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Weird and wonderful words

You might most frequently use OxfordDictionaries.com 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… 

aa a 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
abaya a full-length, sleeveless outer garment worn by Arabs
abomasum the fourth stomach of a ruminant, such as a cow or sheep
absquatulate to leave somewhere abruptly
adscititious additional
afreet a powerful jinn or demon in Arabian and Muslim mythology
Albertopolis a group of museums and other cultural institutions in South Kensington in London, named after Prince Albert
alcazar a Spanish palace or fortress
amphibology a phrase or sentence that is grammatically ambiguous, such as She sees more of her children than her husband
amphisbaena a mythical serpent with a head at each end
anfractuous winding or circuitous
anguilliform resembling an eel
apoptosis the death of cells which occurs as a normal part of an organism's growth or development
apple-knocker US informal an ignorant or unsophisticated person
argle-bargle copious but meaningless talk or writing
Argus-eyed vigilant, referring to Argos, a Greek mythological watchman with a hundred eyes
argute shrewd
ariel a gazelle found in the Middle East and North Africa
aristotle Austral. rhyming slang a bottle
aspergillum an implement used for sprinkling holy water in religious ceremonies
astrobleme an eroded remnant of a large, ancient crater made by the impact of a meteorite or comet
Attic salt refined, incisive wit
autotomy the casting off of a limb or other part of the body by an animal under threat, such as a lizard
badmash Indian a hooligan
bandoline a sticky preparation used for setting hair
bardolatry humorous excessive admiration of Shakespeare (‘the Bard of Avon’)
Barmecide illusory or imaginary and therefore disappointing
barn burner N. Amer. a very exciting or dramatic event, especially a sports contest; first used of an exceptionally good hand at bridge.
bashment W. Indian a large party or dance
bawbee Scottish a coin of low value
benthos the flora and fauna on the bottom of a sea or lake
bergschrund a type of crevasse
bezoar a small hard, solid mass which may form in the stomachs of animals such as goats or sheep
bibliopole a person who buys and sells books, especially rare ones
bichon frise a breed of toy dog with a fine, curly white coat
bilboes an iron bar with sliding shackles, used to fasten prisoners' ankles
bindlestiff N. Amer. a tramp
bingle Austral. informal a collision
blatherskite a person who talks at great length without making much sense
bleeding edge the very forefront of technological development
blind pig N. Amer. informal a place where alcoholic drinks are sold illegally
bobsy-die a great deal of fuss or trouble
boffola N. Amer. informal a joke that gets a loud or hearty laugh
boilover Austral. informal a surprise result in a sporting event
borborygmus a rumbling or gurgling noise in the intestines
breatharian a person who believes that it is possible, through meditation, to reach a level of consciousness where one can exist on air alone
Brob dingnagian gigantic, from Brobdingnag, a country in Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels
bruxism involuntary and habitual grinding of the teeth
bumbo a drink of rum, sugar, water, and nutmeg
burnsides a moustache in combination with whiskers on the cheeks but no beard on the chin
cacoethes an urge to do something inadvisable
callipygian having shapely buttocks
callithumpian like a discordant band or a noisy parade
camisado a military attack carried out at night
canorous melodious or resonant
cantillate to chant or intone a passage of religious text
carphology convulsive or involuntary movements made by delirious patients, such as plucking at the bedclothes
catoptromancy foretelling the future by means of a mirror
cereology the study or investigation of crop circles
cerulean deep sky blue
chad a piece of waste paper produced by punching a hole
chalkdown S. African informal a teachers' strike
chanticleer a rooster in a fairy tale
chiliad a thousand things or a thousand years
chump change N. Amer. informal a small or insignificant sum of money
claggy Brit. dialect sticky or able to form sticky lumps
clepsydra an early clock using the flow of water into or out of a container
colporteur a person who peddles books, newspapers, or other writings, especially bibles and religious tracts
comess W. Indian a confused or noisy situation
commensalism an association between two organisms in which one benefits from the relationship and the other derives neither harm nor benefit
comminatory threatening, punitive, or vengeful
concinnity elegance or neatness of literary or artistic style
congius an 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
constellate to gather together in a cluster or group
coprolalia the involuntary repetitive use of obscene language
coriaceous like leather
couthy Scottish (of a person) warm and friendly; (of a place) cosy and comfortable
