Food & Culture

Have You Ever Heard These 25 Obscure English Words?

There's something so satisfying about pulling out a $15 word — the kind that you hardly ever get to use, but fits the situation perfectly. On the other hand, that feeling when you can't quite find the right word for what you're trying to express is incredibly aggravating. Well, we're here to help. Here are 25 weird, obscure, and downright cool words hidden in the English language.

Words You Didn't Know You Needed

  • Epeolatry: The worship of words. What better piece of vocabulary to kick off this list with?
  • Aglet: The little piece of plastic on the end of your shoelaces. (Also a great name for a cat, if you ask certain Curiosity editors.)
  • Grawlix: You know when cartoonists substitute a bunch of punctuation marks for curse words? They're using grawlix.
  • Borborygmus: A rumbling in your stomach. Time for lunch!
  • Accubation: While you quell your borborygmus, you might engage in accubation — the act of comfortably reclining, often during a meal.

  • Jillick: To skip a stone across a surface of water.
  • Nibling: Here's a handy word you might just now realize you were missing. "Nibling" is a gender-neutral term for a niece or nephew.
  • Tatterdemalion: Some words just sound like their meaning. A tatterdemalion is somebody wearing tattered clothing. It can also be used as an adjective meaning tattered or ragged in appearance.
  • Tittle: The word "tittle" has got just one tittle in it, but this sentence has six — no, seven — more. It's the little dot above a lowercase "j" or "i."

  • Pogonotrophy: You probably know someone who engages in pogonotrophy, the act of growing a beard, even if they don't call it that.
  • Pilgarlic: On the opposite end of the spectrum, a pilgarlic is a bald-headed person — usually one you're mocking or feeling sorry for.
  • Balter: One thing we can definitely do with confidence at the Curiosity offices is balter. It means "to dance badly."
  • Pandiculation: When you get up in the morning, sit on the edge of your bed, and stretch your arms in all directions, you're actually pandiculating.
  • Sciapodous: Having large feet. Simple as that.

  • Natiform: Shaped like a butt. Perfect — no more relying on the peach emoji.
  • Defenestrate: You've got to wonder about the kind of mind that thinks there needs to be a word for throwing someone out of a window.
  • Bruxism: Do you grind your teeth at night? Tell your dentist that you suffer from bruxism.
  • Phosphene: While you're pandiculating, you might also press your knuckles into your eyes until little stars appear. Those specks of light are called phosphenes.
  • Cataglottism: Technically, you may already know another word for cataglottism, but it's a great way to make "french kiss" sound a lot less sexy.

  • Lemniscate: A figure-8 turned on its side — in other words, the infinity symbol.
  • Obelus: The division symbol (÷), which we were surprised had an actual name.
  • Preantepenultimate: "Ultimate" is last, "penultimate" is second-to-last, "antepenultimate" is third-to-last, which makes this the preantepenultimate word on this list.
  • Griffonage: You might call sloppy handwriting "chicken scratch," but "griffonage" rolls off the tongue much more easily.
  • Archimime: Frankly, we didn't think that this word would mean exactly what it sounds like, but it does. The archimime is the chief buffoon or jester. The boss clown, in other words.
  • Tyrotoxism: Scratch what we said about "defenestrate" earlier — the fact that somebody came up with a word for "to poison with cheese" is much more unbelievable.

Get stories like this one in your inbox or your headphones: sign up for our daily email and subscribe to the Curiosity Daily podcast.

Can't get enough? Mitchell Symons' "Weird World of Words" is full of bizarre lexicographical trivia, like the longest word with its letters in alphabetical order ("almost"). We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Reuben Westmaas January 4, 2019

Curiosity uses cookies to improve site performance, for analytics and for advertising. By continuing to use our site, you accept our use of cookies, our Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.