Weird and wonderful words

You might most frequently use to double-check the spelling or pronunciation of a word, or to find a synonym for a common term. But sometimes you might want to learn a new and unfamiliar word – one which you probably won’t need in everyday conversation or writing, but which is fun, interesting, and unusual.

We’ve brought together a list of some weird and wonderful words, from aa (a kind of volcanic lava) all the way to the Zyrian language. Along the way you’ll encounter words for ‘resembling an ostrich’, ‘a bird’s wishbone’, and the technical term for the big toe…

aaa kind of volcanic lava that forms jagged masses with a light frothy texture; in an unrelated sense (‘a stream’) aa is the first entry in the Oxford English Dictionary
abayaa full-length, sleeveless outer garment worn by Arabs
abomasumthe fourth stomach of a ruminant, such as a cow or sheep
absquatulateto leave somewhere abruptly
afreeta powerful jinn or demon in Arabian and Muslim mythology
Albertopolisa group of museums and other cultural institutions in South Kensington in London, named after Prince Albert
alcazara Spanish palace or fortress
amphibologya phrase or sentence that is grammatically ambiguous, such as She sees more of her children than her husband
amphisbaenaa mythical serpent with a head at each end
anfractuouswinding or circuitous
anguilliformresembling an eel
apoptosisthe death of cells which occurs as a normal part of an organism's growth or development
apple-knockerUS informal an ignorant or unsophisticated person
argle-barglecopious but meaningless talk or writing
Argus-eyedvigilant, referring to Argos, a Greek mythological watchman with a hundred eyes
ariela gazelle found in the Middle East and North Africa
aristotleAustral. rhyming slang a bottle
aspergilluman implement used for sprinkling holy water in religious ceremonies
astroblemean eroded remnant of a large, ancient crater made by the impact of a meteorite or comet
Attic saltrefined, incisive wit
autotomythe casting off of a limb or other part of the body by an animal under threat, such as a lizard
badmashIndian a hooligan
bandolinea sticky preparation used for setting hair
bardolatryhumorous excessive admiration of Shakespeare (‘the Bard of Avon’)
Barmecideillusory or imaginary and therefore disappointing
barn burnerN. Amer. a very exciting or dramatic event, especially a sports contest; first used of an exceptionally good hand at bridge.
bashmentW. Indian a large party or dance
bawbeeScottish a coin of low value
benthosthe flora and fauna on the bottom of a sea or lake
bergschrunda type of crevasse
bezoara small hard, solid mass which may form in the stomachs of animals such as goats or sheep
bibliopolea person who buys and sells books, especially rare ones
bichon frisea breed of toy dog with a fine, curly white coat
bilboesan iron bar with sliding shackles, used to fasten prisoners' ankles
bindlestiffN. Amer. a tramp
bingleAustral. informal a collision
blatherskitea person who talks at great length without making much sense
bleeding edgethe very forefront of technological development
blind pigN. Amer. informal a place where alcoholic drinks are sold illegally
bobsy-diea great deal of fuss or trouble
boffolaN. Amer. informal a joke that gets a loud or hearty laugh
boiloverAustral. informal a surprise result in a sporting event
borborygmusa rumbling or gurgling noise in the intestines
breathariana person who believes that it is possible, through meditation, to reach a level of consciousness where one can exist on air alone
Brobdingnagiangigantic, from Brobdingnag, a country in Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels
bruxisminvoluntary and habitual grinding of the teeth
bumboa drink of rum, sugar, water, and nutmeg
burnsidesa moustache in combination with whiskers on the cheeks but no beard on the chin
cacoethesan urge to do something inadvisable
callipygianhaving shapely buttocks
callithumpianlike a discordant band or a noisy parade
camisadoa military attack carried out at night
canorousmelodious or resonant
cantillateto chant or intone a passage of religious text
carphologyconvulsive or involuntary movements made by delirious patients, such as plucking at the bedclothes
catoptromancyforetelling the future by means of a mirror
cereologythe study or investigation of crop circles
ceruleandeep sky blue
chada piece of waste paper produced by punching a hole
chalkdownS. African informal a teachers' strike
chanticleera rooster in a fairy tale
chiliada thousand things or a thousand years
chump changeN. Amer. informal a small or insignificant sum of money
claggyBrit. dialect sticky or able to form sticky lumps
clepsydraan early clock using the flow of water into or out of a container
colporteura person who peddles books, newspapers, or other writings, especially bibles and religious tracts
comessW. Indian a confused or noisy situation
commensalisman association between two organisms in which one benefits from the relationship and the other derives neither harm nor benefit
comminatorythreatening, punitive, or vengeful
concinnityelegance or neatness of literary or artistic style