criticaster a minor or incompetent critic
crore Indian ten million
crottle a lichen used in Scotland to make a brownish dye for wool
croze a groove at the end of a cask or barrel in which the head is fixed
cryptozoology the search for and study of animals whose existence is unproven, such as the Loch Ness monster and the yeti
cudbear a purple or violet powder used for dyeing, made from lichen
cupreous of or like copper
cyanic blue; azure
cybersquatting the practice of registering well-known names as Internet domain names, in the hope of reselling them at a profit
dariole a small round metal mould used in French cooking for an individual sweet or savoury dish
deasil clockwise or in the direction of the sun's course
decubitus Medicine the posture of someone who is lying down or lying in bed
deedy industrious or effective
defervescence Medicine the lessening of a fever
deglutition the action of process of swallowing
degust to taste food or drink carefully, so as to fully appreciate it
deipnosophist a person skilled in the art of dining and dinner-table conversation
deracinate to tear something up by the roots
deterge to cleanse something thoroughly
didi Indian an older sister or female cousin
digerati people with expertise or professional involvement in information technology
dight clothed or equipped; also, to make something ready for use
discobolus a discus thrower in ancient Greece
disembogue to emerge or pour out (used of a river or stream)
disenthral to set someone free from enslavement
divagate to stray or digress
divaricate to stretch or spread apart
donkey engine a small auxiliary engine on a ship
donkeyman a man working in a ship's engine room
doryphore a pedantic and annoyingly persistent critic of others
dotish W. Indian stupid or silly
douceur a financial inducement or bribe
draff dregs or refuse
dragoman an interpreter or professional guide for travellers, especially one in countries in which Arabic, Turkish, or Persian is spoken
dumbsize to reduce the staff numbers of a company to such low levels that work can no longer be carried out effectively
dwaal S. African a dreamy, dazed, or absent-minded state
ecdysiast a striptease performer
edacious having to do with eating or fond of eating
effable able to be described in words. Its opposite, ineffable, is more widely used.
emacity fondness for buying things
emmetropia the normal condition of the eye: perfect vision
empasm a perfumed powder sprinkled on the body to prevent sweating or for medicinal purposes
ensorcell to enchant or fascinate someone
entomophagy the eating of insects, especially by people
erf S. African a plot of land
ergometer an apparatus which measures energy expended during physical exercise
erubescent reddening or blushing
e-tailer a retailer who sells goods on the Internet
etui a small ornamental case for holding needles, cosmetics, and other articles
eucatastrophe a happy ending to a story
eurhythmic in harmonious proportion
eviternity eternal existence or everlasting duration
exequies funeral rites
exsanguine bloodless or anaemic
extramundane outside or beyond the physical world
eye candy visual images that are superficially attractive and entertaining but intellectually undemanding
eyewater W. Indian tears
famulus an assistant or attendant, especially one working for a magician or scholar
fankle Scottish to tangle or entangle something
fipple the mouthpiece of a recorder or similar wind instrument
flatline to die
flews the thick pendulous lips of a bloodhound or similar dog
floccinaucinihilipilification the action or habit of estimating something as worthless (a word generally only quoted as a curiosity)
flocculent having or resembling tufts of wool
force-ripe West Indian old or mature in certain respects without having developed fully in others
forehanded chiefly N. Amer. prudent or thrifty
frondeur a political rebel
fugacious transient or fleeting
funambulist a tightrope walker
furuncle a boil
fuscous dark and sombre in colour
futhark the Scandinavian runic alphabet
futz to waste time or busy oneself aimlessly
gaberlunzie Scottish archaic a beggar
gaita a kind of bagpipe played in northern Spain and Portugal
galligaskins a type of loose breeches worn in the 16th and 17th centuries
gallus Scottish bold or daring
gasconade extravagant boasting
glabrous (of skin) hairless or (of a leaf) having no down
glaikit Scottish & N. English stupid, foolish, or thoughtless
gnathic having to do with the jaws
gobemouche a gullible or credulous listener
goodfella a gangster, especially a member of a Mafia family
guddle Scottish to fish with one's hands by groping under the stones or banks of a stream
habile deft or skilful
hallux Anatomy the big toe
haruspex a religious official in ancient Rome who inspected the entrails of sacrificial animals in order to foretell the future
higgler W. Indian a person who travels from place to place selling small items
hinky US informal dishonest, suspect, or unreliable
hoddy-noddy a foolish person
