Obscure, beautiful words
March 12, 2017 10:33 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for precise, interesting, mellifluous, preferably aesthetically pretty words to add to my vocabulary!

Preferably less than 3 syllables, and it would be great if you could add an example of its usage in a sentence?

I have been really liking cachet, schadenfraude, resplendent this past week.

Thank you!!
posted by Crookshanks_Meow to Writing & Language (37 answers total) 80 users marked this as a favorite
posted by spitbull at 10:43 AM on March 12, 2017 [4 favorites]

Here is a list of favorite words I've collected from reading over the years. Hope you find one you like. (Sorry if the long post format is annoying. If it's deleted perhaps I'll post again without the line breaks.)

alight - disembark
apotheosis - the pinnacle form or highest example
reconnoiter - to observe from a military perspective
eclat - a brilliant success or effort
antipodean - diametrically opposed
espaliers - a flat structure along which a plant is trained to grow
terpsichorean - related to dancing
piquancy - sharply pleasant, especially relating to food
friable - very dry, crumbly
sirocco - a hot, dusty or rainy wind blowing off the Mediterranean
enfilade - attack along the long axis of a military formation; an arrangement of doors along an axis to allow a long view through all of them; mirrors arranged to give an infinite vista
hyperborean - inhabitant of a cold northern climate, from Greek mythology
cymarecta - a decorative molding sloping from concave to convex
purlieu - a surrounding area or neighborhood; a place often visited
staddle - the lower part of a stack, or the frame on which a stack is built
lamiger - disabled person, a cripple
tenterhooks - hooks used to hold up a cloth taut for or other treatment
rantipole - wild, unruly, perhaps rakish young person
calumniated - to make false, defamatory statements
diurnal - of the day as opposed to nocturnal; occurring each day
incipient - in the beginning stages
gibbous - convex or protuberant, or a phase of the moon larger between semicircular and full
greggles - hyacinth that grows in the wood
weir - a low dam used to regulate a river's flow
leonine - resembling or having to do with lions
bruckle - easily broken or crumbled
drayman - the driver of a long, sideless cart pulled by horses or donkeys
chine - to cut meat along a backbone, or the visible backbone in a cut of meat
sough - to make a moaning, rustling, or whistling sound
quincunx - an array of five things, arranged like the five dots on a die
muslin - thin, plain weave cotton cloth
dowager - an elderly woman of high society, or a widower who has inherited property from her deceased husband
rook - friendly Eurasian crow
equerry - person in charge of a nobleman's horses
recalcitrant - obstinate in the face of authority
baetylus - sacred religious stones, perhaps meteors, which were thought to possess life
omphalos - the center or hub of something, or a navel
noisesome - offensive to the senses, especially smell
brio - great energy or enthusiasm
dithyramb - a wild choral speech of ancient Greece in praise of Dionysus, or a passionate speech or text with inflated speech
solicitude - care or concern for somebody or something
moil - moving around in a confused or agitated manner; to work hard
meliorism - the belief that the world can be made better through human effort
trenchant - forceful and effective, sometimes sharp or even caustic
picayune - paltry, lacking in importance, of very little value
saturnine - gloomy, dull, and sardonic; born under the astrological influence of Saturn
bootless - without advantage or benefit; useless
gainsay - to declare false or to oppose by contradiction
assiduous - hard working, constant in application
sedulous - diligent in effort or pursuit, careful, constant, and steady
métier - a profession for which one is especially suited
susurration - a soft whisper, a murmur
philippic - a bitter attack or denunciation, especially a verbal one
desultory - lacking a plan, purpose, or enthusiasm; in speech, switching from one topic to the next in a halfhearted way
prodigious - remarkably great or impressive in size, extent, or degre
verve - vigor and spirit, enthusiasm
grandee - a person of high rank or eminence
rapine - the violent seizure of someone's property
arriviste - one who has finally gained social importance but not social respect; an upstart
abase: to reduce in rank, esteem, or prestige
expiatory: providing relief for guilt, the means of atoning
paschal: in Judaism, related to Passover; in Christianity, related to Easter
argus: a watchful person; a guard or lookout
upbraid: to chide or casually admonish
sequacious: inclined to follow; lacking originality of thought 
garth: a grassy quadrangle surrounded by cloisters
colonnade: a series of columns or trees placed at regular intervals.
cloister: a covered walking path with a colonnade on one side, running along the side of a building or buildings facing a quadrangle. 
quadrangle: a rectangular area surrounded on four sides by buildings
refectory: a dining hall, specifically one in a religious or acasdemic institution
fulsome: characterized by abundance, or, more often, overabundance, usually cloyingly so.
bibacious: fond of or given to fairly heavy drinking
arabesque: a ballet position where the dancer stands on one leg while leaning forward, with the other leg in the air trailing behind; a piano movement that is whimsical and complex; an ornate design of flowery and geometrical interwoven abstractions
contumacious: flagrantly disobedient, willfully resistant
kakistocracy: government by the most inept, incompetent citizens
demimonde: prostitutes, taken as a whole; also, a circle of libertines set apart from bourgeois values and society; also, a circle of people with dubious merit or credentials 
neurasthenia: an obsolete technical term describing an inability to exert oneself of to exert effort in any but the most trivial task.
dietetics: the study of nutrition as it relates to health 
implacable: impossible to placate or appease
botanise: to collect and study plants
marquetry: a design, often for furniture, consisting of one material, such as wood or ivory, being inlaid in an intricate pattern within a usually wooden medium.
crocket: a projecting ornament, usually in the shape of a curling leaf, often placed on the outer edges of gables and such; used often in Gothic architecture
nosegay: a small bunch of flowers, a posy
subaltern: second in command; a subordinate; also, a kind of proposition matching the form of a universal
itinerant: traveling from place to place, usually to perform some work or duty; or also one who travels in such a way.
quarry: the object of a hunt or pursuit
punctilious: showing great concern for details or correct behavior
apse: semicircular or polygonal dome which is usually found in the far end of a cathedral.
quatrefoil: an ornament or other sort of man-made figure representing a plant or flower with four leaves or lobes.
ungainly: lacking grace or ease of movement; clumsy
porphyry: a hard, igneous rock with a red hew.  some varieties are incredibly rare.
unctuous: excessively or ingratiatingly flattering; or of substance, fatty or oily
pusillanimous: marked by contemptible timidity
prolixity: a tendency toward wordiness
fustian: inflated or turgid language in writing or in speaking
turgid: inflated or overblown, also distended or swollen
consanguinity: A close affinity or relationship, or a relationship by blood or common ancestor
redolent:  Having or emitting fragrance, or else suggestive of or reminiscent of something
circumscribe:  To limit narrowly; restrict.
spinster: a woman who has remained single beyond the conventional age for marrying
inculcate: instill (an attitude, idea, or habit) by persistent instruction.
habituate: accustom by frequent repetition or prolonged exposure.
urbane:  Polite, refined, and often elegant in manner
dulcet: sweet, sugary
comely: pleasing and wholesome in appearance; attractive.
ingénue: a naive young woman
residuum:  Something remaining after removal of a part; a residue. 
posted by jwhite1979 at 10:47 AM on March 12, 2017 [65 favorites]