congiusan ancient Roman liquid measure equal in modern terms to about 6 imperial pints
conniption(or conniption fit) N. Amer. informal a fit of rage or hysterics
constellateto gather together in a cluster or group
coprolaliathe involuntary repetitive use of obscene language
coriaceouslike leather
couthyScottish (of a person) warm and friendly; (of a place) cosy and comfortable
criticastera minor or incompetent critic
croreIndian ten million
crottlea lichen used in Scotland to make a brownish dye for wool
crozea groove at the end of a cask or barrel in which the head is fixed
cryptozoologythe search for and study of animals whose existence is unproven, such as the Loch Ness monster and the yeti
cudbeara purple or violet powder used for dyeing, made from lichen
cupreousof or like copper
cyanicblue; azure
cybersquattingthe practice of registering well-known names as Internet domain names, in the hope of reselling them at a profit
dariolea small round metal mould used in French cooking for an individual sweet or savoury dish
deasilclockwise or in the direction of the sun's course
decubitusMedicine the posture of someone who is lying down or lying in bed
deedyindustrious or effective
defervescenceMedicine the lessening of a fever
deglutitionthe action of process of swallowing
degustto taste food or drink carefully, so as to fully appreciate it
deipnosophista person skilled in the art of dining and dinner-table conversation
deracinateto tear something up by the roots
detergeto cleanse something thoroughly
didiIndian an older sister or female cousin
digeratipeople with expertise or professional involvement in information technology
dightclothed or equipped; also, to make something ready for use
discobolusa discus thrower in ancient Greece
disembogueto emerge or pour out (used of a river or stream)
disenthralto set someone free from enslavement
divagateto stray or digress
divaricateto stretch or spread apart
donkey enginea small auxiliary engine on a ship
donkeymana man working in a ship's engine room
doryphorea pedantic and annoyingly persistent critic of others
dotishW. Indian stupid or silly
douceura financial inducement or bribe
draffdregs or refuse
dragomanan interpreter or professional guide for travellers, especially one in countries in which Arabic, Turkish, or Persian is spoken
dumbsizeto reduce the staff numbers of a company to such low levels that work can no longer be carried out effectively
dwaalS. African a dreamy, dazed, or absent-minded state
ecdysiasta striptease performer
edacioushaving to do with eating or fond of eating
effableable to be described in words. Its opposite, ineffable, is more widely used.
emacityfondness for buying things
emmetropiathe normal condition of the eye: perfect vision
empasma perfumed powder sprinkled on the body to prevent sweating or for medicinal purposes
ensorcellto enchant or fascinate someone
entomophagythe eating of insects, especially by people
erfS. African a plot of land
ergometeran apparatus which measures energy expended during physical exercise
erubescentreddening or blushing
e-tailera retailer who sells goods on the Internet
etuia small ornamental case for holding needles, cosmetics, and other articles
eucatastrophea happy ending to a story
eurhythmicin harmonious proportion
eviternityeternal existence or everlasting duration
exequiesfuneral rites
exsanguinebloodless or anaemic
extramundaneoutside or beyond the physical world
eye candyvisual images that are superficially attractive and entertaining but intellectually undemanding
eyewaterW. Indian tears
famulusan assistant or attendant, especially one working for a magician or scholar
fankleScottish to tangle or entangle something
fipplethe mouthpiece of a recorder or similar wind instrument
flatlineto die
flewsthe thick pendulous lips of a bloodhound or similar dog
floccinaucinihilipilificationthe action or habit of estimating something as worthless (a word generally only quoted as a curiosity)
flocculenthaving or resembling tufts of wool
force-ripeWest Indian old or mature in certain respects without having developed fully in others
forehandedchiefly N. Amer. prudent or thrifty
frondeura political rebel
fugacioustransient or fleeting
funambulista tightrope walker
furunclea boil
fuscousdark and sombre in colour
futharkthe Scandinavian runic alphabet
futzto waste time or busy oneself aimlessly
gaberlunzieScottish archaic a beggar
gaitaa kind of bagpipe played in northern Spain and Portugal
galligaskinsa type of loose breeches worn in the 16th and 17th centuries
gallusScottish bold or daring
gasconadeextravagant boasting
glabrous(of skin) hairless or (of a leaf) having no down
glaikitScottish & N. English stupid, foolish, or thoughtless
gnathichaving to do with the jaws
gobemouchea gullible or credulous listener
goodfellaa gangster, especially a member of a Mafia family
guddleScottish to fish with one's hands by groping under the stones or banks of a stream
habiledeft or skilful
halluxAnatomy the big toe
haruspexa religious official in ancient Rome who inspected the entrails of sacrificial animals in order to foretell the future
higglerW. Indian a person who travels from place to place selling small items