hodiernal of today
hoggin a mixture of sand and gravel, used especially in road-building
hongi a traditional Maori greeting or salutation made by pressing or touching noses
howff Scottish a favourite meeting place or haunt, especially a pub
humdudgeon an imaginary illness
hunt-and-peck using only one or two fingers on a computer keyboard
hwyl a stirring feeling of emotional motivation and energy which is associated with the Welsh people
illywhacker Austral. informal a small-time confidence trickster
incrassate thickened in form or consistency
incunabula books printed before 1501
ingurgitate to swallow something greedily
inspissate to thicken or congeal
inunct to apply ointment to someone or something
jumbuck Austral. informal a sheep
jumentous resembling horse's urine
jungli Indian uncultured or wild
karateka a person who performs karate
keek Scottish to peep surreptitiously
kenspeckle Scottish conspicuous or easily recognizable
kinnikinnick a substance consisting of dried sumac leaves and willow or dogwood bark, smoked by North American Indians
kylie Austral. a boomerang
labarum a banner or flag bearing symbolic motifs
lablab a tropical Asian plant of the pea family
lactarium a dairy
liripipe the long dangling tail of a medieval academic hood
loblolly a North American pine tree with very long slender needles
lobola among southern African peoples, the money or cattle given by a bridegroom's family to the bride's family
logomachy an argument about words
lollygag to spend time in an aimless or lazy way
luculent (of speech or writing) clearly expressed
lycanthropy the supernatural transformation of a person into a wolf
macushla Irish an affectionate form of address
mallam a learned man or scribe in Nigeria and other parts of Africa
mamaguy W. Indian to try to deceive someone by flattering them or telling them lies
martlet Heraldry a small, swallow-like bird with tufts of feathers in place of legs and feet
mazel tov a Jewish expression used to congratulate someone or wish them good luck
meacock a coward or effeminate person
merkin an artificial covering of hair for the pubic area
merrythought a bird's wishbone
mim Scottish modest or demure in an affected or priggish way
mimsy rather feeble and prim or over-restrained (coined by Lewis Carroll in Through the Looking Glass)
minacious menacing or threatening
minibeast Brit. informal a small invertebrate animal such as an insect or spider
misogamy the hatred of marriage
mistigris a joker or other extra card played as a wild card in some versions of poker
mixologist N. Amer. informal a person who is skilled at mixing cocktails and other drinks
mollitious luxurious or sensuous
momism excessive attachment to or domination by one's mother
monkey's wedding S. African simultaneous rain and sunshine
monorchid having only one testicle
moonraker a native of the county of Wiltshire
mouse potato a person who spends large amounts of their leisure or working time on a computer
mudlark a person who scavenges in riverside mud at low tide for anything of value
muktuk the skin and blubber of a whale, eaten by the Inuit people
mumpsimus a traditional custom or notion that is adhered to although it has been shown to be unreasonable
nacarat a bright orange-red colour
nagware computer software which is free for a trial period and thereafter frequently reminds the user to pay for it
nainsook a fine, soft cotton fabric, originally made in the Indian subcontinent
natation swimming
nesh Brit. dialect weak, delicate, or feeble
netizen a habitual or keen user of the Internet
noctambulist a sleepwalker
noyade an execution carried out by drowning
nugacity triviality or frivolity
nympholepsy passion or rapture aroused in men by beautiful young girls
obnubilate to darken, dim, or obscure something
ogdoad a group or set of eight
omophagy the eating of raw food, especially meat
omphalos the centre or hub of something
onolatry the worship of donkeys or asses
o-o an endangered Hawaiian bird, a species of honeyeater
operose involving or displaying a lot of effort
opsimath a person who begins to learn or study late in life
orectic having to do with desire or appetite
orrery a clockwork model of the solar system, or the sun, earth, and moon
ortanique a cross between an orange and a tangerine
otalgia earache
oxter Scottish & N. English a person's armpit
paludal living or occurring in a marshy habitat
Pantagruelian enormous
panurgic able or ready to do anything
parapente an aerofoil parachute, used for gliding
paraph a flourish after a signature
patulous (of the boughs of a tree, for example) spreading
pavonine to do with or resembling a peacock
pedicular to do with lice
peely-wally Scottish looking pale and unwell
peever Scottish hopscotch
periapt an item worn as a charm or amulet
petcock a small valve in a steam engine or boiler, used for drainage or for reducing pressure
peterman a person who breaks open and robs safes
pettitoes pig's trotters, especially as food
piacular making or requiring atonement
