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There’s a word for everything

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By John Pawlak

People adept at Scrabble use some pretty strange words.  My wife’s vocabulary is “slightly” better than mine and when we are Scrabbling, I might play a word like “rock” and then she’ll play one like “ozaena.”

I’ll challenge her play, claiming that such a word doesn’t exist. She shrugs and tells me that it means having a fetid discharge from the nostrils. That’s usually more than I want to know and so I won’t bother asking her what fetid means.

Most people know that the cartilage separating your nostrils is a septum (often deviated, much like many of my friends), but do you know the name of that groove between your nose and upper lip?  It’s a philtrum.

Instead of just piercing earlobes, many people pierce their tragus (that little triangular piece of cartilage in the front of your ear). The outer ear itself is called the pinna (or auricle).  People even pierce their umbilicus!  (Uh ... the bellybutton.)

In the morning, do you wake up with rheum? You know, eye gunk or eye sleepers? Ever get an itch on your popliteal fossa? That’s the indented back of your knee. 

When you ran track in high school, were you ever preantepenultimate?  That means fourth from last. Now there’s a word you can use every day!

That white half-moon shaped area at the base of your fingernails is called the lunula (as in lunar).  When the moon is crescent shaped, do you know what that shape is called?  That’s a lune. No, not like your brother-in-law. That’s “loon.” Try not to get them confused.

If you want to impress your doctor, call that blood pressure instrument by its official name ... a sphygmomanometer.  And if you can pronounce it correctly, even better! 

Do you know the official name for that rubber air bulb they squeeze on the instrument? It’s called the “rubber air bulb.”

There really is a word for everything and my favorite is “defenestration.”  It means having something (or someone) thrown through a window.  Back in my youth, I got to use that word a lot with my rowdy friends.

People who know a lot of words and are adept at table conversation are called deipnosophists. A person who knows a lot about everything is called a polymath. A person who thinks they know everything about everything is called a newspaper columnist.

But some words do seem totally useless, like… Floccinaucinihilipilification. Try saying that three times really fast. Heck, try saying it once slowly.  It means “a word or thing of no value.”  

Talk about self-definition!  Or how about vimpoomitorium? That’s a tunnel-shaped exit from a building.  Then again, having seen people “spewing” out of corporate buildings at the end of the work day, I have to say that the term vomitorium does makes perfect sense.

Does your child have fernticles?  Yeah, my brother had freckles as a kid too. Are you embarrassed by your borborygmus? 

You know, the rumbling sound that comes from an empty stomach?  Do you see tittles when you read? If not, you're reading some odd books.  A tittle is the dot over an “i.” If you find that amusing, you might utter a titter, which is a suppressed giggle.

A muselets (pronounced muse-lay) is the wire cage wound over the cork of a champagne bottle. A rowel is the spiked revolving wheel at the end of a cowboy’s spur. 

Got any napiform friends?  That means shaped like a turnip.  Hmmm ... I’ll have to remember that word the next time I see my cousin.

Does your family have a noctambulist in it? Does your father have a hallux? Does you mother have olecranons? Does Grandpa have lentigos? Perhaps your brother has an oxter? Do you ever pandiculate in public? Have you ever had singultus?  Are any of your friends sciapodous? 

These words mean sleepwalker, big toe, elbows, age spots, an armpit, a stretching yawn, hiccups, and having big feet.

Some other words that might come in handy for conversation at your next party ... a sporran is a tassle hanging from a kilt, a havier is a castrated deer, helminthology is the study of worms, a scuncheon is the beveled inner edge of a door jamb, hippocrepian means horseshoe-shaped, and an ephyna is a baby jellyfish.

Of course, if you actually find that you can use these words at a party, you really need to get a life!

Now, if you’re like me and sometimes have lethonomia (another great word – it means the tendency to forget the names of things), you can always fall back on those wonderful universal descriptors ... like thingamabob, whatsit, doohickey and whachamacallit.