hinkyUS informal dishonest, suspect, or unreliable
hoddy-noddya foolish person
hodiernalof today
hoggina mixture of sand and gravel, used especially in road-building
hongia traditional Maori greeting or salutation made by pressing or touching noses
howffScottish a favourite meeting place or haunt, especially a pub
humdudgeonan imaginary illness
hunt-and-peckusing only one or two fingers on a computer keyboard
hwyla stirring feeling of emotional motivation and energy which is associated with the Welsh people
illywhackerAustral. informal a small-time confidence trickster
incrassatethickened in form or consistency
incunabulabooks printed before 1501
ingurgitateto swallow something greedily
inspissateto thicken or congeal
inunctto apply ointment to someone or something
jumbuckAustral. informal a sheep
jumentousresembling horse's urine
jungliIndian uncultured or wild
karatekaa person who performs karate
keekScottish to peep surreptitiously
kenspeckleScottish conspicuous or easily recognizable
kinnikinnicka substance consisting of dried sumac leaves and willow or dogwood bark, smoked by North American Indians
kylieAustral. a boomerang
labaruma banner or flag bearing symbolic motifs
lablaba tropical Asian plant of the pea family
lactariuma dairy
liripipethe long dangling tail of a medieval academic hood
loblollya North American pine tree with very long slender needles
lobolaamong southern African peoples, the money or cattle given by a bridegroom's family to the bride's family
logomachyan argument about words
lollygagto spend time in an aimless or lazy way
luculent(of speech or writing) clearly expressed
lycanthropythe supernatural transformation of a person into a wolf
macushlaIrish an affectionate form of address
mallama learned man or scribe in Nigeria and other parts of Africa
mamaguyW. Indian to try to deceive someone by flattering them or telling them lies
martletHeraldry a small, swallow-like bird with tufts of feathers in place of legs and feet
mazel tova Jewish expression used to congratulate someone or wish them good luck
meacocka coward or effeminate person
merkinan artificial covering of hair for the pubic area
merrythoughta bird's wishbone
mimScottish modest or demure in an affected or priggish way
mimsyrather feeble and prim or over-restrained (coined by Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking Glass)
minaciousmenacing or threatening
minibeastBrit. informal a small invertebrate animal such as an insect or spider
misogamythe hatred of marriage
mistigrisa joker or other extra card played as a wild card in some versions of poker
mixologistN. Amer. informal a person who is skilled at mixing cocktails and other drinks
mollitiousluxurious or sensuous
momismexcessive attachment to or domination by one's mother
monkey's weddingS. African simultaneous rain and sunshine
monorchidhaving only one testicle
moonrakera native of the county of Wiltshire
mouse potatoa person who spends large amounts of their leisure or working time on a computer
mudlarka person who scavenges in riverside mud at low tide for anything of value
muktukthe skin and blubber of a whale, eaten by the Inuit people
mumpsimusa traditional custom or notion that is adhered to although it has been shown to be unreasonable
nacarata bright orange-red colour
nagwarecomputer software which is free for a trial period and thereafter frequently reminds the user to pay for it
nainsooka fine, soft cotton fabric, originally made in the Indian subcontinent
neshBrit. dialect weak, delicate, or feeble
netizena habitual or keen user of the Internet
noctambulista sleepwalker
noyadean execution carried out by drowning
nugacitytriviality or frivolity
nympholepsypassion or rapture aroused in men by beautiful young girls
obnubilateto darken, dim, or obscure something
ogdoada group or set of eight
omophagythe eating of raw food, especially meat
omphalosthe centre or hub of something
onolatrythe worship of donkeys or asses
o-oan endangered Hawaiian bird, a species of honeyeater
operoseinvolving or displaying a lot of effort
opsimatha person who begins to learn or study late in life
orectichaving to do with desire or appetite
orrerya clockwork model of the solar system, or the sun, earth, and moon
ortaniquea cross between an orange and a tangerine
oxterScottish & N. English a person's armpit
paludalliving or occurring in a marshy habitat
panurgicable or ready to do anything
parapentean aerofoil parachute, used for gliding
parapha flourish after a signature
patulous(of the boughs of a tree, for example) spreading
pavonineto do with or resembling a peacock
pedicularto do with lice
peely-wallyScottish looking pale and unwell
peeverScottish hopscotch
periaptan item worn as a charm or amulet
petcocka small valve in a steam engine or boiler, used for drainage or for reducing pressure
petermana person who breaks open and robs safes
pettitoespig's trotters, especially as food
piacularmaking or requiring atonement
pilgarlica bald-headed man, or a person regarded with mild contempt
pinguidresembling fat; oily or greasy
piscatorialconnected with fishermen or fishing
pleurodyniasevere pain in the muscles between the ribs or in the diaphragm
plewa beaver skin