First a grooming comment: It's Schadenfreude.

Some random musical ones:

Compositional: relating to the craft, process, and technique of musical composition.

Claviorgan: a combination instrument with a harpsichord (or piano) part and an organ part; mostly with at least two keyboards.

Mozartean: earlier than Beethovenian, or Wagnerian.

Sorry about the syllables.
posted by Namlit at 10:58 AM on March 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

Monongahela-the name of a river. I have loved this word for a long time!
posted by LaBellaStella at 11:00 AM on March 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

vesperal: pertaining to evening
posted by sciencegeek at 11:42 AM on March 12, 2017 [5 favorites]

Seconding unctuous, because I can taste rancid oiliness at the back of my throat. Especially when it's used to describe a person, ew.

Also, haphazard, because the skip between the p and the h perfectly illustrates "characterized by lack of order or planning, by irregularity, or by randomness", aimlessness.
posted by hannala at 11:56 AM on March 12, 2017 [5 favorites]

synecdoche - [sin-eck-dough-chay] - A part that represents a whole, for example the use of a circle and several straight lines passing through it to symbolize a guitar in some Picasso paintings.

callipygous - possessing attractive buttocks.
posted by crazylegs at 12:07 PM on March 12, 2017 [6 favorites]

Slate had a great article on "fancy" words (palliative, erudite, shibboleth, etc) we secretly aren't 100% sure what they mean (or how to say them)

My own shameful admission: I thought "denoument" was "de-NOW-ment," not "de-noo-MAWN"
posted by O9scar at 12:09 PM on March 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

There used to be a website, back in the early days of Web 2.0 when sharing was cool and business models were unimportant*, called Wordie. It let you do exactly this: make lists of words you liked for one reason or another, and then share them with others. It no longer exists, alas.

