May 29, 2015 6:23 PM   Subscribe

From plitter to drabbletail: a few writers choose the words they love. [The Guardian] [Books]
Dialect terms such as yokeymajig or whiffle-whaffle; all-time favourites like cochineal, clot or eschew; antiquated phrases such as ‘playing the giddy ox’ … leading writers on the words they cherish.

Hilary Mantel: nesh
Andrew O’Hagan: clart
Will Self: pipe down!
Emma Healey: clot
Eimear McBride: yoke
Neel Mukherjee: tight slap
Robert Macfarlane: apophany
Taiye Selasi: chale
Sarah Hall: gloaming
Nick Laird: thrawn
Aminatta Forna: plitter
Paul Muldoon: slipe
Tessa Hadley: cochineal
Blake Morrison: whiffle-whaffle
Paul Kingsnorth: swamm
John Sutherland: widdershins
Nina Stibbe: fetlock
posted by Fizz (30 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Fizz at 6:24 PM on May 29, 2015

There's always Bertrand Russell's 20 favorite words.
posted by newdaddy at 6:33 PM on May 29, 2015

I've been in love with "widdershins" since my first read of The Colour of Magic. It's just such a good word, that both sounds like it should be in potion-making instructions and often is.
posted by brecc at 6:46 PM on May 29, 2015

Zero hits on mine, guess I'll have to become a famous writer so's pulchritudinous gets the love it deserves.
posted by carsonb at 6:50 PM on May 29, 2015

I swear when I first learned it, no one else seemed to know it, but now everyone does: petrichor...and...I have convinced myself I only dreamed of finding a single word to describe the play of refracted light between a water's surface and the bottom of a pool I've noticed D. Hockney likes to depict.
posted by lazycomputerkids at 7:00 PM on May 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

I think it was Jeff Torrington who bemoaned that, while French has clarté — clarity, of thought or purpose — Scots has clarty; begrimed, sodden, muddy …
posted by scruss at 7:03 PM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

I can recommend World Wide Words for those that enjoy this sort of thing...
posted by jim in austin at 7:03 PM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

posted by oulipian at 7:04 PM on May 29, 2015

Well, I suppose that we can all pick and choose which truths we find most relevant to our self-interests.
posted by rankfreudlite at 7:23 PM on May 29, 2015

The personality-rich golf announcer David Feherty often uses the word collywobbles, which is just adorable. Requires Irish accent.
posted by mcstayinskool at 7:25 PM on May 29, 2015

posted by Daily Alice at 7:35 PM on May 29, 2015

Bivouac. I like the way it sounds, with a whack at the end. And for some reason it always reminds me of The Lion Sleeps Tonight song. a bivouac x 6 + a vo dee oh do.
posted by mono blanco at 8:37 PM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

Most of my favorite odd words have become too mainstream over the years...
"veritable plethora" (two words that just BELONG together),
"horrific" (if horror is synonymous with terror, why isn't this synonymous with 'terrific'?),
"gratuitous" and "gratuity",
"nadir" (and yes, I have made puns about Ralph Nadir),
"tomfoolery" (often aimed at an old friend named Tom),
the sounds dirtier than it is "cockeyed",
"balmy" (one of the best multi-definition words ever, with "comfortable with respect to weather" or "insane"),
the odd pair of "turbo" and "turbot",
and "schnook" (just vaguely Jewish enough for this dumb WASP kid)
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:44 PM on May 29, 2015

"with a whack at the end"
Well, one of the first things they teach you at Bad Comedians School is that words that with the K-sound are funny, especially if they end with the K-sound. That's why my long list includes dreck, Muzak™ and schnook, and why comedians get more laughs out of 'fuck' than any other "naughty" word (in fact, 'crap', with the k-sound at the beginning is considered funnier than 'shit').

But then, when I hear 'bivouac', I think "This Old Man": "knick knack, bivouac, give the dog a bone..."
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:50 PM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

circumlocution, which thankfully hasn't become mainstream yet
posted by subdee at 9:29 PM on May 29, 2015

lazycomputerkids -- perhaps you're thinking of caustics?
posted by smcameron at 10:11 PM on May 29, 2015

"balmy" (one of the best multi-definition words ever, with "comfortable with respect to weather" or "insane")

Or not, at all. You're thinking of 'barmy.'

Susurrus is my favourite word. One so rarely gets to use it in a sentence.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:25 PM on May 29, 2015 [2 favorites]

When I said balmy , I meant BALMY. And the close relation to "balm" which means something else entirely.

And I just remembered my #1 All Time Favorite Word since I was barely old enough to comprehend five-syllable words:
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:50 PM on May 29, 2015 [1 favorite]

I described something as "hypnagogic" the other day and everybody in the room turned and gave me a weird look, and then I got crap about it from the people I was with. I still don't exactly understand why, as it was precisely the right word for what I was describing..
posted by Nerd of the North at 11:06 PM on May 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

Spellcheck says 'cletter' is not a word, but I disagree.

"I mun cletter the dishes now."

"There's nothin' like a thorn twig for cletterin' dishes."
posted by betweenthebars at 11:16 PM on May 29, 2015 [3 favorites]

posted by rifflesby at 12:49 AM on May 30, 2015


It makes me think of orbital mechanics and choruses of angels at the same time. The perfect word for what Paul Simon called God's immaculate machine.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:35 AM on May 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

posted by AJaffe at 7:30 AM on May 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Why, one might ask, ten? In all likelihood, three would be too few; and it would be utterly impossible, conceptually and logistically, to narrow the selection down to just one. And, of course, the enumeration could continue: the ten most beautiful lists of the ten most beautiful words, and so on, expanding ever outwards into infinity, so as to ultimately embrace the entire Magyar tongue itself, although we would do well to heed the words of Kosztolányi's immortal protagonist, Kornél Esti, as he states in Seashell and Sea...
The ten most beautiful words
posted by Wolfdog at 8:31 AM on May 30, 2015

My breakout "why is this everywhere now" (confirmation-bias acknowledged) word of this year is palimpsest.
posted by desuetude at 1:45 PM on May 30, 2015

posted by Maias at 3:25 PM on May 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

My breakout "why is this everywhere now" (confirmation-bias acknowledged) word of this year is palimpsest.

During the Only Connect final match a month or two ago, I yelled "PALIMPSEST! THEY'RE PALIMPSESTS!" at the screen. It was one of those moments where you realize a minute or so later that you've never done that before.
posted by Wolfdog at 3:33 PM on May 30, 2015

I recently used shenanigans in an email, to great effect. Egregious is turning up more and more often these days, but I've yet to discover subfusc (which my spellchecker doesn't even recognise) in the wild.
posted by ninazer0 at 2:25 AM on May 31, 2015

I am partial to "flexanimous".
posted by sudon't at 2:47 AM on May 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

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