pneumonoul­tramicrosc­opicsilico­volcanocon­iosisan invented term said to mean ‘a lung disease caused by inhaling very fine ash and sand dust’, but rarely used except for its curiosity value
pogeyCanadian informal unemployment or welfare benefit
pollexAnatomy the thumb
pootera suction bottle for collecting insects and other small invertebrates
portolana book containing sailing directions with hand-drawn charts and descriptions of harbours and coasts
posologythe branch of medicine concerned with the size and frequency of doses of a medicine or a drug
possidenta possessor, i.e. a person who owns something
pothera commotion or fuss
presenteeismthe compulsion to spend longer at work than is required or to continue working despite illness
previseto foresee or predict an event
probanga strip of flexible material with a sponge or tuft at the end, used to remove a foreign body from the throat or to apply medication to it
prosopagnosiaan inability to recognize the faces of familiar people, typically as a result of brain damage
puddle jumpera small, light aircraft which is fast and highly manoeuvrable and used for short trips
puddysticksS. African children's word very easy
pyknica technical description of a stocky physique with a rounded body and head, thickset trunk, and a tendency to fat
pyroclasticrelating to fragments of rock erupted by a volcano
ragtopa convertible car with a soft roof
ratite(of a bird such as the ostrich or emu) unable to fly because of having a flat breastbone, to which no flight muscles are attached
rawkyfoggy, damp, and cold
razziaa raid carried out by Moors in North Africa
rebirthinga form of therapy involving controlled breathing and intended to simulate the trauma of being born
resurrection mana person who, in past times, illicitly exhumed corpses from burial grounds and sold them to anatomists for dissection
retiformresembling a net
rhinoplastyplastic surgery performed on the nose
rubricateto add elaborate capital letters (typically red ones) or other decorations to a manuscript
rude boyJamaican a lawless or rebellious unemployed urban youth who likes ska or reggae music
rug ratN. Amer. a child
rumpotN. Amer. a habitual or heavy drinker
sangomaa traditional healer or witch doctor in southern Africa
sarmieS. African informal a sandwich
sauciera sauce chef
saudadea feeling of longing or melancholy that is supposedly characteristic of the Portuguese or Brazilian temperament
scofflawa person who flouts the law
screenagera person in their teens or twenties who has an aptitude for using computers and the Internet
scrippageone's baggage and personal belongings
selkieScottish a mythical sea creature like a seal in water but human on land
seraca pinnacle or ridge of ice on the surface of a glacier
sesquipedalian(of a word) having many syllables or (of a piece of writing) using many long words
shallopa light sailing boat used chiefly for coastal fishing
shamala hot, dry north-westerly wind that blows across the Persian Gulf in summer and causes sandstorms
shavetailUS military slang a newly commissioned officer, or any inexperienced person
shipponBrit. dialect a cattle shed
shofara ram's-horn trumpet used in Jewish religious ceremonies and, in ancient times, to sound a battle signal
skankyN. Amer. informal revolting
skelfScottish a splinter or sliver of wood
skimmingtona kind of procession once undertaken to make an example of a nagging wife or an unfaithful husband
skycapa porter at an airport
snakebittenN. Amer. informal unlucky or doomed to misfortune
snollygostera shrewd or unprincipled person
sockdolagerUS informal a heavy blow
solandera protective box made in the form of a book, for holding items such as botanical specimens, maps, and colour plates
soucouyanta kind of witch, in eastern Caribbean folklore, who is believed to shed her skin by night and suck the blood of her victims
soul caseN. Amer. & W. Indian the human body
soul catchera hollowed bone tube used by a North American Indian medicine man to keep a sick person's soul safe while they are sick
spaghettificationthe process by which (in some theories) an object would be stretched and ripped apart by gravitational forces on falling into a black hole
spitchcockan eel, split and then grilled or fried
splanchnichaving to do with the the viscera or internal organs, especially those of the abdomen
spurriera person who makes spurs
stercoraceousconsisting of or resembling dung or faeces
sternutatorsomething that causes sneezing
stictionthe frictional force which hinders an object from being moved while in contact with another
strappadoa punishment or torture in which the victim was hoisted in the air on a rope and then allowed to fall almost to the ground before being stopped with an abrupt jerk
strigilan instrument with a curved blade used by ancient Greeks and Romans to scrape sweat and dirt from the skin in a hot-air bath or after exercise
struthioushaving to do with or resembling an ostrich
studmuffinN. Amer. humorous a sexually attractive, muscular man
stylitea early Christian ascetic who lived standing on top of a pillar
subfuscthe dark formal clothing worn for examinations and ceremonial or formal occasions at some universities.