You already named one of my favorites: mellifluous. I enjoy the etymology. It derives from the Latin for honey.

My favorite is probably sylvan, meaning wooded.

I also like ersatz.

*Some things don't change, I guess.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:18 PM on March 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have a place for this sort of thing.
posted by mordax at 12:19 PM on March 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

Can't let you off without soigné.
(pronounced "swan-YAY.")

Toss this baby off in your next conversation (appropriately, of course) and people will be buying you drinks.
posted by BostonTerrier at 12:20 PM on March 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

I own a book called "The Highly Selective Thesaurus and Dictionary for the Extraordinarily Literate" by Eugene Ehrlich that may be of some interest to you.
posted by kevinbelt at 12:21 PM on March 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

One I like is susurrus which is a whispering murmuring sound. You can probably pick and two of the words on these lists and google them to find other lists!
posted by jessamyn at 12:45 PM on March 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

verdant = green with lush plant growth
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:03 PM on March 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

Crepuscular = related to dusk or dawn
Scintillation = sparkling, twinkling
posted by daisystomper at 2:09 PM on March 12, 2017 [3 favorites]


Someone listens to NPR shows funded by the MacArthur foundation.
posted by kevinbelt at 2:23 PM on March 12, 2017 [5 favorites]

posted by Fig at 2:36 PM on March 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

chiaroscuro: the treatment of light and dark in drawing and painting.
posted by xammerboy at 2:37 PM on March 12, 2017 [5 favorites]

I always like to slip "postprandial badinage" in during postprandial badinage.
posted by slide at 3:05 PM on March 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

No one's said "pellucid" yet, so here it is.
posted by batter_my_heart at 3:15 PM on March 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

some little used favourites of mine that have an oddly satisfying brainfeel:

frangible, friable, fungible, plangent, lambent, loamy

Some ones that I'm seeing more of recently due to reading more political news:

Martinet, quisling, recidivist, mountebank
posted by Jon Mitchell at 4:41 PM on March 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

Limpid - crystal clear, as in a pool of water
Cogent - clear and convincing, as in an argument
Lacuna - a gap, as in an omission or oversight (plural lacunae)
posted by somedaycatlady at 4:45 PM on March 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

murmuration -- a flock of starlings, often performing beautiful maneuvers en masse.
posted by pangolin party at 5:11 PM on March 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

Oh, and "gloaming" will immediately conjure the ghost of Robert Frost.
posted by jwhite1979 at 5:11 PM on March 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

The best word – euphonious and useful but little known – is velleity, which means "an urge too weak to act on".
posted by nicwolff at 5:49 PM on March 12, 2017 [7 favorites]

WCityMike's link to the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows goes to their facebook page, not their home page.
posted by MoTLD at 6:07 PM on March 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Terroir. Flabbergasted gobsmacked profluence!
posted by vrakatar at 6:41 PM on March 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

As the first raindrops fell, she stopped to savor the petrichor.
posted by snorkmaiden at 7:26 PM on March 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

Oxford Dictionary of Difficult Words is a treasure. Very detailed usage notes for often-confused words that sound similar or mean similar things, but also full of unusual words.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 7:29 PM on March 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Entasis: a slight convex curve in the shaft of a column, introduced to correct the visual illusion of concavity produced by a straight shaft.
posted by Miss Otis' Egrets at 8:27 PM on March 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

posted by kmennie at 6:41 AM on March 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

Albedo: the proportion of the incident light or radiation that is reflected by a surface, typically that of a planet or moon.

Muliebral: of, relating to, or characteristic of women.

Penumbra: the partial or imperfect shadow outside the complete shadow of an opaque body, as a planet, where the light from the source of illumination is only partly cut off.

Phthisis: pulmonary tuberculosis or a similar progressive systemic disease.
posted by the matching mole at 10:35 AM on March 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

Here are a few I like:

alacrity - liveliness or briskness.

abattoir - slaughterhouse

azygos - single, not being one of a pair

sanguine - blood or blood red color, which leads to:

exsanguinate - the action or process of draining or losing blood

coterie - a close group or clique
posted by codex99 at 1:25 PM on March 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

defenestration - the act of throwing someone out of a window

so you can figure this one out for yourself:

posted by yesster at 2:28 PM on March 14, 2017 [3 favorites]

Agathokakological: composed of both good and evil (the human condition, perhaps?)
posted by awkwardpanda at 2:33 AM on March 15, 2017 [2 favorites]

posted by Bruce H. at 7:49 PM on March 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

posted by nothing.especially.clever at 5:47 AM on April 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

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