pilgarlic a bald-headed man, or a person regarded with mild contempt
pinguid resembling fat; oily or greasy
piscatorial connected with fishermen or fishing
pleurodynia severe pain in the muscles between the ribs or in the diaphragm
plew a beaver skin
pneumonoul­tramicrosc­opicsilico­volcanocon­iosis an 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
pogey Canadian informal unemployment or welfare benefit
pollex Anatomy the thumb
pooter a suction bottle for collecting insects and other small invertebrates
portolan a book containing sailing directions with hand-drawn charts and descriptions of harbours and coasts
posology the branch of medicine concerned with the size and frequency of doses of a medicine or a drug
possident a possessor, i.e. a person who owns something
pother a commotion or fuss
pre-loved second-hand
presenteeism the compulsion to spend longer at work than is required or to continue working despite illness
previse to foresee or predict an event
probang a 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
prosopagnosia an inability to recognize the faces of familiar people, typically as a result of brain damage
puddle jumper a small, light aircraft which is fast and highly manoeuvrable and used for short trips
puddysticks S. African children's word very easy
pyknic a technical description of a stocky physique with a rounded body and head, thickset trunk, and a tendency to fat
pyroclastic relating to fragments of rock erupted by a volcano
ragtop a 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
rawky foggy, damp, and cold
razzia a raid carried out by Moors in North Africa
rebirthing a form of therapy involving controlled breathing and intended to simulate the trauma of being born
resurrection man a person who, in past times, illicitly exhumed corpses from burial grounds and sold them to anatomists for dissection
retiform resembling a net
rhinoplasty plastic surgery performed on the nose
rubiginous rust-coloured
rubricate to add elaborate capital letters (typically red ones) or other decorations to a manuscript
rude boy Jamaican a lawless or rebellious unemployed urban youth who likes ska or reggae music
rug rat N. Amer. a child
rumpot N. Amer. a habitual or heavy drinker
sangoma a traditional healer or witch doctor in southern Africa
sarmie S. African informal a sandwich
saucier a sauce chef
saudade a feeling of longing or melancholy that is supposedly characteristic of the Portuguese or Brazilian temperament
scofflaw a person who flouts the law
screenager a person in their teens or twenties who has an aptitude for using computers and the Internet
scrippage one's baggage and personal belongings
selkie Scottish a mythical sea creature like a seal in water but human on land
serac a 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
shallop a light sailing boat used chiefly for coastal fishing
shamal a hot, dry north-westerly wind that blows across the Persian Gulf in summer and causes sandstorms
shavetail US military slang a newly commissioned officer, or any inexperienced person
shippon Brit. dialect a cattle shed
shofar a ram's-horn trumpet used in Jewish religious ceremonies and, in ancient times, to sound a battle signal
skanky N. Amer. informal revolting
skelf Scottish a splinter or sliver of wood
skimmington a kind of procession once undertaken to make an example of a nagging wife or an unfaithful husband
skycap a porter at an airport
snakebitten N. Amer. informal unlucky or doomed to misfortune
snollygoster a shrewd or unprincipled person
sockdolager US informal a heavy blow
solander a protective box made in the form of a book, for holding items such as botanical specimens, maps, and colour plates
soucouyant a kind of witch, in eastern Caribbean folklore, who is believed to shed her skin by night and suck the blood of her victims
soul case N. Amer. & W. Indian the human body
soul catcher a hollowed bone tube used by a North American Indian medicine man to keep a sick person's soul safe while they are sick
spaghettification the process by which (in some theories) an object would be stretched and ripped apart by gravitational forces on falling into a black hole
spitchcock an eel, split and then grilled or fried
splanchnic having to do with the the viscera or internal organs, especially those of the abdomen
spurrier a person who makes spurs
stercoraceous consisting of or resembling dung or faeces
sternutator something that causes sneezing
stiction the frictional force which hinders an object from being moved while in contact with another
strappado a 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
strigil an 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
struthious having to do with or resembling an ostrich
studmuffin N. Amer. humorous a sexually attractive, muscular man
stylite a early Christian ascetic who lived standing on top of a pillar
subfusc the dark formal clothing worn for examinations and ceremonial or formal occasions at some universities.