submontanepassing under or through mountains, or situated on the lower slopes of a mountain range
succussto shake something vigorously, especially a homeopathic remedy
suddan area of floating vegetation that impedes navigation in a stretch of the White Nile
suedeheada youth like a skinhead but with slightly longer hair and smarter clothes
sun-grazing(of a comet) having an orbit which passes close to the sun
superbiousproud and overbearing
superetteN. Amer. a small supermarket
taniwhaa mythical monster which, according to Maori legend, lives in very deep water
tappenthe plug by which the rectum of a bear is closed during hibernation
tellurianof or inhabiting the earth, or an inhabitant of the earth
testudoa device used in siege warfare in ancient Rome, consisting of a wheeled screen with an arched roof (literally a ‘tortoise’)
thalassicrelating to the sea
thaumatropea scientific toy devised in the 19th century. It consisted of a disc with a different picture on each of its two sides: when the disc was rotated rapidly about a diameter, these pictures appeared to combine into one image.
thirstlandS. African a desert or large arid area
thrutchN. English a narrow gorge or ravine
thurifera person carrying a censer, or thurible, of burning incense during religious ceremonies
tiffinchiefly Indian a light meal, especially lunch
tigonthe hybrid off spring of a male tiger and a lioness (the offspring of a male lion and a tigress being a liger)
tokoloshein African folklore, a mischievous and lascivious hairy water sprite
toploftyN. Amer. informal haughty and arrogant
triskaidekaphobiaextreme superstition about the number thirteen
triskeliona Celtic symbol consisting of three radiating legs or curved lines, such as the emblem of the Isle of Man
tsantsaa human head shrunk as a war trophy by the Jivaro people of Ecuador
turbarythe legal right to cut turf or peat for fuel on common ground or on another person's ground
ulua short-handled knife with a broad crescent-shaped blade, used by Inuit women.
uncinate(of a part of the body) having a hooked shape
unipeda person or animal with only one foot or leg
uroborosa circular symbol depicting a snake (or a dragon) swallowing its tail, intended as an emblem of wholeness or infinity
ustadIndian an expert or highly skilled person, especially a musician
vagariouserratic and unpredictable in behaviour or direction
velleitya wish or inclination which is not strong enough to lead one to take action
verjuicea sour juice obtained from crab apples or unripe grapes
vicinalneighbouring or adjacent
vidiotN. Amer. informal a habitual, undiscriminating watcher of television or videotapes
vomitousN. Amer. nauseating or repulsive
wabbitScottish exhausted or slightly unwell
waitronN. Amer. a waiter or waitress
wakeboardingthe sport of riding on a short, wide board while being towed behind a motor boat
wayzgoosean annual summer party and outing that used to be held by a printing house for all its employees
winebibbera heavy drinker
wish bookN. Amer. informal a mail-order catalogue
wittola man who knows of and tolerates his wife's infidelity
woopiean affluent retired person able to pursue an active lifestyle (from the initials of well-off older person)
wowserchiefly Austral./NZ a puritanical, prudish person or a killjoy
xenologythe scientific study of extraterrestrial phenomena
ylem(in big bang theory) the primordial matter of the universe
zeteticproceeding by inquiry or investigation
zoolatrythe worship of animals
zopissaa medicinal preparation made from wax and pitch scraped from the sides of ships
zorroa South American kind of fox
Zyriana former term for Komi, a language spoken in an area of Russia west of the Urals; at present the last entry in the Oxford English Dictionary

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