain quality in a person.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 7:19 PM on May 17 [1 favorite]


Postprandrial
posted by daikon at 7:42 PM on May 17 [1 favorite]


eschew
posted by tenderly at 10:16 PM on May 17


Avuncular

Littoral

Edify
posted by valannc at 11:04 PM on May 17 [1 favorite]


Blather
posted by EvaDestruction at 7:37 AM on May 18


Teleological
Promulgate
Lapidary
posted by Iridic at 10:10 AM on May 18


Nice as per definition 2.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 11:28 AM on May 18


Celerity
posted by bz at 4:55 PM on May 18


And finally, my pet peeve, the most frequently abused/mispronounced even by the well-educated that I meet:

Beijing versus Bei /ʒ/ing
-- chinabound

It used to be Peking, so count your blessings.

I like the original use of the word neat: undiluted: "I'll have my whiskey neat."
posted by eye of newt at 7:32 PM on May 18


impetus
ostensibly
remiss
agnostic (in the context of "doesn't care", as in platform-agnostic software)
advantageous
lugubrious
propagate
posted by ostranenie at 9:09 PM on May 18 [1 favorite]


I'm also smitten (smitten!) by the largely pejorative suffixes -rati and -sia. Intelligentsia, literati, glitterati, etc.,
posted by ostranenie at 9:48 PM on May 18


hapax legomenon: a word or form occurring only once in a document or corpus.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 7:16 AM on May 19


Anorectic, which got overshadowed by anorexic in the popular mind.

benighted

glossolalia
posted by psoas at 1:29 PM on May 19


Muliebrity

Also, "You’re probably using the wrong dictionary" by James Somers
posted by bz at 2:41 PM on May 20 [4 favorites]


Perspicacious! It's a compliment, I swear!
posted by cacofonie at 8:33 PM on May 21


bz, I followed that rabbit hole last night and it's made me so happy.

For anyone else, if you're on Mavericks, the Dictionary app has changed; after you run the dictionary unpack that takes ~30 mins, just open the preferences in Dictionary and enable Webster's 1913. You can also drag it to the top of the results list.
posted by a halcyon day at 8:47 PM on May 21


Agency is a word that you don't see much outside of academia even though it has a distinct and powerful effect on how you contextualize and engage with the world.
posted by saucy_knave at 7:08 AM on May 22


Interlocutor. I really wish more people knew it, because it's actually useful and doesn't have a good synonym apart from "conversation partner."
posted by psoas at 9:28 AM on May 22 [1 favorite]


To help you memorize all the good words in this thread, here's a Memrise course
posted by aesacus at 10:05 AM on May 22 [4 favorites]


Crapulence. You're welcome.
posted by carmicha at 10:13 AM on May 23


Planetary
posted by Quilford at 9:32 PM on May 23


Dilatory
posted by nicwolff at 9:27 AM on May 30 [1 favorite]


mellifluous
posted by jiblets at 4:56 PM on May 30


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