submontane passing under or through mountains, or situated on the lower slopes of a mountain range
succuss to shake something vigorously, especially a homeopathic remedy
sudd an area of floating vegetation that impedes navigation in a stretch of the White Nile
suedehead a 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
superbious proud and overbearing
superette N. Amer. a small supermarket
taniwha a mythical monster which, according to Maori legend, lives in very deep water
tappen the plug by which the rectum of a bear is closed during hibernation
tellurian of or inhabiting the earth, or an inhabitant of the earth
testudo a device used in siege warfare in ancient Rome, consisting of a wheeled screen with an arched roof (literally a ‘tortoise’)
thalassic relating to the sea
thaumatrope a 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.
thirstland S. African a desert or large arid area
thrutch N. English a narrow gorge or ravine
thurifer a person carrying a censer, or thurible, of burning incense during religious ceremonies
tiffin chiefly Indian a light meal, especially lunch
tigon the hybrid off spring of a male tiger and a lioness (the offspring of a male lion and a tigress being a liger)
tokoloshe in African folklore, a mischievous and lascivious hairy water sprite
toplofty N. Amer. informal haughty and arrogant
transpicuous transparent
triskaidekaphobia extreme superstition about the number thirteen
triskelion a Celtic symbol consisting of three radiating legs or curved lines, such as the emblem of the Isle of Man
tsantsa a human head shrunk as a war trophy by the Jivaro people of Ecuador
turbary the legal right to cut turf or peat for fuel on common ground or on another person's ground
ulu a short-handled knife with a broad crescent-shaped blade, used by Inuit women.
umbriferous shady
uncinate (of a part of the body) having a hooked shape
uniped a person or animal with only one foot or leg
uroboros a circular symbol depicting a snake (or a dragon) swallowing its tail, intended as an emblem of wholeness or infinity
ustad Indian an expert or highly skilled person, especially a musician
vagarious erratic and unpredictable in behaviour or direction
velleity a wish or inclination which is not strong enough to lead one to take action
verjuice a sour juice obtained from crab apples or unripe grapes
vicinal neighbouring or adjacent
vidiot N. Amer. informal a habitual, undiscriminating watcher of television or videotapes
vomitous N. Amer. nauseating or repulsive
wabbit Scottish exhausted or slightly unwell
waitron N. Amer. a waiter or waitress
wakeboarding the sport of riding on a short, wide board while being towed behind a motor boat
wayzgoose an annual summer party and outing that used to be held by a printing house for all its employees
winebibber a heavy drinker
wish book N. Amer. informal a mail-order catalogue
wittol a man who knows of and tolerates his wife's infidelity
woopie an affluent retired person able to pursue an active lifestyle (from the initials of well-off older person)
wowser chiefly Austral./NZ a puritanical, prudish person or a killjoy
xenology the scientific study of extraterrestrial phenomena
ylem (in big bang theory) the primordial matter of the universe
zetetic proceeding by inquiry or investigation
zoolatry the worship of animals
zopissa a medicinal preparation made from wax and pitch scraped from the sides of ships
zorro a South American kind of fox
Zyrian a 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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